I'm full of admiration for this year's Man Booker Prize Winner. Aravind Adiga, the 34 year old first time novelist had been given odds of 7/1 to win before the ceremony, but his book, The White Tiger in less than 300 pages delivers a simplicity of narrative complementing a complex storyline. Its strength of delivery is such that Michael Portillo, chairman of the Booker judges said "In many ways it was the perfect novel. This book changed me, it changed my view of certain things, like what is the real India and what is the nature of poverty."
Image from here.
He wrote "the kind of book I'd like to read", he told the BBC. "I like books that have ideas in them and that move and entertain."
Yesterday Adiga said his debut novel was set in today's India and "revolves around the great divide between those Indians who have made it and those who have not".
"At the heart of the book it is something existential," he added. "It's a quest to break out of the circumstances you find yourself in - it's a quest for freedom."
There are three books featuring aspects of India I return to time and again - Yann Martel's Life of Pi, itself the 2002 Booker Prize Winner, this one and the sprawling epic that is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a book I've read once a year every year since I discovered it. It's the imagery of India I love and indulge in, a country I'm almost afraid to visit, its rampant poverty and crowded population contrasting with the spiritual homes, the scenery, food and welcome of the people. I'm almost saving a visit until I have enough money to enjoy it, enough time to spend and enough gumption to truly value the experience.
Adiga was brave and uncompromising in his writing. Rather than set it in a colourful Bollywood-esque setting or taking the stance of a morally-guiding Hindi movie, without setting it solely in the slums or in some colonial Kipling-esque form, this novel moves through an uncompromising setting of a poor,dark, socially ill India.
In an interview in May Adiga was questioned about the poverty based disparity in his novel, about the premise that one man can break out of the class system to become successful and said
"I believe the extraordinary social structure [in India] is beginning to come apart to some extent. The shameless way wealth is flaunted is extraordinary. Poor people [see] the money the very rich have. Migration of labor is increasing in a big way, especially in north India. Old traditional ties and social structure in the villages and small towns are disappearing, and social unrest and resistance are growing. The Naxalite [Maoist] movement is reviving in many parts of the country and is gaining strength.I have no aspirations to write a book, simply because I doubt I'd have the commitment. I also prefer the medium of photography and film to communicate complex ideas - I tend to just write and write without reaching a conclusion. My involvement with the 4 day movie project and with Darklight has fed that hunger, but I can't help respecting and praising Adiga for his success. It's inspiring to see anyone who has the dedication to sit and put their creativity into something that will ultimately bring entertainment, or even better, a new perspective to anyone who can pick up their book.
My novel attempts to look at what kind of man would be prepared to break the structure. You can in essence say this is a warning story, a fable of things that might lie ahead for India."
But to write it in an individual style - without compromising your style because anyone thinks it's wrong, stupid or flawed because it doesn't match their literary aspirations, well, that's just that extra bit special. Such was the joy of his editor, Ravi Mirchandani, interviewed by Time Magazine, who said of Adiga's narrative "The voice is fantastic and it never falters".
The White Tiger is the most recent novel to reignite a thirst to travel, to see India, to see for myself a culture and a people that seems to be quickly changing but is still a world away from our own. It's almost time. I have Aravind Ariga to thank for that.