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About the time I heard about Aravind Adiga winning the Booker for his first novel,The White Tiger, came the realization that I had not read a Booker winner from start to end. It was not known to me at the time that The Life of Pi, which I had read recently, had won the Booker in 2002. Nevertheless, I had made up my mind to read this one, and I am glad I did.

The White Tiger spent a week on my bookshelf waiting its turn while I averted my gaze every time it caught my eye, to avoid being tempted. I was reading another book and was determined to finish it before moving on to a new read. My resistance eventually ceded and I did the reading equivalent of switching channels. I found myself being drawn into an engrossing narrative that would have remained uninterrupted if it were not for the throes of daily existence.

The novel is about Balram Halwai and narrated by him in all its multifaceted detail that can be, at times, humorous, repulsive, and poignant. It is a concordant mix of simple storytelling and social commentary. Examples of the latter include his classification of people into two groups – those with big bellies and those with small bellies – and his concept of the Great Indian Rooster Coop:

A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.

The character of Balram is a fairly complex one, and yet one that is completely at ease with his thoughts and actions. He does not attempt to sway the readers to have a favorable opinion about him, merely to tell a story, give his reasons, cast his opinions, perhaps elicit a few laughs, perhaps cause the reader to contemplate. Adiga, in an interview at the end of the book, explains the inspiration for the character of Balram

There’s a kind of continuous murmur or growl beneath middle-class life in India., and this noise never gets recorded. Balram is what you’d hear if one day the drains and faucets in your house started talking

I liked the novel on two counts. For one, The White Tiger entertains and engrosses as a story. I felt that the social commentary echoed my sentiments and perhaps those of anyone that has stayed in a city and witnessed its disparities – the increasing class divide, and a declining sense of empathy for the less fortunate.

The novel has been criticized for pandering to western audiences, and projecting a “negative picture of modern India”. Such criticism is perhaps best answered by the following excerpt from Adiga’s interview in the Guardian.

At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the west, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society. That’s what writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens did in the 19th century and, as a result, England and France are better societies. That’s what I’m trying to do – it’s not an attack on the country, it’s about the greater process of self-examination.

In conclusion, I found The White Tiger to be an excellent read. I have no authority to comment on whether it deserved a Booker, a task better left to those that have flipped more pages than I have of present and past prize winners . I do acknowledge that if it were not for the Booker, it is less likely that I would have encountered this interesting novel.

from Nov 1- Nov 30. Link. Blurb:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

4 days down, and 25+ more to go. If one were to begin now, that’s an average of 2000 words (7 pages) per day. Given the infrequency of my blog posts, I don’t know if I am cut out for that rate of writing. Heck, I don’t think I average 2000 words a day on routine typing tasks. NaNoWriMo offers some words of motivation:

It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Ahem, true. Perhaps I’ll sign up later today. Any fellow write-a-thoners?

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