The White Tiger wasn’t a bestseller. It was moving slowly, which is strange for fiction. In Mumbai, as in most parts of the world, people like stories. What the book had was reviews, lots of them. Indian publications. International publications. Award juries look at these. They want views of people who supposedly understand, not the guy who picks up the copy and pays a few crispy notes for it. Irony here. The book talks about this kind of guy.
Last night the author Aravind Adiga was awarded the Man Booker Prize for 2008. Today, the distributors are rushing to order copies.
How do I know? We share the same publisher and the same distributors. I will comment more on the book later. We have been talking about the benefits of awards, here is evidence. And a damn good thing it is.
Michael Portillo, chairman of this year’s panel of judges, said that Mr. Adiga’s book had prevailed “because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure”.
It is good to see entertaining work being lauded. Gone, one should hope, is the starchy attitude where sentences are framed like pictures in gilt-edged frames. But, why was it shocking? The India that the writer talks about is venal and corrupt in large measure. Is this shocking? Or does it shock that the olde worlde charm has disappeared and poverty too hits back?
Adiga said his book was an “attempt to catch the voice of the men you meet as you travel through India — the voice of the colossal underclass…This voice was not captured, and I wanted to do so without sentimentality or portraying them as mirthless humorless weaklings as they are usually.”
I hate it when writers have to explain all this. Isn’t it obvious? And the voice has been captured several times. Sometimes, they are “mirthless humorless weaklings” because society is not an equal opportunity dispenser.
Responding to a question about what he’d do with the money (it gets him a cheque for about $86,000) – why are only writers and beauty contest winners asked this? No one seems to question the monetary gains made by business people or executives – Adiga said, apparently in jest, “The first thing I am going to do is to find a bank that I can actually put it in.”
Was this an extension on his ‘writerly’ duty to convey the book’s intent and comment wryly on the less than shining possibilities of India? Fortunately, the banks have a lot of space. And this is the sort of salary an executive would make in two years. Or even a journalist in a fairly high position, which Adiga was until a while ago.
Welcome to the world of the white tiger. It may be rare, but is not so exotic anymore.