Charting the rise of a boy from the Indian slums from servant to established entrepreneur, The White Tiger raises a magnifying glass to the cold, heartless culture bred into Indian society by the advent of globalisation and rampant capitalism; describing a world in which one ultimately has to choose between getting dirty or dying dirty.
Balram Halwai, a boy from a place so bereft of hope it is referred to as ‘the darkness’, is earmarked by his family for a life that outstrips the standing of his birth and living up to his apparent destiny, he gets the chance to gatecrash the brightly-lit world of the wealthy when he becomes a driver and general servant for the absurdly rich Mr Ashok.
Leaving behind a life in which he once looked at bus conductors and believed them have every treasure a man could hope for, Balram is thrust into a world of wealth and scandal beyond his previous levels of comprehension.
He becomes a silent critic of his master’s life, proclaiming his disgust at many of Mr Ashok’s actions but also declaring his pity for a man whose existence, despite his gargantuan wealth, is far from a happy one. Balram’s commentary of his master’s antics and the tones of sympathy and sadness with which such tales are often laced, highlight the bizarre paradox of the master-servant relationship, where despite the disproportionate nature of the respective roles, the natural feelings of warmth and care towards a fellow human being are sometimes not easily suppressed.
Despite his often-empathetic outlook on his master’s plight, Balram does readily condemn the behaviour he finds unacceptable and is forthcoming when it comes to telling the reader how, he, the humble, well-rounded boy from the slums, would manage such extraordinary wealth without giving in to the vices that cloud his master’s life.
After prematurely proclaiming the moral high ground however, Balram is forced to revaluate his previously sanctimonious stance as he realises that the only means of achieving his ultimate goal does not contain a trace of morality.
Balram’s journey is gritty, shocking and unpredictable in equal measure and shines the brightest of lights on the dubious merits of India’s supposedly beneficial synchronisation with Western culture.
Rating: 3.5/5. Not always pretty, but perpetually fascinating.