The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger is a rags-to-riches story of Bangalore’s (most) successful but unnoticed entrepreneur. Between the rags and the riches is a gut-wrenching tale that bares the rotting soul of the country even as it is buzzing with trade and commerce. The narrator, who calls himself The White Tiger – an animal that takes birth only once in a generation – is typing away his story in the dead of night as letters to the visiting Chinese Premier Mr. Wen Jiabao in a silver Macintosh laptop bought from Singapore.

We are immediately transported to the Darkness – to the plains of North India – where the mighty Ganga flows. In a dramatic scene in which Munna, our protagonist, goes to Benares with his family to bury his dead mother at one of the ghats, the river sucks in the black liquid that is the remains of her. Like her, the Ganga sucks into herself everything that is born from it. The seas bring in Light: all the places on the coast are prosperous, but wherever the Ganga flows, there is Darkness.

This is a novel of tragedy and despair. Take for example Munna’s household: the womenfolk of the family work all day in their kitchen. Then they would fight each other, throwing plates, pulling hair and all, and the fighting was over, they would heal the wounds and sing songs to one another. All their lives. Or when Balaram (that’s a name Munna gets from the teacher) is removed from the school and put to work in a Tea shop, he is crushing the coal when his brother Kishan asks him, “Are you angry with me that you are removed from the school? Crush the coal thinking it’s my skull.” Or when Balaram visits the village the first time after he joins as a driver to Mr. Ashok, the family cooks for him a lavish meal of chicken. Balaram suddenly has a vision that the family is eating away the flesh of Kishan, as they did the same thing earlier with his father before he succumbed to tuberculosis and died a painful death. Balaram never returns to the village.

A great deal of the story is about the Rooster Coop.

Go to Old Delhi,and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundred of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them.They know they are next, yet they cannot rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with humans in this country.

“This is the Rooster Coop. This is the reason why without secret police, without gun-firing, Mr Premier, a handful men of this country have trained the remaining to perpetual servitude…Everyday, servants from Surat carry bags and bags of diamonds to Mumbai in trains and nothing ever gets stolen… The trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy.”

When Pinky madam, wife of Mr. Ashok, the America-returned son of the landlord (called the Stork: it is said that he has the habit of dipping his beak into the poor) crushes under a Honda City the ‘little black thing’ in cheap green fabric on the night of her birthday, Balaram is falsely accused of the killing. Hundreds of drivers from the Darkness fill the cells of Tihar Jail for the crimes of their masters. Even the judges who sentenced them know this; they all are a part of the coop. Balaram is devastated when he hears this, but his family is not. To them, it is the ultimate mark of loyalty to the master.

Why does the Rooster Coop work and what happens when one tries to escape it? To both questions, the answer is the family. It takes an animal of a human being to escape from the Rooster Coop and face the news of his family being hunted and beaten to death. Or run away from that too! It takes a White Tiger to escape the Rooster Coop.

When Balaram is plotting to kill his master – his master who fills the red bag with stacks and stacks of cash to pay as bribe to the politicians to get his family’s coal business running in Dhanbad – and abscond with the money, his nephew Dharam is sent to Delhi from the village to make a living. The moment when Balaram slaps Dharam hard in the face just as he arrives captures the tension and anger: just at the moment when he would escape the vicious coop, a new arrival from the village drags him back.

Eventually, he escapes Delhi with the money and his nephew after killing Mr. Ashok. He zigzags his way down south to Bangalore and listens to the city, as he did in Delhi as a driver. The last part of the tale is how rises to be the owner of a fleet of twenty Qualis vehicles, all air-conditioned in Summer, and runs a successful taxi service for IT employees.

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Supplement The White Tiger with ‘Bihar is in the eyes of the beholder’, some fine feature writing by Vijay Nambisan and two movies par excellence: Gangs of Wasseypur I and II.

Sketchy Dreams

Random Fits of a Blithering Blogger

I thought I liked being alone.

Away from stares, and questions and insincere laughs. Away from strangers who claim to have my acquaintance. Away from those who claimed to have a share of my memory, to have stayed in those gardens, counting the lilacs I had tended. Away from eyes that feign to have discerned the meaning in mine. Away from those who believe they know why I laugh, or smile quietly. Away from those who get uncomfortable by my silence, for it reminds them perhaps of their own vacuity, and rush in to destroy the peace with lame accusations or words – trifles.

