The White Tiger

The White Tiger Summary and Analysis of Chapter 7: The Sixth Night


Balram explains how the rich of Delhi exercise. They walk laps around their apartment complexes, while the servants stand along the path bearing water and towels. Because he could recognize Mr. Ashok's scent, Balram always knew when the man was approaching. He also explains how Mr. Ashok was in terrible shape during the period of his debauched lifestyle.

One day, after Ashok finished exercising, Balram lied and told Vitiligo-Lips that his master wanted to hire a prostitute with golden hair.

Balram then diverts into what he describes to the Premier as a “sidebar," listing various minor ways that drivers can cheat their employers (194). These techniques include: siphoning petrol; taking the car to corrupt mechanics who inflate the price and receiving a cut of the money; reselling empty liquor bottles to bootleggers; and using the car as a freelance taxi.

Lying in bed one night, Balram convinced himself that his employers owed him enough money to hire thousands of golden-headed prostitutes. Over the next two weeks, Balram employed several of the techniques to steal money from his master. The more he stole from Ashok, the more his resentment and feelings of vindication grew.

After raising enough money, he brought Vitiligo-Lips an envelope of cash and revealed that the prostitute was not for Ashok, but for himself. Proud of the boy, Vitiligo-Lips drove him to a hotel and introduced him to the manager, who then brought him to Anastasia, a blonde prostitute waiting in a room. When he realized that Anastasia was not nearly as pretty as the Kim Basinger lookalike, he grew resentful that the rich always get the finest things.

Including a “working-class surcharge,” he paid 7000 rupees for twenty minutes (198). After the manager left, Balram and Anastasia talked for a while, after which he climbed on top of her, only to shriek and recoil upon discovering her hair was not naturally blonde, only dyed. Angry, he slapped her, and the manager suddenly reappeared. Balram demanded his money back, but was instead beaten up and ejected from the hotel. Vitiligo-Lips was not waiting for him, so he had to take the bus home.

Back in Balram's room, Ashok was waiting on the bed under the mosquito net. Apparently, Vitiligo-Lips has lied to Mr. Ashok and told him that Balram has been offering prayers for his master’s health at the temple. Shocked at the appalling state of the servant's quarters, Mr. Ashok offered Balram some money to find better housing. He also asked about the red spots on Balram's hands, and the servant explained that he suffered from a skin disease common amongst poor people. Ashok had never noticed them before, and he offered to pay for treatment in a hospital. He was amazed to see the squalor in which the poor lived, and he asked Balram to take him to dinner at a commoner’s teashop. There, Ashok remarked loudly on the quality and low price of the meal.

Later, the Mongoose visited Ashok in Delhi. On the way back from the train station, Balram eavesdropped on their conversation. The Mongoose insisted that Ashok remarry, and that he allow the family to pick the girl this time. He also gave Ashok a red bag, explaining that it was bribery money for Mukeshan, the minister’s assistant. They owed more because of the upcoming election season.

At one point, while the car was stuck in a traffic jam, Balram rolled down the window and gave a beggar a rupee. The Mongoose was offended and incensed by the gesture, and he and Ashok discussed loudly how they did not owe anything more to the poor, considering how high taxes already were. For the first time, Balram admitted that his master shared some ugly similarities with his father, the Stork.

The next morning, Balram brought the red bag down from the apartment to the car to wait for Ashok. While alone, he opened it to marvel at the large quantity of cash within it.

Driving Mr. Ashok through the city, he eyed the man through the rearview mirror, thinking of himself as a cat watching its prey. He reasoned that he personally had rights to the money, since it was a bribe meant to avoid taxes, which were meant to be paid for the welfare of the poor, of whom he was one. As he drove, he constantly saw signs which he interpreted as assurances that he should steal the bag. To himself, he weighed the pros and cons of stealing the money.

