Magazine 2013
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
The Paradox Of Progress And Change In India:  
Voices Of Dissent And Assent In Arvind  
Adiga’s Novel “The White Tiger”  
Rajshree Trivedi  
This paper aims to investigate a few dichotomous issues related to the economic progress that  
India has made by joining the bandwagon of consolidation and globalization- the two contemporary  
buzzwords of the present world economy. Has the economic progress driven the Indian culture and  
society to a backseat giving way to corruption, immorality and violence? Has the age old caste and  
feudal social-structure system of ancient India been replaced by the overpowering class structure that  
has emerged with the steep rise in entrepreneurship and the influx of multinational brands in the Indian  
society? Has the culture of consumerism promoted the mentality of making a fast buck among the  
deprived, the marginalized and the occupational stereotyped communitiesin the contemporary rural  
as well as urban India? Through the first person narrative of Balram Halwai- a boy from a remote part  
of Bihar who moves to be an entrepreneur to the Silicon city of Bangalore- the novel delves into the life  
of a common man who evolves into being a successful entrepreneur and a murderer, too. With its  
innovative style and technique of narration, the novel coveted with the 40th Man Booker Prize has  
received a wide readership and acclaim. In spite of the accusations that the novel presents an anti  
image of modern India, it attempts to what Adiga claims “to catch the voice of the men you meet as  
you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass.”  
Keywords - Economic Progress, Consolidation, Globalization, Class Structure, Colossal Underclass.  
India in the twenty first century leaps on the global map as a powerful economic sector that  
provides a potential global market for various multi-nationals and foreign based industries. A rapid growth of  
economy following the economic liberalization policies since the early 1990s and a progressive revolution in  
the fields of technology and telecommunications have changed the lifestyle of the common men in India.  
Consequently, a remote village in India may still be deprived of fresh supply of drinking water or proper  
sanitation facilities but it does surely boast of men and women walking around with cell phones on ears or for  
that matter the dusty roads littered with inorganic waste of the used plastic bottles and fast food wrappers. The  
academic sector has also witnessed an accelerated growth with the foreign universities luring Indian students  
for studying abroad and the mushrooming private universities trying to reach at par with the global standards.  
The educated youth of the higher or middle class families is able to pursue careers of his/her dreams and  
choice however, this stupendous growth hardly affects millions of other Indians who still continue to struggle  
against the ill-effects of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, depravity and exploitation.  
Arvind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger addresses these dichotomies prevailing in the contemporary  
Indian geographical, political and social scenarios. The writer seems to be creating what Friedrich Nietzsche  
terms as the Apollonian and Dionysian(Nietzsche, 1872) dialectic by juxtaposing the polarities projected  
throughout the novel. Primarily applied to the Greek tragedies, the term underlines the parallel mutuality of  
antithetical ideas, at times conflicting and yet other times coinciding with or into each other. As a consequence,  
what emerges is a pattern where”two very different drives go hand in hand, for the most part in open conflict  
with each other and simultaneously provoking each other all the time to new and more powerful  
offspring”(Nietzsche, 1872 :11)  
Patterns of dualities ramify throughout the novel as it progresses and oscillates temporally and spatially  
through the three geographical locations-Laxmangarh, Delhi and Bangalore. While Laxmangarh represents the  
pre-independent feudal India, Delhi is a combination of the rich historical past and the new post-independent  
capital city India. Bangalore, an off shoot of the avant-garde India has been a silicon metro that has emerged  
as a techno-hub in the last two decades. Although a great nation with more than sixty years of independence  
and a rich cultural past, “India is two countries in one- an India of Light , and an India of Darkness”.  
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RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
Laxmangarh is a beautiful, fertile land with paddy fields and buffaloes chewing white lilies and lotuses at the  
ponds in the village however, the residents of Laxmangarh call it “the Darkness” (Adiga, 14) Ironically, it falls  
in the district of Gaya where Lord Buddha attained the Enlightenment. The narrator Balram Halwai exclaims in  
his first letter to Mr. Jiabao, the Chinese Premier :  
I wonder if the Buddha walked through Laxmangarh- some people  
say he did. My own feeling is that he ran through it- as fast as he  
could- and got to the side- and never looked back!  
