Saturday, November 21, 2009

The White Tiger, Part II

I'm about two-thirds of the way through The White Tiger.

Balram Halwai seems to have increasingly conflicted feelings about his employer, Mr. Ashok, and I'm unclear what Adiga's larger message or theme is.

Both Balram and Ashok have gone to see prostitutes in the last two chapters, but neither came out happy about the experience (Balram was enthralled by the idea of a blond-haired woman; when he discovered that the prostitute was wearing a wig, he freaked out).

364. Am I remembering correctly that Holden Caulfield visits a prostitute in The Catcher in the Rye? Why do so many movie and book protagonists use prostitutes? Is it the authors' way of exploring and commenting on the dark side of human sexuality?

Balram seems proud, at times, to be Ashok's confidant, but then he quickly reverses himself and wants to cheat Ashok out of his money. He wants desperately to wash Ashok's feet (literally), and then the next day cannot figure out why he's got this strange (pathological) loyalty.

For his part, Ashok is a complete jerk to Balram at times. Then, as he's struggling with his own identity, he decides that he wants to experience life through Balram's eyes:
"I'm sick of the food I eat, Balram. I'm sick of the life I lead. We rich people, we've lost our way. I want to be a simple man like you, Balram."

"Yes, sir."

We walked outside, and I led him across the road and into a tea shop.
"Order for us, Balram. Order the commoners' food."

I ordered okra, cauliflower, radish, spinach, and daal. Enough to feed a whole family, or one rich man.

He ate and burped and ate some more.

"This food is fantastic. And just twenty-five rupees! You people eat so well!"
365. Both Balram and Ashok are struggling with finding meaning in their life and looking to the other as a model of the good life. Is part of Adiga's message that the grass is always greener in another man's shoes? Is that too simplistic?

On the "grass is greener" theme, here's Adiga on the perspectives of the rich and the perspectives of the poor:
The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor - they never overlap, do they?

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.

Every evening, the compound around Buckingham Towers B Block becomes an exercise ground. Plump, paunchy men and even plumper, paunchier women, with big circles of sweat below their arms, are doing their evening "walking."

Here's a picture I took in Delhi during my 2007 trip for Olav and Sumana's wedding:

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