But it’s true that I’m forever talking in my head, or thinking, even as I gaze mournfully at their blurry faces. I have my own stories to tell. But I do not now how. I wish to be a great storyteller, putting my listeners into a…

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The Whistling Train

How beautiful that moment was, when I was reading Chandamama by the window-side of the train, while the Sun set in the west, and the train rushed through the countryside, making up for the lost time in the numerous earlier stops. The compartment was getting roomy after each stop. We were nearing our destination every second. It was that time of the day when we could relax our arms and feet in the empty seat after a punishing afternoon sun in May. I looked around and life moved before my eyes. Water gushed out of the taps. The bhel-puri wallah had washed his face. The tramp who was travelling without a ticket now opened the door and streched out his legs at the entrance. We were right in the countryside, and we had ourselves and the setting Sun with us to savour the moment. The train whistled a long whistle to complete the experience.

In the waning light, I turned to the text in my hands. I had ‘This month in history’ section open before me on crisp brown coloured paper. May Day was the moment. A new breed of humans had been created. The working class. The working class had moved into the city for a better life. The working class is made of numerous families whose stories didn’t differ much, or didn’t matter: the man and the woman and occasionally a child. The working class was not a class at all in the beginning. They were just slaves put to hazardous, thankless jobs that filled the pockets of the capitalists. Working conditions were harsh and humans were as dispensable as the machines that they operated. Very soon the working class was cornered: when you corner an animal it can do only one thing. Fight back. And how! May Day is a testimony to the fighting spirit of the working class that brought in weekends, fixed working hours and minimum pay. It is a reminder that workers’ lives are as important and valuable as their masters’.

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The tube lights were soon switched on; when the tube light is switched on, you close your eyes and wish for a good evening. The air cooled down a bit and it made the dust on our faces less irksome. Soon enough, the train pulled up at a station where the lights were on too. But they were lights showing an afternoon that was lost, not an evening that had set in. For that we had to wait till the next station. And soon, we were at the terminus, where we were picked up from and driven home.

Getting down from the train with our tired faces and heavy baggage, I could not but wonder if I belonged to the place. It was seven thirty in the evening and everyone but me knew that it was seven thirty in the evening. Temple bells rang busily. People went about their businesses normally. Bikes and cars throttled past to wake me up to become one with the place I was brought into by that whistling train. My mind was still at the sunset and my reading about May Day. I do not know where the place was, but I knew if I followed the tracks past two stations (or more) I would pass by that place where I had experienced the melancholy. Workers did thankless jobs because their lives depended on them. The masters held them with a vise like grip. The world had not seen prosperity on such a large scale. Factories were erected, profits were made, lives were lived. None of it exists today but the memories. You can flip through those pages and know all about it. But you will come back to the world and not be sure if you are the only one who had seen it the way you had seen it. You can never know. It is just like the sunset on that whistling train.

My answer on Quora to “What is the most misspelt word in the English language?”

“Spelling definitely is certainly a problem for many people – who insist on writing deifinately.”

A bunch of guys made a survey and found that definitely is the most misspelt word in English language. Here are the top ten most misspelt words in English and their frequently misspelt forms:

  1. Definitely (not definately)
  2. Sacrilegious (not sacreligious)
  3. Indict (not indite)
  4. Manoeuvre (not maneouvre)
  5. Bureaucracy (not beaurocracy)
  6. Broccoli (not brocolli)
  7. Phlegm (not phleghm)
  8. Prejudice (not predjudice)
  9. Consensus (not conscensus)
  10. Unnecessary (not unecessary)

Definately* the most misspelled word in the English language (*it should be definitely)

This survey is at least four years old, but chances are that you’ll get at least one wrong 🙂

Great answers in this thread! Do go through them all.

What is the most misspelt word in the English language?

The Human Network

'Wearing multiple hats and having different opinions, we are a part of a massive synthesis of ideas.'

‘Wearing multiple hats and having different opinions, we are a part of a massive synthesis of ideas.’

While continually looking for reasons to write on blogs, one recurring theme, or the primary idea is that of sharing. But why would anyone be interested in my thoughts? Thus the tiny sliver of motivation is killed. But, come on, you can’t be cloistered forever. Sharing eases you up. By opening up, you get hold of a strand in a grand web of human thought. In other words, one becomes linked. That idea which social networking guys are so fond of.

Here is one stream of thought that developed itself as I sat down to write. Presenting as it is, in one paragraph because there are no breaks in it:

