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A reader's guide to The White Tiger

Updated Monday, 1st June 2009

Follow Balram Halwai as he attempts to escape poverty and enjoy the riches of the new India. Will he succeed? And what will it cost him?

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The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, is due to visit Bangalore, where he intends to meet with Indian entrepreneurs. In a series of letters dictated over seven nights, a self-declared entrepreneur addresses the Premier.

White tiger
White tiger [Image: Frank Peters under CC-BY-NC-ND licence]

He wants to relate the story of his life and explain the truth about Bangalore…

Balram Halwai is born in abject poverty in Laxmangarh, a place he regards as the Darkness. Its people are in thrall to unscrupulous landlords, nicknamed the Buffalo, the Stork, the Wild Boar and the Raven.

Balram’s father is an over-worked and underpaid rickshaw-puller, so the youngster is impressed by the heady success of the bus conductor, Vijay.

For a brief time schoolboy Balram’s spirits are raised by an inspector, who compares him to a white tiger: a rare creature who comes along only once in a generation.

Sadly, reality returns and Balram is put to work in a tea shop. Here he sets about educating himself by eavesdropping when the customers chat.

He is astonished to hear that drivers command high salaries; therefore he determines to change careers. There is a captivating account of his time in Delhi, as a chauffeur to Mr Ashok and Pinky Madam.

Can the White Tiger escape from his cage? Will he safely negotiate the transition from Darkness to Light, from servant to master? Aravind Adiga’s scintillating first novel steers us through old India and new, blending humour and pathos. Was he a worthy winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize? Let us know what you think.


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