After bringing Ashok to a hotel, Balram drove to the train station, planning out a possible escape route in case he decided to steal the money. There, he put a coin in the fortune-telling machine, and received a printed fortune insisting that he respect the law. Cynically, he interpreted this message as the Rooster Coop's final attempt to keep him from freedom. Despite these feelings, he also worried about what would happen to his family if he ran.

That Sunday, Balram told Ashok he was going to the temple, but instead traveled by bus and jeep-taxi to Delhi’s red-light district. However, realizing that the Nepali girls are simply caged animals like himself, he is not attracted to them. Worked up with resentment, he kicked at a paan-seller in a random outburst of anger, and was chased from the street by pimps.

He then went to the huge Darya Ganj secondhand book market in Old Delhi, where he flipped through books without paying for them. There, a Muslim shopowner read him a line of poetry: “You were looking for the key for years/but the door was always open!” (216). The shopowner also taught him about the four great Muslim poets, by recounting a romanticized version of the history of poetry. Balram asked the Muslim shopowner if a man could make himself disappear through poetry, but quickly retracted the question, worrying he was being too indiscrete.

Next, Balram strolled to the butcher's quarter. There, without any directions from a human, a buffalo was pulling a cart filled with buffalo skulls. Balram imagined the skulls were those of his own family, and imagined the buffalo shaming him for allowing their murder.

The next morning, a guilty Balram almost confessed his murderous thoughts when Ashok entered the car. He stumbled to speak, and Ashok assumed he was asking for money with which to be married. He gave Balram a hundred rupee note towards wedding expenses, but Balram also noticed the man deciding not to give him more.

The next day, Balram wandered to the horrific slums, where families lived in tents surrounded by sewage and broken glass. There, Balram tossed Ashok's hundred rupee note into a black river of sewage where children were playing, and watched them scramble for it. He then joined a line of slum dwellers who were defecating in the open.

When he returned home, he found a boy waiting for him in his room. The boy introduced himself as Dharam, the fourth son of one of Balram’s aunts, and gave Balram a letter from Kusum, in which she criticized him for failing to visit and send money, and insisted that he prepare to be married to a woman they have chosen. She also demanded he take care of Dharam, and make sure the boy learned to drive. When he finished the letter, Balram viciously slapped Dharam down onto the bed.

That evening, Balram told Ashok that his family has sent him a helper, and Ashok welcomed the boy. Noticing that Dharam was obedient and polite, Balram felt guilty for hitting him. He brought the boy to a tea shop, where Vitiligo-Lips demanded 500 rupees he still owed from his night with Anastasia, and threatened to tell Mr. Ashok if he did not pay.

That night, Balram woke Dharam by shrieking when a gecko landed in the bed. Surprised by his uncle’s intense fear, Dharam easily disposed of the lizard. Repeating the line of poetry he learned earlier, Balram then lulled himself to sleep.

Two days later, Balram eavesdropped on a conversation between Mr. Ashok and Ms. Uma as he drove them to the mall. Their relationship was becoming more serious, and she pressured him to tell his family about their wedding plans, while he insisted he still needed time to get over the divorce.

Much as Pinky Madam would, Ms. Uma switched to English when she wanted to talk about Balram. However, he could tell she was suggesting Ashok replace Balram with a local driver. Balram was perturbed to notice how Mr. Ashok avoided making eye contact with him in the mirror after this.

Instead, they listened to election results on the car radio, to learn that the Great Socialist’s party had swept into power, largely because of the votes from the Darkness. On the way home, the car passed through throngs of the Great Socialist's supporters.

That night, a distraught Mr. Ashok asked Balram to drive him to the Imperial Hotel. On the way, he placed many frantic phone-calls, lamenting that their “income-tax mess” would only get worse (231). After a meeting with two politicians at the Imperial Hotel, Mr. Ashok asked Balram to drive two men around town, while Ashok stayed behind. One of the men was Vijay, Balram’s childhood hero, who had risen in the political ranks. In the car, Vijay and his colleague drank Ashok’s whiskey while laughing about the bribe he was to pay them.

