Aravind Adiga on ‘The autobiography of a half-baked Indian’

Aravind Adiga coverThat’s how the narrator of Aravind Adiga’s debut novel reckons he should entitle his life story. Adiga’s narrator, Balram Halwai, believes he is half-baked because, like so many in India, he’s been unable to finish his schooling, and so his head is an ‘odd museum’ of half-cooked ideas. This is the head the reader is given a guided tour of over the course of 300 often bitingly satirical pages. Adam Lively in The Times called the book ‘extraordinary and brilliant’ and another critic said it was ‘the perfect antidote to lyrical India’. Balram is not the sort of character who is normally given centre stage in Indian novels. He comes from a low caste in an almost feudal village and seems destined for a life as a downtrodden servant, abused by his affluent, rapidly (and often comically) westernizing masters. Yet over the course of several nights, Balram relates the steps he took to escape the ‘rooster coop’ of Indian society and turn himself into a ‘self-made entrepreneur’. He offers the wisdom he has gained (‘free of charge’) to the addressee of his story, the Chinese premier, since Balram has seen the future and realizes it lies in China and India (‘now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, mobile phone usage, and drug abuse.’) A week or so ago, I interviewed Aravind Adiga at Atlantic’s offices. The interview will be on the Atlantic Books website shortly, but in the mean time, here is a short taster from our conversation, in which Aravind explains how his novel differs from just about every other Indian novel you have read. ‘I see this in a sense as a cautionary tale. What my narrator is is a white tiger – he’s unusual for his time. Very few servants in India actually kill their masters and take their money. ‘The endurance of the servant class in India is heroic, but I see signs that this endurance may be coming to an end and the family bonds that held people to their servile posts may be fraying. ‘And so what my narrator has done today may be something that more and more do on a larger scale in the future…’ The book has not yet been published in India, but it will be soon. It will be interesting to see the reaction it provokes…

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