The blog about nothing

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A letter to Aravind Adiga

Dear Mr. Adiga,

Firstly, I congratulate you on winning the prestigious Booker prize. It is a remarkable achievement indeed for a young first-time novelist.

I started reading “White tiger” but was straight away baffled by a work in English that begins, “Neither I nor you speak any English, but there are some things that can only be said in English”. Why would a major work in the English language adopt the epistolatory voice of someone who does not know the language and be addressed to someone else who does not know both English and the language spoken by the letter writer, I wondered. But, that is not why I am writing to you.

I have read much about how you came to write this book. You have been quoted as saying,” So, where's this Shining India everyone's talking about? It was time someone broke the myth," and that “The world needed to see the other side of India."

But then Mr. Adiga, India Shining was a merely a marketing slogan and marketing slogans are not the gospel truth (it is probably the very opposite). I do think that the real perception of India outside the country is still very third world. It is not as though we are being seen as a developed country simply because there have been some positive economic developments recently. No one thinks that the spectacular GDP growth of recent years has wiped out poverty in India! This growth has not been inclusive and income inequality is a huge problem; these facts are well acknowledged by economists, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. If you want proof, I can Google and send you some links. It is obvious that the Indian growth story has a long way to go.

You also talk about this incident which seems to have been a key inspiration. “I was buying furniture in New Delhi five years ago and the storeowner said, `Don't give me cash, give me a deposit of Rs 1,000 [$25], and give the rest to the man when he delivers it.' So when the man came to my house -- and he was a very poor man -- he put down the furniture and then I paid him the money. Then he asked for a Rs 10 tip which I gave it him. I was amazed that this man who made a maximum of Rs 1,000 a month or perhaps even less, was taking a bundle of money to give to his master. I wondered what made this man and people like him honest? This is something people in India take for granted. In essence, the novel began as a way of understanding this phenomenon. The social structure of the master and the servants, I realised, was not anything like in the [rest of the] world”.

I, would like to suggest that what made him honest had nothing to do with servant-master (your expression, I myself would not care to use it) but rather police-jail. Let us assume he was not servile at all, he had no family to think about, but, if he stole the money he could end up in jail. Most people like to avoid jail. A whole system of law and order is based on that.

You further say, “It is, like, basically you follow your dharma or code of life because who you are depends on the economic well-being of your family and the name your family has. You cannot take the money and run because that will put your entire family in peril or in disgrace”.

Firstly, you almost sound like you want the man to take the money and run! Secondly, if you try to take the money and run, you could end up in jail and that is an excellent reason not to do it. And it is merely universal human nature to pause and think about the consequences of your action on your family; it is not some special dharma and code designed to keep poor Indians poor! We do have to be more mindful of the “family name” in India, but all Indians have to do that. Finally, did you even consider the possibility that all masters are not bad people and that some actually treat their servants with kindness and that is why large scale servant rebellion has been prevented? Do consider my explanations too because they are simple and they do not strain logic to it’s limits.

The letter writer of your novel, Mr. Balram Halwai is upset that visiting dignitaries such as the Chinese premier Mr. Wen Jiabao are shown how “Moral and saintly India is”; what would Balram want us to do? Should we go, “Welcome Mr. Jiabao and now here is a tour of the seamy underbelly of India”? The angry but clear thinking Mr. Halwai could have done better than to expect that, officially speaking, we would do anything other than paint a rosy picture of India. That is only reasonable, is it not?

I only wish Balram had realized that the foreign dignitaries are not so stupid as to believe everything they are told (he seems intelligent enough); that the visitors do know that the carefully orchestrated presentation of India they have received is not the “real” truth about India. They know that all Indians don’t live in the same five-star hotel conditions that they have experienced and eat gourmet food prepared by talented chefs. These people do business with India and I am sure they encounter corruption, bureaucracy, politically motivated hurdles and all other sorts of obstacles. They could tell Mr. Halwai a thing or two!

