Sunday, November 29, 2020
ADVT 
Newsmakers

Aravind Adiga: The Man Behind The Booker Prize

Darpan News Desk Darpan, 29 Jan, 2014
  • Aravind Adiga: The Man Behind The Booker Prize

“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 is what writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens did in the 19th century and, as a result, England and France are better societies. That is what I am trying to do – it is not an attack on the country, it is about the greater process of self-examination.”
- Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger

 

Aravind Adiga, winner of 2008's £50,000, Man Booker Prize for his debut novel The White Tiger says, “his novel highlights the brutal injustices of changing India, which is on the verge of inheriting the world from the West.” It is a story that is set in today’s India, and revolves around the great divide between those Indians who have made it and those who have not. Adiga’s novel is creating ripples in India for its defiantly unglamorous portrait of the country’s economic miracle. The author confessed he was stunned to have won the prize. “I had no idea it was coming,” he said, adding that he regarded just making the shortlist as a significant achievement.

“I do not think a novelist should just write about his own experience. Yes, I am the son of a doctor, yes, I had a rigorous formal education, but for me the challenge as a novelist is to write about people who are not anything like me.” Aravind Adiga

Born in Chennai in 1974, the 33-year-old journalist was the youngest among the six shortlisted for the English-speaking world’s most important literary award. Adiga who is currently based in Mumbai grew up in Mangalore and Australia and studied English literature at Columbia University, and Magdalen College, Oxford. The author has aspired to become a writer since he was a boy and began his journalistic career as a financial journalist, with pieces published in Financial Times, Money and the Wall Street Journal. He also worked as a correspondent in India for the TIME magazine for three years before going freelance.

Adiga conceived the novel when he was travelling in India and writing for Time magazine. “I spent a lot of time hanging around stations and talking to rickshaw pullers.” What struck him was the physical difference between the poor and the rich: “In India, it’s the rich who have problems with obesity. And the poor are darker-skinned because they work outside and often work without their tops on so you can see their ribs. But also their intelligence impressed me. What rickshaw pullers, especially, reminded me of was black Americans, in the sense that they are witty, acerbic, verbally skilled and utterly without illusions about their rulers.”

The author has rejected suggestions that his award-winning book was overly critical of Indian society saying that he had intended to be provocative but ‘funny’ at the same time to engage the reader. Adiga has been quoted as saying writers like him should highlight the brutal aspects of India. For a western reader, too, Adiga’s novel is bracing: there is an unremitting realism usually airbrushed from Indian films and novels.

When asked about his reason behind writing a novel about the experiences of the Indian poor, the Chennai-born writer said, “I do not think a novelist should just write about his own experience. Yes, I am the son of a doctor, yes, I had a rigorous formal education, but for me the challenge as a novelist is to write about people who are not anything like me.”

“Well, this is the reality for a lot of Indian people and it’s important that it gets written about, rather than just hearing about the 5% of people in my country who are doing well. In somewhere like Bihar there will be no doctors in the hospital. In northern India politics is so corrupt that it makes a mockery of democracy. This is a country where the poor fear tuberculosis, which kills 1,000 Indians a day, but people like me – middle-class people with access to health services that are probably better than England’s – do not fear it at all. It is an unglamorous disease, like so much of the things that the poor of India endure.”

“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 is what writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens did in the 19th century and, as a result, England and France are better societies. That is what I am trying to do – it is not an attack on the country, it is about the greater process of self-examination.”
Adiga confirms that his influences on The White Tiger were three black American writers of the post-World War II era Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright. “As a writer, I do not feel tied to any one identity; I am happy to draw influences from wherever they come. That is what I am trying to do – it is not an attack on the country, it is about the greater process of self-examination,” the writer told The Guardian.

