Sunday, February 1, 2009

Adiga's Optimism

Aravind Adiga won the Booker prize recently for his novel (or maybe novella) "White Tiger".  A couple of weeks ago, Adiga's "Elephant" appeared in the New Yorker. It's the story of a cart puller in a small town in South India who rails against his fate as a member of India's downtrodden masses.

The Elephant is an interesting little character study. Seems plausible that this was warm-up for White Tiger. But it is plodding and morose and lacks the fire of White Tiger. Hmm ... now that I say that, maybe that's partly the point. The cart puller is a slow and lumbering, the white tiger sparkling and fierce.

I've heard some complaints about recent depictions of India's class divide in the west---White Tiger, Slumdog Millionaire etc. In its most cynical form, the complaint is basically that these depictions are negative and take away from India's image as a burgeoning world power. 

I differ ... Adiga's view is so much more optimistic than those who have come before him. Take Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance", for instance. This is the turgid saga of some poor villagers who come to a big city India to make their fortune. Their plight is horrible, but they wallow in their fate, unquestioningly. Adiga makes the same point---India's downtrodden masses are unimaginative cattle. But he seeds their herd with vicious, outraged iconoclasts who challenge the status quo.

Reminds me of that Kamal Hasan movie called "Indian". Except, there, Senapathy Bose was a vigilante fighting the Man ... corrupt cops and government officials. Adiga's characters flail out against individual oppressors---upper class Indians (myself included) who help perpetuate this class imbalance. What if Adiga was translated and published in Kalki, or similar Indian popular magazines? Would that put a spark in the tinderbox? Nah ... probably not. 

1 comment:

  1. When Mulk Raj Anand wrote "coolie" this sort of thing was fresh. Also, I am not convinced that Adiga is in touch with the characters that he depicts. And for someone living in India, reading this is about as exciting as it would be for someone in New Jersey reading about a trip to the supermarket. This explains why Adiga is more popular in the west than he is in India.