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Balram Halwai narrates his life in a letter, written in seven consecutive nights and addressed to the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao. In his letter, Balram explains how he, the son of a rickshaw puller, escaped a life of servitude to become a successful businessman, describing himself as an entrepreneur.
Balram was born in the rural village of Laxmangarh, where he lived with his grandmother, parents, brother and extended family. He is a smart child but is forced to leave school in order to help pay for his cousin-sister's dowry and begins to work in a teashop with his brother in Dhanbad. While working there he begins to learn about India's government and economy from the customers' conversations. Balram describes himself as a bad servant and decides to become a driver.
After learning how to drive, Balram finds a job driving Ashok, the son of one of Laxmangarh's landlords. He stops sending money back to his family and disrespects his grandmother during a trip back to his village. Balram moves to New Delhi with Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam. Throughout their time in Delhi, Balram is exposed to extensive corruption, especially in the government. In Delhi, the contrast between the poor and the wealthy is made even more evident by their proximity to one another.
One night Pinky Madam takes the wheel from Balram, while drunk, hits something in the road and drives away; we are left to assume that she has killed a child. Ashoks family puts pressure on Balram to confess that he had been driving alone. Ashok becomes increasingly involved in bribing government officials for the benefit of the family coal business. Balram then decides that killing Ashok will be the only way to escape India's Rooster Coop. After bludgeoning Ashok with a bottle and stealing a large bribe, Balram moves to Bangalore, where he bribes the police in order to help start his own taxi business. When one of his drivers kills a bike messenger, Balram pays off the family. Balram explains that his own family was almost certainly killed by Ashok's relatives as retribution for his murder. At the end of the novel Balram rationalizes his actions and considers that his freedom is worth the lives of his family and of Ashok.