‘If I can put what I think into a written form, I will be satisfied. The point is not thinking good thoughts. Of course, if I don’t have good thoughts, I can’t have anything good. But it ought not to stop with thoughts alone. The point is in keeping them down, to go over them from time to time, to put them before my friends and open to discussion, to put them for posterity and my own future self. “If I have all good thoughts and I keep them for myself, there is no benefit to anyone else. So publish your work from time to time,” said the scientist. In fact, keeping them for myself doesn’t help me either, I feel. It is kind of selfish to not share my ideas, in not opening up myself to criticism, improvements or approval. By sharing, without an unduly expectation of being approved and not being criticised, I can get more done. It is like this: a thought takes birth in my mind as a result of so many experiences to which my own contribution is minuscule. Then, I give it back to the ones who were involved in these subtle and indirect ways. I do not own it any longer. It is freely floating in the air, allowing itself to be picked up and scrutinised. I shall want to develop it alright but I may not have the final say. I may be attached to my dear idea but others’ additions and deletions should be readily welcome. I happened to house the thought for some time but I do not own it; nobody does. In this way, a beautiful picture takes form: in the wide space of personal interactions, human minds are the nodes, melting pots if you like, where different streams of thought make a confluence; and having assumed a new character, they progress to their next sojourn. Node to node, ideas are forever making a journey, changing flavours, acquiring nuances, sometimes getting too heavy to digest, sometimes just slashed down and reduced only to its essence as that person deemed fit, and on and on…

Here is a closed, self-sustaining system that had no singular origin, nor will it ever vanish, a system that has come to be the defining feature of our species as a thinking animal. That’s Social Networking for you.

As an immediate consequence, we learn that we are no wiser than the wisest chap in our group, time and context are primary in assessing any idea, and sometimes we can fail collectively. There can be little help on such occasions. Speaking of context, we must remember that ideas unfit for now may become very important some other time. That alone is a reason to respect and preserve an argument; because it has been said, and “some thought has gone into it”.

Towards a scientific history

The article ‘Why do our scientists not speak out?’ by renowned scientist and science populariser Dr. D Balasubramanian appeared in the column Speaking of Science in Science and Technology feature on The Hindu on Thursday, November 13.

The Prime Minister’s remarks at a hospital inauguration on genetic engineering and plastic surgery being known in ancient India – citing mythological episodes for illustrations – drew criticism from historians and media persons. [In fact, plastic surgery was known. It is the parallel that is drawn to the story of Ganesha that stirred the debate] Though this criticism makes valid points on how it is rather fanciful and non-scientific to replace history with mythology and other elements of imagination, it falls short of talking about the science itself. It is this gap that Dr.Balasubramanian fills. He says the debate is an important and a necessary one, at a time when concerns are being voiced over the ideological influence of the political parties in power.

The author has articulated the idea that myth and science have to be carefully differentiated before assessing our scientific heritage, citing examples to show that both had a fair share in ancient India. It is pointless to use either side of the debate to denounce or deify the history. By stressing that the conflict is really between rational thinking and imaginative fantasy, and that the onus is on scholars to build the narrative of our past, the author steered the discussion away from religion and fundamentalism over which naysayers cry foul. This is the greatest merit of the article along with its clarity of thought and coherence.

[This is a part of an assignment to analyse a good piece of (print) journalism in my course Journalism for Scientists. It is unfortunate that there are not many science popularisers in the country; surely we can do better. Dr. Balasubramanian, a first grade scientists himself, is an inspirational figure in this field. He has written prolifically in science columns in newspapers. Do take time to go through the archive of his articles. I love to know what you feel about this post and the article referred to. Please comment, start a discussion.]

What I want to hear from Tendulkar’s Playing it My Way

You have all seen the excerpt from Tendulkar’s autobiography due to hit markets this Thursday:

“Just months before the World Cup, Chappell had come to see me at home and, to my dismay, suggested that I should take over the captaincy from Rahul Dravid. Anjali, who was sitting with me, was equally shocked to hear him say that ‘together, we could control Indian cricket for years’, and that he would help me in taking over the reins of the side.”

The publishers and marketing people have done a swell job in bringing forth the controversy that was widely publicised yet less talked about: in the words of Sourav, that (2005-07) was one of the worst periods in Indian cricket. Clearly, the coach was not listening to the cricketers who were in their prime form; in fact, he did go after each of them and appeared in the media for the wrong reasons.

Now, if Tendulkar is telling his story of his career, and be – we have a reason to believe – brutally honest, then there are sooo… many stories to look out for. My favourite list:

Note: This is rather a testimonial to Tendulkar himself and the wonderful stories cricket matches and gossip have given us over the past twenty years. (Twenty years! I shuddered while I typed it.) We would definitely want to go over them again, and see them in the book itself.

The happy occasions:

The Sandstorm Innings:
Almost nothing can go wrong when Sachin made up his mind to beat the target. So it did happen that India needed 285 to beat Australia in the Coca Cola cup in Sharjah in1998; an interruption that came in the form of a dust storm. The target was then revised to 276 in 46 overs. As it often happens in Indian cricket, there was another important number: score 237 to get ahead of New Zealand and get into the final. Tendulkar is said to have told coach Anshuman Gaikwad that he will go with full force at the Australian attack – Kasprowicz, Fleming, Warne, Moody and (Steve) Waugh. And how he did! The second dust storm of the evening followed, apparently. Australia saved the match but Sachin’s ton helped India get through.