Back at the apartment, Balram kept the empty bottle of Johnny Walker Black, expecting to give it to Vitiligo-Lips, who could resell it to bootleggers. However, he instead decided to smash the bottle and fashion a weapon of jagged glass from one of the shards. All the while, he repeated the line of poetry to himself.

Balram requested the next morning off, to take Dharam to the zoo. Before he left the apartment building, he spied on Ashok to discover a planned meeting with another servant, whom Balram assumed was to be his replacement.

He and Dharam took a bus to the zoo, a place Balram genuinely appreciated for its beauty. While there, he stared at the Old Fort in the distance, remembering a line from the Iqbal poem which stated that one ceases to be a slave when one discovers what is beautiful in the world. At the White Tiger's cage, Balram made eye contact with beast, thinking ahead to making eye contact with Ashok before the murder. Overcome with feelings, he fainted.

That evening, he narrated a letter for Dharam to write to Kusum, as though it was his own (Dharam's) letter. The letter explained what happened at the zoo, but then claimed that, upon regaining consciousness, Balram delivered a raving speech directed towards Kusum, apologetically explaining, “I can’t live the rest of my life in a cage, Granny. I’m so sorry” (239).

After lunch, Balram repeatedly dropped a rupee coin on the floor, insisting each time that Dharam pick it up. Each time, he looked closely at the top of the boy's head. After a session of meditation, he gave Dharam ten rupees before heading upstairs to meet Ashok.

He then drove Ashok to several banks, where, as usual, the man filled the red bag with money from the ATMs. Balram knows from eavesdropping on Vijay’s conversation that the sum was to be 700,000 rupees, enough for Balram to start a brand new life.

Once they left the main city, Balram stopped the car, claiming that there was a problem with the wheel. After standing outside a few moments, he asked Ashok to help him lift the wheel from the mud. The man hesitated to leave, but Balram coaxed him out with a subtle threat: he mentioned that the wheel has been imperfect since their visit to the hotel in Jangpura, which is where Ashok had hired a prostitute.

Ashok finally trusted Balram enough to step out of the car and kneel before the wheel to inspect it. Balram then repeatedly rammed the broken bottle into Ashok’s skull. Though he could have left Ashok stunned but unconscious, Balram decided to kill him, reasoning there was always a chance that he could recover and foil Balram’s escape. Furthermore, Balram knew that Ashok’s family would demolish his own family, so killing Ashok gave him “revenge in advance” (245). Finally, he killed Mr. Ashok by stabbing him in the neck.

Balram dragged the body into the bushes, wiped himself clean, and changed his clothes. He then drove to the railway station, but began to feel guilty about leaving Dharam behind. If he did return for the boy, Dharam would go to jail as an accomplice, but Balram was hesitant to compromise his escape by heading back. Cursing himself, he decided to return for Dharam.


This rambling, wide-ranging section of the novel is organized so as to reflect Balram’s mental state as he becomes increasingly certain of his decision to escape the Rooster Coop through such vicious means. While Balram frequently wavers, at moments almost confessing his plans, he becomes progressively more determined and single-minded as the chapter progresses. Similarly, the narrative itself turns from disorganized descriptions of Balram’s wanderings into a direct, focused description of the murder. What is happening is that Balram's intention transforms from a mindless rage to a much more sinister rationalization.

As Balram’s plan crystallizes and he becomes more certain of his actions, Adiga uses color imagery to reflect the development of this crazed fixation. Reflecting his newfound obsession with the red bag, Balram begins to observe the color red everywhere in his surroundings, including in the “red light,” “red puddle,” “red lightbulbs,” “red claws” and the “red-light district” (208-213). Through this imagery, Adiga vividly captures the escalating tension and nearly psychopathic delusion which culminates at the chapter’s conclusion.