Now, there would be a real problem if the dark side of India went unexposed in the mass media. But, that is not the case. I dare you to open the daily newspaper and not see grim news about corruption, the recent communal violence in Orissa, Karnataka, Assam and Maharashtra, terror attacks, caste oppression and the lack of basic infrastructure in terms of housing, education and medical care for many millions. You know how I know these things? I read “The Hindu” daily, available on the Internet for everyone in the world to read.

To act as though the dark realities of India have gone unexposed is to discredit the work of intrepid Indian journalists, you yourself were one of them. The system is not perfect but truths do come out and receive wide coverage outside India; people are afraid to visit India due to a perception of increased terror risk, devout Christians around the world are worried about atrocities in the far corner of Kandhamal in Orissa. I doubt that we can quietly cover these things up by saying Incredible India and India Shining. So we sometimes come up with marketing slogans, what is wrong about that? Good things have happened too you know; the GDP growth of the last few years is not a myth.

You did manage the “darkly comic” Mr. Adiga, with a citizen of a democratic country- where the media functions with a decent amount of freedom-writing a letter exposing it to the head of a state famous for it’s non-transparent ways and where the truths are actually hidden!

Your literary achievement cannot be doubted, you have presented your take on things that need to be talked about and you have a written a very important book. But, the truth about India is neither shining nor dark; it is one of partial illumination. India shining does not work and neither does dark India.



At 8:59 AM, Blogger prabhu said...

tats a nice letter.. send it to him.. he'll appreciate it..

At 1:38 AM, Blogger Indian Home Maker said...

Wow, I liked the way you write.. Here through Blog Bharti.
Couldn't get the book at Land Mark yesterday...was told it would be available today. Asked the pavement book seller outside, he said he'd give the same book at a discounted price. Now am wondering if I should get it at all. The reviews haven't been good.

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Vetrimagal said...

Yes, I too was having thoughts about "the poor man not stealing" while I was watching the author's interview. The fear of jail and family name deters most of them. Lack of support of the community too is another hurdle in stealing.

Well written blog. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Sandeep said...

Good one, Meera!

Posted it on my blog. Your post deserves wider publicity.



At 10:06 AM, Blogger Sundaraz said...

You are saying that the poor man did not steal because of police-jail? You are saying that the poor man is by default morally defunct, and would like to pounce on the riches of other people, and this animal is held back only by the fear of police-jail? What kind of judgment is this? Extending this argument, I could say all women are prostitutes by default and it is the fear of police-jail that keeps them from going astray. Bull Shit. For god's sake, he wrote a story and not some political commentary on the economic condition of India.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Meera said...

I said no such thing since I was considering more than one possibility. I was merely responding to Mr. Adiga's thoughts on crime by pointing out that there is something called law and order, that is all. I myself believe in the innate honesty of people. But that is just my belief, not anything I can prove, so I could not bring it up as much as I would have liked to. Believe me, that was my first thought. But, I had to stick to things factual and logical especially when I was going after someone for not doing that. Mr. Adiga is the one who has simply refused to consider that possibility at all. Go write to him.

Why are you so angry? Are you related to Mr. A.? You make as little sense as him, use unnecessarily harsh language, jump to conclusions on little or no reasonable basis and that extension of argument was beyond ridiculous. I could extend it and call you a moron, but I won't.

By the way, it is not just a "story" and of course there is the aspect of social commentary!
Not "political commentary on the economic condition of India" because I don't think there is anything like that.

Finally, Adiga's use of "servant-master" itself made me cringe so please don't use words like "animal". It is really really really distasteful. If you have something to say, make a case for it and I will be delighted to hear it.

But, am glad you brought it up. I really think people are good and honest, servant or master.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Sundaraz said...

I'm sorry if you found my language insensitive. I believe that our English language authors are much over-hyped when compared to our vernacular writers, and am not angry or whatever on your criticism of Arvinda. I noticed your post in Sandeep's blog, and found the police-jail premise immediately repulsive. Hence the comment.

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Vetti Guy said...

Let me see if I can provide a different perspective to this argument on the "Servant-Master" relationship and why it hasn't disintegrated in India, like it has in other Western countries.