According to the writer, the challenges that are holding India back are corruption, lack of health services for the poor and the presumption that the family is always the repository of good. “In India, there has never been strong central political control, which is probably why the family is still so important. If you are rude to your mother in India, it is a crime as bad as stealing would be here,” he said. “But the family ties get broken or at least stretched when anonymous cities like Bangalore draw people from the villages,” the author said.”These really are the new tensions of India, but Indians do not think about them. The middle classes think of themselves still as victims of colonial rule. But there is no point any more in someone like me thinking of myself as a victim of a colonial oppressor.”

On the surface, the novel is an over two hundred page letter from Balram to a visiting Chinese diplomat. On the micro-level of words and sentences, Adiga comes up with original character development that convinces the reader we have blood and flesh. Yet it is fiction. The story is a study in character, and character development seems to be Adiga’s main strength. The story’s plot and setting rests on Adiga’s firm background as a journalist covering India. Adiga is familiar with both the poor and new India, and in the novel he contrasts the two societies to great effect. In the end, it is the conflict between these two societies that is the crux of the story: “Dark” and “Light” India are constantly at war, yet the two extremes also seem to share certain values. In the novel, both the rich and the poor are corrupt, resort to bribery, sleep with prostitutes, cheat, lie, steal — and even murder — to get to the top.

As an aid to character development, Adiga gives animal nicknames to the rich landlords that serve as supporting characters. Given that the poor in India tend to be illiterate and relate to people and things according to their environment more than through academic means, animal nicknames seemed like an ingenious character development ploy. The novel is filled with little elements like this that work well. Another element at the heart of this novel is the heart of Balram as well and the author plays on the tension between loyalty to oneself and to one’s family. Adiga has used this tension as a platform to mirror a conflict specific to India. When asked about this, Adiga states, “the conflict may be more intense in India, because the family structure is stronger here than in, say, America, and loyalty to family is virtually a test of moral character. The conflict is there, to some extent, everywhere.”

Michael Portillo, Chair of the 2008 judges, made the official Man Booker Prize for Fiction announcement, which was broadcast live on the BBC Ten O’ Clock News. Peter Clarke, Chief Executive of Man Group plc, presented Aravind Adiga with a cheque for £50,000. The judging panel for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction comprised: Michael Portillo, former MP and Cabinet Minister; Alex Clark, editor of Granta; Louise Doughty, novelist; James Heneage, founder of Ottakar’s bookshops; and Hardeep Singh Kohli, TV and radio broadcaster.

Portillo said that Adiga “undertakes an extraordinary task – he gains and holds the attention of the reader for a hero who is a thoroughgoing villain”. He also praised the work’s attention to “important social issues: the division between rich and poor, and issues on a global scale. And it is extremely readable.” The main criterion for the prize, he said, was: “Does this book knock my socks off? And this did.” The feeling among the judges, Portillo said, was that “here was a book on the cutting edge, dealing with a different aspect of India, unfamiliar perhaps to many readers. What set it apart was its originality. The feeling was that this was new territory.”Portillo likened the novel to Macbeth. “It is about ambition realized through murder,” he said, “but with a delicious twist. Whereas Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are driven mad by their crime, the hero of this book is only driven mad by the fact that he hesitated and might not have committed his crime.”

Adiga is the fourth Indian to win the Booker. His predecessors—Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children (1981), Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things (1997) and Kiran Desai in The Inheritance of Loss (2006)—too tackled various facets of independent India beyond its globalized façade in their novels. Enjoying the spotlight after winning the 2008 Man Booker prize for his debut novel, the Indian novelist Adiga says his second novel is “almost done” but declined to give details about the upcoming book.

Aravind Adiga acknowledges his novel depicts an India we do not see often, “The main reason anyone would want to read this book, or so I hope, is because it entertains them and keeps them hooked to the end. I don’t read anything because I “have” to: I read what I enjoy reading, and I hope my readers will find this book fun, too. I simply wrote about the India that I know and the one I live in. It’s not “alternative India” for me! It’s pretty mainstream, trust me.”

because the family structure is stronger here than in, say, America, and loyalty to family is virtually a test of moral character. The conflict is there, to some extent, everywhere.”

