Aravind Adiga attended Columbia University and followed that up with a high-profile job at the Financial Times. It is surprising then, given his upper-class bearings, that he has been able to pen in The White Tiger such a remarkably authentic portrayal of the life of the underdog — a representative of the many millions of Indians who live and die in mind-numbing deprivation.
Balram Halwai is born into a family of erstwhile sweetmakers in a poor village in the Darkness, a euphemism for Bihar, the most underdeveloped state in India. Balram gets a job as a driver for an upper-class family in Dhanbad, one of Bihar's more prosperous towns (owing to its coal mines). The family's patriarch, called the Stooge, is a ruthless man who runs a shady coal business.
From there Balram gets a "promotion" as driver for Ashok, one of the Stooge's sons, and Pinky, Ashok's wife. The couple live in Gurgaon, Delhi's swanky suburb that houses sprawling malls and glittering offices of American giants.
Adiga is so good at imagining the life of the outcast that the novel is an often scary reminder of the pitfalls of overlooking the plight of the underprivileged. When Balram drives his master around Gurgaon, the sight of scantily clad women is a shock to him — not just because women in the Darkness do not dress provocatively, but also because he is humiliated by his inability to have a slice of the "fast life."
Balram, ineluctably altered by the ways of the city, calls himself a "social entrepreneur" — symbolic of the plan he devises to escape the servant's fate. The plan is bloody and entails permanent damnation, but he executes it and moves to India's other boomtown, Bangalore, where as head of a taxi service company, White Tiger Technology Drivers, he finally makes a name for himself.
Adiga's debut novel is a highly realized work — a dazzling, brutal look at the unsavory side effects of India's rapidly globalizing economy.
Vikram Johri is a writer in New Delhi, India.