Change in ancient cultures- “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Aravind Adiga has won (2008) the Man Booker Prize for his very first novel. Curious, I had placed a hold on the book at my town library and sure enough the book is in big demand and is on a strict 15 day turn-around.

Note for readers unfamiliar with current day India : This post is dated November 2, 2008 when the book had been released. The movie was released on Netflix on January 13, 2021. Since then there is great interest in this post. Note that the movie is set in 2008 and India and the world has made great technology strides in the meanwhile. The biggest is cell phone cameras and social media participation in a very participatory and exuberant democracy like India. For eg. , towards the end of the movie the existing taxi contractors remain docile upon being harassed by police in Bangalore (now Bengaluru- the Silicon Valley of India). We believe that this is very difficult in 2021 as the you can expect a vociferous opposition because of huge connectivity between people. We mention this to put the 2021 movie in historical context.


Adiga has written a gripping tale and covers both India and China with the protoganist Munna  or “The White Tiger” writing from Bangalore as a now powerful taxi operator who provides taxi services to the call centers of big brand companies like Microsoft and so on. Munna is an “entrepreneur” writing to the Chinese Prime Minister (throughout the entire novel)  who is visiting Bangalore and wants to meet local Indian entrepreneurs to understand their story. The book is about Munna’s evolution as an “entrepreneur” from abject  poverty based roots as a Rickshaw Puller’s son.

The most fascinating thing about the book is the understanding that Adiga brings about the changing  ancient social structure in India. He does so in a sort of cynical manner highlighting rare betrayal by the servant of the master.  I rather prefer the lighter approach  of PG Wodehouse called the “feudal spirit”  where Jeeves is pretty much always loyal to Bertie Wooster. 

To Adiga’s credit however, he does bring out continuity and change in the Indian social fabric as the economy booms and “catching up”  with China is on peoples’ minds. Adiga’s incredulous observation that dependable “servants” literally drive the economy is masterful. He mentions the diamond trade among others  where trustworthy assistants move around with millions in diamonds or cash with literally no “legal” controls and almost no problems. While “The White Tiger” or Munna is a deviant – you do get the feeling of continuity and stability in a  bizarre sort of way. Definitely worth a read.

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