In Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, I was a little disturbed by the transformation sequence of: Munna-Balram Halwei-White Tiger-Ashok Sharma. We started this journey with the Boy, Munna, who was named such as Munna means “boy”. This was the product of his parents just not having the time to give him a name. Pretty tough world, especially to people who know English, who are most likely of the type who lavishes their children with well thought out names rich in tradition and history steeped in creativity. This might be the shock that Adiga thought was needed in order to throw us, the reader, into the ‘Darkness’, a truly horrible place that lurks within the shadows of a seeming garden of paradise.
Next, we are regaled with tales of Balram, who was anointed with the name of White Tiger, because he was so smart. I am sure that if this book was not written for the global audience, this tale would have been shelved as a satirical bildungsroman of the anti-hero.
I found this tale to be interesting, most likely because of the sheer degree of separation that gives this story a feel of the exotic. Happily hooked, I found myself an enjoyably disgusted when I realized what was happening when Balram, our house-cat suddenly turns tiger. The uncomfortable moment is when Balram takes over as Ashok’s wife. This is not borne out of homophobia, far from it: this feeling stems from that inner red-flag that screams PREDATOR!
Let me start off this way. I am sure that almost every reader has heard of or experienced that psycho ex-whoever. Now take that up a couple of notches, and think of the timeless yet trapped in the 80’s movie “Fatal Attraction”. Balram, in the way he narrates his story feels like he is waffling between love and rage. He admits that he knows Ashok better than his own mother knew Ashok. This is something that most wives have and will continue to say about their husbands/partners. Balram then, after his nefarious act, then takes Ashok’s name, but puts “Sharma” after it. This is done for two purposes. One, the last name in India is usually an indicator of caste. The other reason is because of how Balram-Ashok wants to be with the dead Ashok in every way possible, so wearing his name is much like, well, wearing him. “Sharma” means “master” in Sanscrit, and it is no mistake that he is now the master of Ashok, he is master of himself, and has mastered his relationship with his former master…he is now on top, so to speak.
I support this feeling with the dialect of Balram after Pinky left. He said he had to “take over as wife”, and also used the back of his hand, not a jacket or cloth, to wipe away the puke from his master’s mouth. He cleaned up after him, cooked for him, cared for him. All the while he forgave him for making him take the fall for Pinky’s manslaughter of a child. This forgiving was done in such a way that is looked like a lover who justifies forgiveness because of the need of the master of their heart.
What caused the murderous thoughts that ended up with the most mortal of crimes? Balram was shunned. After the Mongoose returned, Ashok related to his brother that he was never close to his family, but after only having the ‘driver’ in his face for the last five days he realized how much he needed his brother, who was ‘real’. BaBoom! That did it. I could just feel the world shudder as Balram’s heart shattered through his feet and slammed into the earth. It is no small wonder, after such displays of tenderness and the feeling of connecting with someone finally, like a man-crush on the highest order, that Balram decided to take the one thing nobody else could have, not even his mother: Ashok’s life.
Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger, A Novel. New York: Free Press, 2008. Print.