The final face-off happened on Sachin’s birthday (turned 25) and India once again had to chase 273. That innings was nothing short of historic; watch it for the technical brilliance and intent on display and the verve of Tony Greig (the English cricketer who eventually groveled), one of the finest commentators of the game, who dwarfed Ravi and Sunny (both Mumbaikaars) in his praise for Sachin. He whacked, he pulled, he drove, he lofted. He didn’t stop. If you like some drama here, Sachin didn’t take off the helmet as he usually does, as he reached his fifteenth ton. India comfortably reached the target even as Sachin (134) departed after being adjudged lbw by Steve Bucknor.

So with his 98 vs Pakistan in Durban, 2003 WC. How he sent Shoaib’s delivery flying for a six over third man will be talked about for many more years.

His masterly peers: Bhogle, Dravid and Ganguly
Harsha Bhogle, one of the ‘Few Good Men’, was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for the Benson and Hedges World Cup in 1992, and has ever since been a voice of the game. Like Sachin, he too started early; at 19, while studying in Hyderabad, he was already a commentator at the All India Radio. Harsha is the best loved commentator of our times; he can make the ordinary (and some mediocre) look glorious. Take a look:

Michael Vaughan makes a mess of Sachin Tendulkar’s stumps after the latter has played a gem of an innings. A dismissal as soft as they come and people are crestfallen. Shoulders droop in front of TV sets, and in comes Harsha, “Oh what a shame! It was reminiscent of a soldier who survived the war when all the bullets were flying by his nose and then got run over by a bicycle in his native town!”

In the match when Tendulkar scored 200*, MS took charge in the final overs of the game and kept blasting boundaries. Then came Sachin who softly caressed the ball to a boundary. Here is what he said: “We have a surgeon at one end and a butcher at the other.”

Tendulkar and Ganguly have the highest opening partnership runs (6609 in 136 innings) in ODI cricket; 1300 runs ahead of the second best. With Dravid, Tendulkar shared a memorable partnership in the middle amassing 6920 runs in 143 innings – ahead of Jayawardena and Sangakkara, the duo who, it looked, batted forever. The stories of the rise to the top of the Fab Four (Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, VVS) and the team itself are our best memories of the decade that went by.

A few sad ones:

Match-fixing controversy
At the turn of the century, it looked as if Cricket lost its audience in India. Match-fixing made news and several players (including Indian) were implicated. Under the leadership of a new skipper (Ganguly) and coach (Wright), India staged an extraordinary and a less-known comeback. We want to read more on this.

Nervous nineties and the defeats
Tendulkar got out in nineties twenty-eight times and had to wait twenty-three innings after his ninety ninth to get his hundredth ton. He has a dubious distinction of scoring for a losing cause, though stats clearly show otherwise. Yet, there are stories…

Particularly heart-breaking is his knock (175) vs Australia in Hyderabad in 2009. Chasing 351, it looked like a sand-storm all over again. But Sachin fell cheaply for a slow delivery, and the rest failed to get the required nineteen runs of seventeen balls. India lost by three runs. His majestic innings won the MoM. Watch this for the sound of the ball hitting the willow.

The long wait for World Cup
Sachin was a part of all world cups from 1992; he was the top scorer in 1996 when India lost to SriLanka in a forgettable semi-final in Eden Gardens. In fact the match was ‘awarded’ to SriLanka. Again in 2003 he was the player of the tournament; he fell for 4 in the final as India buckled before the mammoth target set by the Aussies. Then there is 2007, which I am sure is written about. That was Guru Greg’s time.

The wait ended in 2011. I really want to read what happened in the dressing room after the openers fell and before MS Dhoni promoted himself up the order. That was the best gamble ever. Dhoni says it is Gary(Kirsten)’s decision but he may be downplaying it. That night Virat Kohli said – and is widely quoted thereafter – “He carried the burden of the nation for twenty-one years; so it’s time we should carry him on our shoulders”. Sure he filled the void left after Sachin’s retirement. Kohli’s phenomenal rise post 2011 made everyone sit up and observe. His important part in the final chase in 2011 – calming down the nerves after two important wickets fell in quick succession and generating runs nevertheless – didn’t go unnoticed.

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Now the inevitable question – after Sachin who? A refined question may be: will we get another Sachin the cricketer and Sachin the person. We can bank on our enormous cricketing talent but Sachin the person is clearly a product of his times. All along his career, his strike rate stood sturdily at 86. For now, we have Kohli the person, Dhoni the person. What is important – as far as cricket is concerned and wherever cricketers can make amends – is to win matches. That is what the stalwarts of the age that has gone by insisted on. పేకాట పేకాటే!