Adiga, 18)  
Laxmangarh is exactly the reverse of an Indian or Chinese village paradise. Six decades of independence  
from the British rule has certainly given the basic amenities and infrastructure to the village but without any  
sustained maintenance.  
Darkness is associated in this district with the blackness of the river Ganges. It has become more of  
being the “river of Death” rather than that of a life giver. “Everywhere this river flows, that area is the Darkness”  
writes Balram to Mr. Jiabao as he urges him not to take a dip into this holy river lest his mouth be  
...(full) of faeces, straws, soggy parts of human bodies, buffalo  
carrion, and seven different kinds of industrial acid….. The purity  
and sanctity of the river is as elusive as the message of the Great  
Socialist, the most powerful leader of the district for children:  
Any boy in any village can grow up to become the prime minister  
of India.” (Adiga,55)  
The capital city of Delhi, the second geographical location in the novel is the place where Balaram  
Halwai, the chauffer commits the crime of murder of his master Ashok for money. Delhi, the glorious capital of  
India is also divided into the New Delhi of Light and the Old Delhi of Darkness. The parody of the Great  
Rooster Coop behind the Jama Masjid stands symbolically true for its human habitats as well.The Rooster  
Coop is a dungeon filled with broken limbs, feathers, flesh and fresh blood spilt around with birds knowing  
that their turn is next yet not making any efforts to rebel and come out of it. The poor who dwell in unhygienic,  
filthy and congested slums live exactly the same kind of miserable life. “These poor bastards had come from  
the Darkness to Delhi to find some light- but they are still in the darkness”, mumbles Balram as he drives his  
masters to the residence of the Prime Minister. (Adiga, 158) Parallel to these descriptions run the pompous,  
flashy lives of the rich in their fast moving cars, plush residences and posh hangouts. Each one – the poor  
as well as the rich –dreams in the city but Adiga warns:  
“The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor- they never  
overlap……See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough  
to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream  
of? Losing weight and looking like the poor.” (Adiga, 225 )  
Bangalore, the third location does not either offer a complete paradise or light. “Men and women in  
Bangalore live like animals in a forest do. Sleep in the day and then work all night….because their masters are  
on the other side of the world, in America……..the men of this city, frankly speaking are animals.” (Adiga, 298)  
But there is a difference between Laxmangarh and Bangalore. The difference between that and this India is a  
man can choose to be or remain good in Bangalore but in Laxmangarh he doesn’t have this choice. However,  
this urban-jungle paradise is soon going to be contaminated by the construction sites that are rampantly  
being erected here and there to meet the housing demands of the increasing number of the American  
professionals in the city. But the truth is: “The entire city is under a veil. When the veil is lifted…….maybe it will  
be a disaster.”(Adiga, 299)  
The novel posits the contrarieties of two political ideologies - democracy vis-à-vis Marxism. Balram  
enjoys all the fruits of democracy as a free entrepreneur in the democratic India. He continuously dwells in his  
traumatic past cursing the feudal system, portraying the proletariat and the aristocrats in a stereotypical way.  
Although his sharp entrepreneurship skills and the conducive market requirements have pushed him towards  
the upward social mobility, his deep rooted prejudices, and hatred for the capitalists and the feudal landlords  
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paradoxically reflect his bent towards the Marxist ideology. He strongly believes that the history of all  
societies is the history of the war between the rich and the poor:  
Mr. Premier, I won’t be saying anything new if I say that the history  
of the world is the history of a ten-thousand-year war of brains  
between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to  
hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start  
of time, the poor win a few battles (the peeing in the potted plants,  
the kicking of the pet dogs, etc.) but of course, the rich have  
won the war for ten thousand years. (Adiga, 41)  
Adiga’s views on the age old conflict between the rich and the poor seem to echo the basic Marxist  
ideology of the class struggle as theorized in The Communist Manifesto:  
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class  
struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and  
serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and  
oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried  
on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that  
each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society  
at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. (Marx  
and Engels, 35)  
However, both the ideologies drift apart after moving from a certain focal point. The Marxist ideology  
predicts that there is a state of either the ruin or the reconstitution of a healthy society after a long struggle  
between both the contending classes. Conversely, Adiga’s Balram pronounces the guaranteed victory of the  
rich but is not contended with that social arrangement determined by them. What he seeks is to break the  
shackles of slavery and poverty and seek for freedom- “the chance to be a man for which one murder was  
enough” for Balram. (Adiga, 518). It seems Balram resonates Raskalnikov’s consent to the idea of “rational  
egoism” (Henry Sidgwick, 93) expressed by the University Student in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment.  
