Animal Graces 6 : Face It, Tiger, You Hit the Jackpot

whitetiger

Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: There shouldn’t be a lot connecting Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” and Aravind Adiga’s acclaimed “The White Tiger,” a Man Booker Prize Winner from a few years back. Both feature tigers and have a youthful Indian protagonist out on a set of picaresque adventures. But there’s a larger tie between the novels, a similar tone of observational naivete. Martel uses it to examine the universal canvas. Adiga uses to examine Hindu society as it plays out in “The Darkness,” that large, politically and hygienically hazardous area of India whose great symbol is the Ganges, perhaps the world’s most monumentally diseased holy river. “The White Tiger” is the story of Balram Halwai, who might self-identify with the powerful feline of the title but is still caught behind the complicated bars of his caste system. (The other dominant metaphor involves the Chicken Coop: the cruel, artificial cage in which the tradition-trapped Indians generally poop on each other without complaining.) Halwai’s name signals him as a “sweet-maker”- and therefore descendant of sweet-makers for generations untold- but Balram skips out of his caste by finding work as a driver for an affluent family of landlords. What he learns from the driver’s seat about the back-seat machinations of wealth is both depressing and blistering satirical. It provides ample content for the messages Balram sends to Wen Jiabao, the former Premier of the People’s republic of China- (that’s the novel’s framing device). “The White Tiger”‘s ultimate epiphany is grim: “There are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat—or get eaten up.” But the journey to the grimness is not without humor.

Beatricia Beatricia: “The White Tiger” is not only a delight to read, but also offers an instructive look at the psyche of the continent that seems primed to subsume our quickly fading “First World” glories. Much to learn here, whether it’s about teeth-ruining Paan chewing, or about the loyal Hanuman, the glorious Monkey God.

hanuman

Trent Trent: … What… What is that? I am in awe… It is hypnotic… I want that. I want to BE that. Why doesn’t MY religion have any Monkey-Man King-God? We really snoozed on that one!

Tracey Tracey: Yeah, it’s a pity your “religion” didn’t inspire “Dragon Ball Z.” What is your “religion” exactly, Trent? I never even saw you wake up before 3 PM on Sundays. Which denomination inspires devotion in your dark, sexist void of a soul?

Trent Trent: Presbitologiarism?

Tracey Tracey: C for effort. Anyway, “The White Tiger” was brilliant, engaging, and I couldn’t help but root for its put-upon hero, who is after all a triple victim of Imperialism, Globalism, and India’s two-millenia-old caste system. I can’t exactly condone Balram’s increasingly corrupt behavior- theft and murder set him on the path of “entrepreneurial success”- but of course a caged tiger will eventually try to leap out of his cage.

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: Ah, give Gandhi a handy and he takes the whole army! I wonder what Rudyard Kipling would have to say about the revolt-ready hero of “The White Tiger.”

“Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

To which the hero of “The White Tiger” would reply with some retaliatory beltings and flayings of his own. Beware the heaving feline of Delhi!

Father Hank Hank: A roaring good read. Oh, and all that menacing political stuff about how “yellow and brown shall rise against white” is said in the spirit of jest, right? Right?

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “The Darkness–Is Not Only a Delight;– It Is Hypnotic,– Inspires Devotion,– Theft and Murder.–Beware–!– Right? Right?”

5 out of 6 Cherries

 

 

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