Further escalating this sense of tension is yet another highly meaningful exchange between Balram and Ashok in the rearview mirror. Watching his own reflection in the mirror, Balram experiences a moment of dissociation from his own features, seeing himself as the White Tiger, “a cat watching its prey” (208). Simultaneously, Balram convinces himself that the money is rightfully his. This moment is arguably the first in which he fully commits to his plan. What Adiga suggests is that the rage born of fear and resentment would never have overpowered Balram's traditional morality, which the reader knows continues to resonate within him. Instead, he had to rationalize the murder, to fit it within his moral framework.

Further, this moment continues the motif of dualities. At the characters see each other in the mirror, their roles reverse. Ashok is no longer the stronger, richer, more elite version of the poor, uneducated servant Balram. Instead, the White Tiger has gained dominion over his weaker, inferior double, the Lamb. It is appropriate that this reversal takes place while out in the Indian capital, since Balram has established it as a city of dualities, uniting both parts of India. As Balram observes, “The Light and the Darkness both flow into Delhi” (215).

Paralleling the way Balram is torn between the "Light" and "Darkness" within himself, Adiga makes a subtle acknowledgement of the way that a rigid class system eventually infiltrates everyone's psyche through his characterization of Mr. Ashok. Throughout this chapter in particular, Mr. Ashok slowly loses his sympathy and pity for Balram, becoming a more cold-blooded rich man. His recognition of the depravity in which the poor lives is perhaps noble but also somewhat disingenuous; he had never noticed any of it before, and is openly patronizing about their food. Similarly, Balram then begins to notice how the man deliberately chooses how much to give to the poor. The fact that Mr. Ashok would indeed have replaced Balram as driver suggests that the man's initial sympathies were eventually going to be swallowed by the impossibility of crossing the class divide in such a system.

Balram faces this divide, too, in trying to hire a prostitute like the Kim Basinger lookalike. That he has money and opportunity does not mean he can cross a border into what rich people enjoy. The misery and disappointment he feels on that occasion is crucial towards his decision to break from the Rooster Coop with such vicious certainty. He will never be able to remake himself unless he destroys what he is and creates a new identity. He must tear himself from the world he knows, and that requires (in his mind) something as vicious as murder.

Keeping with the highly symbolic landscape that Adiga uses to characterize Balram's mental state in this chapter, two central events here have a strong symbolic significance. First is Balram's trip to the national zoo, where he confronts another of his doubles: the actual White Tiger. This almost spiritual experience emboldens Balram to embrace his White Tiger identity and triumph over Ashok, the Lamb. It is telling that he has a mini-resurrection, losing himself and then waking with an unshaken certainty. It is a type of re-birth, exactly what he needs to truly achieve the luxury and respect that he dreams of.

A second crucial event that compels Balram to finally act is his introduction to poetry, in particular the line “You were looking for the key for years/but the door was always open!” (216). Balram frequently refers to verses and poems throughout his letters to the Premier, and it now becomes clear that poetry was instrumental in encouraging him. Much as he did with his rationalization of deserving the money, Balram uses the poetry to justify what he otherwise would condemn as an atrocious act.

Even as Balram’s determination grows, however, a strong element of chance, contingency, and fate are instrumental to his success. Balram’s fashioning of the murder weapon from a broken bottle of Johnny Walker Black, for example, seems to be the result of a subconscious urge. Balram insists to the Premier that was carrying the bottle to sell to Vitiligo-Lips, and that he smashed it without any conscious design, with only the line of poetry echoing in his head. Similarly, even moments before Ashok’s death, Balram appears ready to abandon his plan when Ashok doubts his story about the wheel. The significance of contingency reinforces Balram's belief in his exceptionalism, his belief that he has a separate fate as one who has awoken while the rest of society is asleep.

The final duality, though, is within Balram himself. No matter how fully he commits to his rationalization, he ultimately cannot convince himself to leave Dharam behind. Though he already justified leaving his family to be massacred, he nevertheless feels compelled to stand up for at least one of them. That he remains torn between his guilt and his certainty is clear throughout the narrative, and this moment reminds us that he faced that conflict from the moment of the murder.