The aggressive outburst of the University Student against the old, ‘pernicious’ pawnbroker is expressed as:  
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of existence could be directed  
along the right road; dozens of families could be saved from  
poverty, decay, ruin, vice,……..and all that on her money! Murder  
her and take her money away, so as to devote yourself with its  
help to serving all mankind and the common weal.  
(Dostoevsky, 82)  
However, neither Raskolnikov nor Balram commit the murders of the rich in order to liberate the wealth  
of the hoarder with a welfare cause. While Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov is unable to do anything with the  
valuables that he had stolen from his victim,Adiga’s Balram invests the seven hundred thousand rupees of his  
victim in transforming himself from a chauffer to a successful entrepreneur. What works for him is his theory –  
“Entrepreneurs are made from half-baked clay.” He wants to call his life’s story as ‘The Autobiography Of A Half  
Baked Indian’. Thousands of people like him are ‘half baked’. Such “half formed and half digested and half-  
correct (ideas), mix up with other half-cooked ideas ……and these half-formed ideas bugger one another,  
and make more half-formed ideas and this is what you act on live with.”(Adiga 11)  
Freedom is what Balram craves for all along the novel. Servitude or devotion is a bane for him. He is  
against the institutionalized forms of religions that binds a man into a set of norms, rituals and sacraments. His  
outbursts result into profanities. His blasphemous comments on the Hindu deity Lord Hanuman exemplify his  
atheistic behaviour and attitude:  
the] temple. Inside, you will find an image of a saffron coloured  
creature, half man half monkey: this is Hanuman, everyone’s  
favourite god in the Darkness. Do you know about Hanuman, sir?  
He was the faithful servant of the god Rama, and we worship him  
in our temples because he is a shining example of how to serve  
your masters with absolute fidelity, love and devotion…..These  
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RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
are the kinds of gods they have foisted on us, Mr. Jiabao.  
Understand, now, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in  
India. (Adiga, 19).  
Aping the Indian films of eighties that began with the number 786 or the picture of goddess Laxmi  
showering golden coins, he grudgingly offers a secular but a sarcastic invocation :  
I guess, Your Excellency, that I too should start off by kissing  
some god’s arse. Which gods…..? See, the Muslims have one  
god. The Christians have three gods. And we Hindus have  
36,000,000 gods. Making a grand total of 36,000,004 divine arses  
for me to choose from.” (Adiga, 6)  
He prays to the gods to shine light on his dark story. “ Bear with me, Mr Jiabao. This could take a  
while. How quickly do you think you could kiss 36,000,004 arses?” (Adiga ,7)  
One finds the strong traits of an ‘anti-hero’ figure in the tragic-comic narration of events of Balram’s life.  
Apparently, Adiga’s ‘anti-hero” seems to be a mould of the Nietzschean image of ‘master and slave morality’.  
Master morality stands for qualities where wealth, strength, health, and power counts as good while bad is  
associated with the poor, weak, sick, and pathetic. Slave morality stands for submission, weakness and  
humility on the part of the poor and it is highly infectious. Nietzsche calls for exceptional people to no longer  
be ashamed of their uniqueness in the face of a supposed morality-for-all, which he deems to be harmful to the  
flourishing of exceptional people. He cautions, however, that morality, per se, is not bad; it is good for the  
masses, and should be left to them. Exceptional people, on the other hand, should follow their own “inner law.”  