The author wonders - 'What made this man and people like him honest? This is something people in India take for granted. In essence, the novel began as a way of understanding this phenomenon.'

The author argues that its about the family name. You contend that it also has something to do with law and order and the consequences therein. Surprisingly, no one seems to be talking about, in my opinion, the single most important factor in this discussion - Religion.

If you look at the poor in India, the majority of them are either Hindus or Christians. Mostly Hindus. And whats the central premise of Hinduism? That what you are in this birth is a consequence of your actions in a previous incarnation(s). And this is how God intended it to be. A rich man is rich because of the punyam from his last birth. If you are born poor, its because you probably spent your previous birth sneaking up behind cows and pinching them. The message thats drilled into the poor is that their miserable circumstances are a consequence of their own past actions and has absolutely nothing to do with the rich people, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. This works perfectly for the "masters". The "servant" who gets a job as a cook or a cleaner in the house is actually grateful that the rich man is helping him out. There is no building up any kind of resentment against the richer class, which I think is the key to maintaining this precarious peace between "servant" and "master". It is this resentment that leads to revolutions, whether on a large or small scale. Religion is the opium that keeps the masses quiet, making them disregard their own suffering and prevents any kind of meaningful action to set the situation right. This is mainly why the "servant" in the example Mr Adiga gives does not run away with the 1000 rupees in his hand. Am not saying that the law is not a deterrent. It surely is. But the fact that he has to live with the voice in his head (also referred to as "conscience") when he steps into a temple the next day - I think it plays a bigger part.

Sadly, the poor man in India is almost always resigned to his fate. The only thing that keeps him going everyday is the hope that God is watching his family from above and will grant them a better existence later in life or maybe the next birth. Even Christ says that the meek shall one day inherit the earth, or at least Switzerland (am paraphrasing here). Its the same with religions everywhere. As long as he is not educated, the "servant" will never realize that its his "master" (and others like him) who are keeping him poor, and not God or fate. Religion and its moral policing is always more effective than the state and its laws. The break out of lawlessness in any country is always a reflection of the prior breakdown of religion. And as long as religion continues to hold its sway in India, I don't see how the "servant-master" structure will collapse.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Ace said...

Came by way of Sandeep's blog. Excellent points raised and responses made. I don't think I will be reading the book. Arundhati Roy's God of small things was enough of a disappointment as far as these Indian Booker Prize winners go!

At 8:30 PM, Blogger OnTheMove said...

Well..Just a few points:
1) Dark India/India Shining?? The answer lies in the fact that India has the largest number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. If you are not aware of this fact, read

2) You actually called Mr Sundaraz a "MORON".. !!!

3) I'm neither related to Mr A nor to Mr Sundaraz..

4) I'm now not reading The White Tiger. The only reason being "the beginning lines of the book" as mentioned by you. Actually I know English, so according to Mr A the book is not meant for me:-)


At 9:36 PM, Blogger prudent indian said...

Good read!
Of course 90% people are honest because they just can not afford to be 'dishonest'.

For majority of those 10% dishonest, jails are constructed, some of these 10% - who are real masters - can be easily found in state assemblies and Parliament.


Sad but true, nevertheless. An another reality AA must have been aware of.

At 11:51 PM, Blogger cynicalcount said...

Just wanted to leave my 2 pence views on two things.

Not stealing is not due to fear of jail but due to fear of long term issues. Just Imagine, he steals then what either he gets caught which is a remote possiblity or else he will continue to live a life theiving and doing other such anti social activites and perhaps he didnt want to do such activities and probably it was not fear of jail.

Second was you mentioned about devout christians ..I know this is digression from the whole point of your post but could not resist. You seem to believe whatever the Hindu as the gospel truth and Ram as some great saviour anyways the issue I wanted to tell you and other such left oriented people is there are two sides to a coin and if you are interested kindly read satya darshini booklets distributed by Pentacosts and New life and you will realise why Orissa voilence happened.

BTW, you should really start writing a book.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger Meera said...

Mr Sundaraz, You found it immediately repulsive and you immediately commented without thinking. Lord forbid, I mention the word police when talking about crime!

