The India described by Balram is in the throes of a major transformation, heralded in part by the advent of globalization. India finds itself at the crossroads of developments in the fields of technology and outsourcing, as the nation adapts to...
The White Tiger Video
Watch the illustrated video summary of the novel, The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga.
The White Tiger is a novel published by Aravind Adiga in 2008 exploring class conflict in India during a time of rapid globalization. This rags-to-riches story follows the ruthless rise of the protagonist, Balram Halwa, who uses intelligence and cunning to escape his impoverished coal-mining town in India. A shrewd social-climber, Balram successfully ingratiates himself into a rich family by getting a job as their chauffeur, becoming an indispensable fixture in the lives of his entitled employers.
The novel opens with Balram penning a letter to We Jiabao, the premier of China, in anticipation of the premier’s visit to Bangalore to learn from the region’s culture of entrepreneurship. Although he alludes to having murdered his master years ago, Balram frames the letter as a story of his own entrepreneurial success, introducing himself as “The White Tiger,” a creature that appears only once-in-a-generation.
Balram walks the premier through his childhood in the village of Laxmangarh, which is part of what Balram refers to as the “Darkness,” or the impoverished part of India. Growing up there, Balram was pulled out of school despite his illiterate father’s wishes for him to receive an education. Although Balram was identified early as a “white tiger” because of his rare talent in reading, Balram realizes that he is destined for life as a servant
After the deaths of his parents, Balram finds work in a tea shop in the coal-mining city of Dhanbad. One day, he eavesdrops on a conversation in which he hears two customers discussing the high salaries made by drivers. Balram decides to become a chauffeur, paying an old taxi driver to teach him.
Balram goes door to door to find a master. Fatefully, one of the houses he visits belongs to “the Stork,” a powerful landlord in Balram’s old village. Appealing to their shared roots, Balram convinces the Stork to take him on as his second driver. Balram will be responsible for driving the Stork’s son, Mr. Ashok, who has just returned to India after receiving his education in the United States.
This new job affords Balram food, pay, and shelter, but he must send most of his pay back to his family every month. Balram excels as a servant, partly because of his submissive attitude, but also because he is savvy and calculating. For instance, Balram ruthlessly edges out the first driver for the chance to accompany Mr. Ashok when he relocates to the bustling city of Delhi.
As a driver, Balram privately harbors a grudge against the rich but has a soft spot for Mr. Ashok, as he seems to respect Balram more than his wife, Pinky Madam, does. Pinky Madam constantly tries to convince Ashok to return to America with her. One day, Balram overhears Mr. Ashok telling his brother that he will stay in India to work in the family coal business, which routinely involves bribing government officials.
One night, Pinky Madam drunkenly demands that Balram let her drive the car and then accidentally hits a child. Days later, the family orders Balram to sign a confession to having killed the child himself. Balram is outraged and has little choice but to sign. He describes a metaphorical “rooster coop” that traps servants into submission out of fear.
Dreading his arrest, the Stork eventually informs Balram that he has exploited a connection with the police to avoid reporting the boy’s death. Balram is relieved but surprised by how upset Pinky Madam is about the situation. One night, she asks Balram to drive her to the airport in secret for a flight to America, paying him 4700 rupees.
Weeks pass. Then one day, Balram overhears Mr. Ashok’s new girlfriend encouraging him to find a new driver. Balram gradually grows resentful of his master and begins systematically stealing from him. He also learns of Mr. Ashok’s plan to bring a bag of cash to a minister as a bribe. He begins to consider stealing the bag.
Balram’s scheming is interrupted by the arrival of his cousin, Dharam, whom the family has sent to scold Balram for failing to send them money and to convince Balram to get married. The ambitious driver asks Mr. Ashok for a morning off to take Dharam to the zoo. There, he sees a white tiger and faints
That night, Balram drives Mr. Ashok to the minister’s house, but on the way, he stops by the side of the road, claiming there is a problem with the tire. When Mr. Ashok gets out of the car to look, Balram suddenly kills him with a broken liquor bottle.
A fugitive, Balram flees Delhi, taking Dharam with him to Bangalore, where he starts a taxi service called “White Tiger Drivers.” Utilizing the skills he learned from his master, Balram bribes the local police and becomes the premiere taxi service in Bangalore, transporting employees of the city’s thriving outsourcing industry. He has finally broken out of the rooster coop.