Michael Portillo, Chair of the 2008 judges, made the official Man Booker Prize for Fiction announcement, which was broadcast live on the BBC Ten O’ Clock News. Peter Clarke, Chief Executive of Man Group plc, presented Aravind Adiga with a cheque for £50,000. The judging panel for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction comprised: Michael Portillo, former MP and Cabinet Minister; Alex Clark, editor of Granta; Louise Doughty, novelist; James Heneage, founder of Ottakar’s bookshops; and Hardeep Singh Kohli, TV and radio broadcaster.

Portillo said that Adiga “undertakes an extraordinary task – he gains and holds the attention of the reader for a hero who is a thoroughgoing villain”. He also praised the work’s attention to “important social issues: the division between rich and poor, and issues on a global scale. And it is extremely readable.” The main criterion for the prize, he said, was: “Does this book knock my socks off? And this did.” The feeling among the judges, Portillo said, was that “here was a book on the cutting edge, dealing with a different aspect of India, unfamiliar perhaps to many readers. What set it apart was its originality. The feeling was that this was new territory.”Portillo likened the novel to Macbeth. “It is about ambition realized through murder,” he said, “but with a delicious twist. Whereas Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are driven mad by their crime, the hero of this book is only driven mad by the fact that he hesitated and might not have committed his crime.”

Adiga is the fourth Indian to win the Booker. His predecessors—Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children (1981), Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things (1997) and Kiran Desai in The Inheritance of Loss (2006)—too tackled various facets of independent India beyond its globalized façade in their novels. Enjoying the spotlight after winning the 2008 Man Booker prize for his debut novel, the Indian novelist Adiga says his second novel is “almost done” but declined to give details about the upcoming book.

Aravind Adiga acknowledges his novel depicts an India we do not see often, “The main reason anyone would want to read this book, or so I hope, is because it entertains them and keeps them hooked to the end. I don’t read anything because I “have” to: I read what I enjoy reading, and I hope my readers will find this book fun, too. I simply wrote about the India that I know and the one I live in. It’s not “alternative India” for me! It’s pretty mainstream, trust me.”

White Tiger 
White Tiger is the compelling story of an Indian man trying to break free of societal chains and expectations. Adiga creates two disparate worlds; Balram Halwai lived in the Darkness, a small village, in India under the thumb of his grandmother and the rules of his culture, until he is hired as the driver for a landlord who brings him into the Light of Delhi. The story is told through a letter Balram is writing to a Chinese official to show him entrepreneurial spirit. Balram is intelligent, which gains him the nickname White Tiger in his home town, but because of his family name and no education, he can expect nothing greater than being a virtual slave to his boss. He has dreams of something, anything different than the life laid out in front of him, but they only begin to take root when his boss changes. As long as his boss is honourable in his actions to Balram, he can accept his lot in life, but when the man starts abusing him and sleeping with prostitutes, Balram sees that he is just as corrupt as the rest of the system and decides to break free, utilizing violence to do so. Despite Balram’s deplorable behaviour, you cannot help but root for him and want him to break the cycle of back-breaking labour and destitute poverty that has followed his family for generations. He is a funny narrator whose descriptions of both monetary and moral poverty alternately make you laugh and cry. Adiga is a fresh voice and a stellar writer.

MORE Newsmakers ARTICLES

Jasbir Singh Tatla: Flying High

Jasbir Singh Tatla: Flying High

“Be proud of your heritage, of who you are, says Jasbir. He adds, “Today I am recognized because I’m a Sikh, because I wear turban and because I have a beard. Without this I would not have got the kind of recognition and reception I’m getting currently.” Jasbir Singh Tatla

Jasbir Singh Tatla: Flying High

Chhavi Rajawat, Surging Grassroots Development

Chhavi Rajawat, Surging Grassroots Development

Shedding her creditable corporate figure behind, Chhavi Rajawat acquired the significant position of Sarpanch and procured drastic development at the grassroots level in her village

Chhavi Rajawat, Surging Grassroots Development

PrevNext