By Chet Yarbrough
By Aravind Adiga
Narrated by John Lee
ARAVIND ADIGA, INDO-AUSTRAILIAN AUTHOR, Winner of the Booker Prize in 2008 for “White Tiger”.
“White Tiger” pictures the chasm between haves and have-nots. It reminds one of “Native Son”. Like “Native Son”, “White Tiger” speaks about the ugly consequence of discrimination and poverty.
A big difference between “White Tiger” and “Native Son” is in the tragi-comic rendition of “White Tiger” on Netflix. One wonders if “White Tiger” is meant to be satire or a reflection on a flaw of capitalist self-interest. Maybe both.
A visiting dignitary from China is given a note by a former Indian servant who describes his entrepreneurial success in India. The servant tells the story of his rise from the second lowest caste in India to successful entrepreneur. He is from a lower caste of the poor, but now he is rich.
The caste system remains strong in India. Having traveled there in 2018, our tourist guide notes his family is from the warrior class.
In speaking of his daughter, he explains that though he has limited control over whom she marries, his biggest concern is that she marry within her class. Caste ancestry still binds and defines much of India’s culture.
In “White Tiger”, Balram is the main character. Balram is an uneducated but clever observer of society. He is acutely aware of his position in life.
Balram is destined to be a breaker of social convention.
In India (and around the world) changing sociopolitical ideals, collapsing religious belief, deteriorating family ties, and human nature’s “good and evil” amplify the chasm between rich and poor.
An irony of Balram’s story is that it is between two countries that have different political philosophies; i.e. one, democratic; the other communist. Their socioeconomic maladies are similar. Both countries have dense populations, high industrial growth, and consequential environmental degradation. The common thread is China‘s and India’s drive toward capitalism.
Balram considers himself a social entrepreneur who becomes a successful capitalist by breaking social convention. His broken convention is murder.
As the Indian servant’s story progresses, Richard Wright’s “Native Son” and Adiga’s “White Tiger” metaphorically meet. Both carry out wanton murders of sociologically ignorant human beings.
Bigger Thomas (the main character in “Native Son”) and Balram are one side of a capitalist’s coin, minted by poor education, poverty, and discrimination. Their capitalist reality corrupts thought and action.
“White Tiger”, like “Native Son”, is a world warning about the consequence of the growing chasm between rich and poor; i.e. as long as societies believe that “a rising tide lifts all boats”, discontent and hostile action of the poor is the main thing that will rise.
Lack of prudent regulation of capitalism leads to the worst in human nature. Even though “prudent” is in the eyes of the beholder, ignoring the poor is a monumental failure of any society, whether capitalist or communist. Equality of education and opportunity are capitalism’s saving grace but grace is not natural to man; i.e. prudent regulation of human nature is required.
“White Tiger” is a credible warning of the danger of unbridled capitalism.