Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Adiga's tiger: more brown than white

I finished reading "The White Tiger" yesterday. It took me a long time to get through. I should thank Adiga for that. His book didn't keep me away from my responsibilities. I dread books that take me into such deep waters that I don't want to surface unless forced out--The Sea of Poppies. I also dread books that are written in such compelling prose, with such blinding wit and blazing anger that you are ignited--The Case of Exploding Mangoes. In both cases I lose all sense of time, commitments, assignments, eating, drinking. I spend every minute I can spare and cannot spare, reading, and that's not good for me.

"The White Tiger"? It was like dipping your toes at the edge of a brown pond, looking at a flat surface with no streaks of darting life within. I would read a few pages during breaks in the 9 o'clock news and that seemed enough for any given day. There were days when I didn't even do that, upset by some infelicity in the writing, lack of rhythm in a line, absence of feeling for people, places, words.

I don't care a rotten fig about the subject of the novel. People are frothing at the mouth about showing India "in a bad light". They didn't want "Pather Panchali" to go to Cannes for the same treacherous crime. That was, what--50 years ago. And the "bad light" of reality still hasn't turned brighter. Whose fault is that? Anyway, every culture has a dark underside. Ours just happens to be of such impressive proportions that it comes up over the sides to look in over the topside. What I do care about is my time. Why did I feel obliged to spend so much of it with a man called Balram Halwai who puts himself in such an unconvincing nutshell right at the start that it should have acted as a warning? "In terms of formal education, I maybe somewhere lacking. I never finished school, to put it bluntly. Who cares! I haven't read many books, but I've read all the ones that count. I know by heart the works of the four greatest poets of all time--Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib and a fourth fellow whose name I forget. I am a self-taught entrepreneur."

I have heard cabbies from the Darkness. They speak at great length as they drive, and they all have sweet, poetic tongues. Every fourth sentence they speak is a muhawara that brings wafting into the musty insides of their cabs a direct whiff of their soil. And look at Balram Halwai's self-introduction--clunky and graceless. Not a sign of that grand manner prompted by a self-image that rises high above cabbying.

I felt obliged to read about this man because his creator was awarded the GREAT BOOKER PRIZE. AWE!!!!

Anyway I'm done with him now. I doubt if a single word, line, scene or character of this badly constructed, superficially observed novel is going to stay with me. Aravind Adiga, you need to pull up your socks for the next one, mate. Underside or Overside, try to look beneath surfaces. That's where you'll find life.

PS: It's such a relief to be writing a blog. If I were reviewing "The White Tiger", I would have gone looking with a magnifying glass for "good things to say" about it. I am obsessed with being balanced, with the need to be kind. I am pathologically incapable of stripping writers, playwrights, directors, actors down to their chaddis for the grave sins they commit against their art. We are all of us fallible aren't we?

1 comment:

Jabeen said...

Ha! It's a relief to have you let your hair down and give us a taste of your real writing style. I've always felt that your newspaper column isn't really you, in the way that your novels and plays are.

Though it seems to me that a blog on the internet is likely to be read by more people and last longer than the Mumbai Mirror once a fortnight. So I wouldn't call this kinder :)