October 17, 2008 10:55:43 am
“A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 per cent to exist in perpetual servitude, a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.”
— ‘The White Tiger’
Discontended men and thwarted ambitions fill the pages of his debut novel. But Aravind Adiga’s ambitions and dreams are far from being thwarted. In fact, with the Booker win he joins the elite club of writers like Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie who won the prestigious award for their debut novels. In an exclusive interview with Premankur Biswas, Adiga talks about his book and his contemporaries.
How is life post-Booker?
It’s an honour—and a very humbling experience.
Many have proclaimed your book as the true face of “alternative India”, but was The White Tiger a conscious attempt to talk about a different India?
The White Tiger is a novel—not a social or political treatise; I hope the readers remember that. It’s meant to be fun, and engaging, and provocative.
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Your protagonist, Balram Halwai, seems to be an embodiment of the brash and ambitious new India. Was that intentional?
I wanted to depict someone from our vast underclass, but not in a sentimental or cliched manner; I wanted to capture the humour, wit, and anger that courses in repressed channels below middle-class life in India.
Your book in comparison to past Booker winners from India, stands out because of its almost unapologetic stance of not talking about the country’s colonial past, it refuses to soak in nostalgia, nor does it burden itself with the responsibility of presenting the country to a western reader. Do you agree?
No—this is not true. All the prize-winning books by Indian writers have been fine achievements. One example: Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss is a stunning achievement, which is fully contemporary and true to India today. Roy, Desai, Rushdie, and also Mistry (who has been short-listed three times, though he has not won) are all terrific writers.
What did you think of Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies, which was also shortlisted for the Booker this year?
One cannot say enough about the book that is good. I did meet Amitav Ghosh the day before the ceremony, which was a great thrill. He was a teacher at Columbia University when I was a student there, but I’d been too shy to go up to him then to get his autograph. He is a very great writer—and one whom I admire very much. Also, he is incredibly modest and unassuming; I kept calling him Mr Ghosh as I couldn’t bring myself about to address him as Amitav, as he kept asking me to do.
How important is recognition like the Booker for writers in India?
It’s very important, as literary writers (as opposed to mass-market writers) still have to struggle to find readers—in any country. The award confers glamour and recognition upon serious writers—which helps a serious book get wide attention.
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