A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: “Become what you are.” (Nietzsche, 1887)  
Incidentally Balram shows exceptional qualities right from his childhood at the school to his successful  
adulthood. He is the one who is being called “ the white tiger”- the rare one by his family and school  
teachers. He introduces himself in his letters to the Chinese Premier as the one who is “ a Thinking Man”, a  
Philosopher’ and “ His educator of How to be an Entrepreneur,” a social as well as a business entrepreneur. He  
is not the one who submissively accepts what his destiny has assigned to him akin to that of thousands of  
others of his fraternity. He seriously ponders over their fallen status:  
Every day, on the roads of Delhi, some chauffeur is driving an  
empty car with a black suitcase sitting on the backseat. Inside  
that suitcase is a million, two million rupees; more money than  
that chauffeur will see in his lifetime. If he took the money he could  
go to America, Australia, anywhere, and start a new life. He could  
go inside the five-star hotels he has dreamed about all his life and  
only seen from the outside. He could take his family to Goa, to  
England. Yet he takes that black suitcase where his master wants.  
He puts it down where he is meant to, and never touches a rupee.  
Why?” The answer is because “the servant is in the Rooster  
Coop.” There is no way out or one doesn’t need a way out of this  
coop. If you offer them the key of emancipation in a man’s hand,  
he will throw it back at you with a curse. The trustworthiness of  
servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy…. A handful of  
men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent- as  
strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way- to exist in perpetual  
servitude. (Adiga, 174)  
But the redemption takes place only when there is a revolution that comes one in hundred years.  
Balram is not the one who will wait for it to come. With his self-proclaimed half-baked theories and the  
philosophical realization attained after having heard the Muslim Uncle’s poetry “You were looking for the key  
for years/But the door was always open, “ he is able to break through the chains of poverty, servitude, bonded  
labour, caste-trademarks or the theory of ‘once a servant, always a servant’. He believes, “the Rooster Coop  
needs people like me to break out of it.” Having murdered his master, he proudly declares to himself:  
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RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
I’ve made it! I’ve broken out of the coop!” He justifies his crime  
at the end of the novel by admitting “All I wanted was the chance  
to be a man- and for that, one murder was enough.’ (Adiga, 518)  
Thus, Adiga’s novel operates on bipolar levels of realities, unfolding one after the other, the layers of  
inner and outer social structures of a dysfunctional society imbalanced by the clash between the ‘haves’ and  
‘have-nots’. Unemployment and lack of skilled professionals, poverty and affluence, prostitution and progress  
coexist in modern India with an individual forced to bake his or her own theories in order to achieve material  
gain and wealth or living the life of a man. Written in a simple day to day conversational style of language, the  
narration is transferred into a series of letters to the Chinese Premier. The narration is a satire on the so called  
technological and economic progress that India and the outsiders claim to have made where the narrator  
writes to the Chinese Premier that he would show His Excellency the other side of India that may never be  
found in any of the travelogues or “booklet full of information “ about India.  
Adiga, Arvind. The White Tiger. New Delhi : Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN970-81-7233- 746-3. 2008.  
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime And Punishment (1866). trans. by Julius Katzer in 1988. Moscow: Raduga  
Publishers. Print.  
Engels, Friedrich and Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto (1848). trans. by Martin Malia. New York:  
Penguin Group, 1998 ISBN 0-451-52710-0. Print.  
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth Of Tragedy: Out Of The Spirit Of Music(1872) trans. by Ian Johnston.  
Accessed on 11 Jan., 2013 from…/Nietzsche- The- Birth-of-Tragedy-  
pdf. Web.  
Nietzsche, Friedrich. ‘Good And Evil, Good And Bad’ in On The Genealogy Of Morals (1887) trans. by  
Ian Johnston. Accessed on 11 January, 2013 from genealogytofc.htm.  
Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods Of Ethics. USA : Hackett Publishing, ISBN-10:0915145286. 1981. Print.  
“Globalization is not just about changing relations between the ‘inside’  
of the nation-state and the ‘outside’ of the international system. It cuts  
across received categories, creating myriad multilayered intersections,  
overlapping playing fields, and actors skilled at working across these  
boundaries. People are at once rooted and rootless, local producers  
and global consumers, threatened in their identities yet continually  
remaking those identities.”  
Philip G. Cerny