To begin, I have completely decided that I am not going to hire a driver as long as my reflexes and my eyes work. No, I dont want a Balram to drive me around and some day slit my throat with a broken bottle of Black Dog. I’d rather live and enjoy the alcohol. That said and done, I did not like the book. It was superficial.
Balram Halwai comes from Bihar (‘the darkness’), goes on to chase his goals of better livelihood, better opportunities etc,. And, that takes him to Dhanbad, Gurgaon and finally Bangalore. He grows up from a child scared of lizards studying in a village school to a coalbreaker in a tea stall to a driver ( Dhanbad and Maruti 800) to a much accomplished chauffeur (since he moves to Gurgaon and Honda City) and finally an accomplished entrepreneur in the business of running the cabs for the usual suspects – the call centre companies in Bangalore. Along the way, he slits the throat of his boss, bribes the officials for his progress, helps his landlady to run away from her own home (unwittingly, may be). But does the character grow? There is no childlike innocence, there is no sense of bonding with his brother. Its a detached resentful sarcastic adult narrating the story. Another thing I did not understand : Do people (real people) discuss everything in a car with drivers driving it? I think not ….., that did not work for me.
Some insights are priceless : the rampant corruption depicted beautifully, the sarcastic Balram Halwai’s observations on India Shining and his quibble about the number of Gods and Goddesses arses he has to kiss, and of course his brilliant analysis of “The Rooster Coup syndrome” which keeps servants faithful to their masters. In the markets in New Delhi, hens and roosters are stuffed into wire cages where they spend their days pecking and shitting on each other fighting just to breathe. According to Balram, it’s the same for the poor of India. They are so busy fighting among each other for the chance to breathe that they will never be able to escape their cages. The threat of violence against their families if they misbehave is a factor as well.
So it took him extraordinary courage to become the White Tiger and slit Mr. Ashok’s throat for a red bag full of money – his start up to become a succesful entrepreuner.
My verdict : The book is raw, stark and excellent to read. It goes straight for the kill. In the very first chapter he says “Eight months later I killed Ashok Sir” – just like that.
It is not a book I would read again – better borrowed than bought.