I thought about many things. The first thing was that the person was honest. But, if that alone was enough, then why would we need this whole expensive law and order machinery? A man may well be honest but circumstances could push him to dishonesty, poverty could well be one of the circumstances, it may not even be to rescue himself from poverty but just when a person is really pushed, like when faced by some pressing medical expenses.

The question is why does he not take the money and run and the simplest answer is because this is not some lawless place where you can just take and run! It was that taking and running that made me think about police, jail etc. This is also more about a person contemplating a crime, what would stop him? Many things I suppose, but I found it hard to connect it to “the social structure of the master and the servants”.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger Meera said...

Vetti guy, thanks for the comment but I am not even going to go anywhere near what you have said!

Thanks for that link Rajeev, it will help Mr. Adiga, who seems to think the fact that there are poor people in India has gone largely unnoticed. Plus, India is very likely to have the “largest” number of people in any list simply because it has a large number of people. So, when it comes to India, it is better to avoid absolute numbers in favour of rankings, per 100 type of information, etc

Mr Sundaraz, I did come close to calling you a moron, I am sorry. You are not a moron, thanks for your comment.

My dear cynical, I have no idea what your digression even meant. You have this terrible habit of bringing up your own cynical view points at every opportunity. It is not fair to just bring up something unrelated because you have an axe to grind! Do that in your own blog. But, am delighted you think I can write a book. Thanks for that.

You are all looking at nuances and layers and there may be 62 reasons as to “what made this man and people like him honest?” but NONE of that will be held together if there was no system of law and order. I was just going for that final explanation. I have considered what you people say, as interesting as it none of it would work in the absence of this system. It astonishes me that people think that religion alone prevents crime! When you people are victims of some crime, you are going to appreciate the fact that there is a police a whole lot better!

I HAD to think about this question because Mr. Adiga says, “In essence, the novel began as a way of understanding this phenomenon”. He won the Booker as a result (and he does talk about it a lot). He keeps wondering why people are not taking and running and every time I was going “you can’t just take and run”!!:-)It did cross my mind that the question itself is idiotic. And he gets awards for that! Finally, all of us have put more thought into it and anything we have come up with is more reasonable.

Everyone, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.

At 5:17 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

India does not allow dual citizenship. If Aravind Adiga is an Australian citizen then he cannot be an Indian citizen. An Australian - ex Indian citizen

At 5:18 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

India does not allow dual citizenship. If Aravind Adiga is an Australian citizen then he cannot be an Indian citizen. An Australian - ex Indian citizen

At 1:46 PM, Blogger KR said...

Good post. I guess it has become fashionable to bash India these days. Any novel, movie or any form of art that brings down India, her culture, society, people etc., receives good reception among international circuit, more so if it is done by an Indian. Why would an aspiring writer want to miss out an opportunity to cash-in on this? Going by reviews, I personally don't see any novelty value in this work and wouldn't waste my time on this crap. I think everyone in India in touch with reality knows about the two extremes in our society, state of poor and the gap that widening between rich and poor. That's part and parcel of our capitalistic life and nothing much a common man can do about it.

At 4:32 AM, Blogger Raghuvamshi said...

Hey, I read the book and I agree to everything u have written.....but isn't it a work of friction ???? Chill yarr, I never thought so many emotions could come out of a driver..... I think its a Good Read and I think it should be considered as a work of friction.

At 1:30 AM, Blogger Ankit said...

Yesterday, I started another blog, and by co-incident, I have covered up the same topic.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger venky said...

Hi evreybody. so many thoughts being poured but when do we realize the fact that overseas acknowledgment is more t do with India bashing and not India shining. although the book is a decent work of fiction but the author chooses that limb of India which is still a minority that we all have and try to hide. I feel somehow people are getting the idea that such representations are spicy , sordid and cheap enough to attract attention. Ive read between the Assassinations too and am no more bright spark than what I was earlier.May be with time I will grow wise enough to understand the nuances of the literary world, but until then I continue to disregard such biased representation of India, a country which is as good if not better than the rest.


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