Posted by: koolwine | June 27, 2010

India: The White Tiger

Country: India

Local Name: India, Bharat (in Hindi)

Title: The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga (Indian)

Published: 2008  Pages: 276

Acclaim: Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize; a New York Times Bestseller

Time Period: Present day

Summary: An ambitious son of a rickshaw-puller obtains a job as a driver for an upper class businessman and makes the most of his new opportunities.

My Opinion: Hip and fast-paced.  Reminiscent of the movie Slumdog Millionaire for its portrayal of the more sordid aspects of India.  A charismatic survivor, Adiga’s amoral protagonist garnered my sympathy, admiration and dislike in turns.

In my book, or how India has affected me (and maybe you, too):

“The first thing I want you to do is not read it.”*
Advice taken.  I have never read Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 children’s classic The Jungle Book.  After seeing the Disney animated version countless times, am I capable of appreciating a Baloo who doesn’t sing “The Bear Necessities?”  Best not to go there.

Kipling, who lived in India on and off, said he filled The Jungle Book with all that he had “heard or dreamed about the Indian jungle.”  Disney filled it with a devil-may-care bear, a suave striped villain, jazzy orangutans and vultures with Beatles haircuts.  This was my first vision of India.

*Walt Disney to Larry Clemmons, head of story development on The Jungle Book, upon giving a copy of Kipling’s book to Clemmons.

Putting the India in Indiana Jones
Watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom taught me that Delhi is a city in India, monkey brains are on the menu at chow time, and that evil Thuggee cults worship the Hindu goddess Kali by offering her human sacrifices…is it any wonder that the Indian government demanded that changes by made to Temple‘s script?  Director Stephen Spielberg did not comply and the movie ended up being filmed  in Sri Lanka to avoid…making a better movie?*

Temple of Doom was initially (and temporarily) banned in India due to its negative depiction of Indians.

*Let it be known that as a teen I LOVED this movie (and Harrison Ford)!

Indian law
One of the first things they taught me in library school was Dr. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan’s “Five Laws of Library Science.”   Ranganathan was professor of library science at the University of Delhi, India and was considered to be a genius in the field.  Even though the following rules were first published back in 1931, they are still considered fundamental to professional librarianship.

  1. Books are for use – no chaining them to the wall like the monks did in medieval monasteries!
  2. Every reader his [or her] book – any reader should be able to walk into a public library and find a book they want to read
  3. Every book its reader – there is someone out there who will find a particular book interesting (even the one about the history of silverware)
  4. Save the time of the reader – hire an efficient & knowledgeable staff (look for men sporting glasses and beards, and women wearing glasses and clothes streaked with cat hair *)
  5. The library is a growing organism – replace any use of the word “book” above with “website” or “dvd” or “cd” or “library program”

*Just kidding.  I used to be one, so it’s OK.

Purveyor of chutney squishees
Like most other college kids in the 90s, I was a huge fan of the The Simpsons, and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, owner of Springfield’s Kwik-E-Mart, was one of my favorite characters.

Apu almost didn’t make it to primetime.  The writers worried that the stereotype of an Indian convenience store owner would offend viewers, but once they heard voice actor Hank Azaria’s endearing sing-song accent, Apu got the green light.

And even a green card, in the 1996 episode “Much Apu About Nothing”:

Apu: Today, I am no longer an Indian living in America. I am an Indian-American.
Lisa: You know, in a way, all Americans are immigrants. Except, of course Native Americans.
Homer: Yeah, Native Americans like us.
Lisa:No, I mean American Indians.
Apu: Like me.

Pass the ghee
An ex-boyfriend gave me a delicious introduction to Indian food at the India Palace in Dallas, Texas. Crisp pappadams served with chutney, soft Naan bread, Tandoori chicken, Sang Paneer…I was immediately hooked on the unusual tastes, names and that particular restaurant’s fine dining atmosphere.

“the little half-naked brown man”*
Revolutionaries come in strange packages, as Time Magazine rudely noted in its above description of their  1930 Man of the Year: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

This was, after all, the man who originated the idea of mass, non-violent civil disobedience in order to change the world – in his case, to win India’s independence from British rule.  Many notable leaders have followed his radical lead, including: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Poland’s Lech Walesa and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Despite my meager knowledge of Gandhi, his spirit looms large at my Aikido dojo. Aikido is  a martial art whose founder, Morihei Ueshiba, emphasized non-violent solutions to conflict.

I recently came across Gandhi’s  “Seven Deadly Sins in Today’s World” and found them thought-provoking:

“Wealth without work,
Enjoyment without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Business without morality,
Science without humanity,
Religion without sacrifice
Politics without principle.”

*Unbelievably, Time Magazine‘s description of Gandhi when he won their “Man of the Year” award on Jan 5, 1931.

Hinduism 101
Sanjay Patel’s cool The Little Book of Hindu Deities is a fun and easy introduction to the vast who’s who of Hinduism, dishing up Hindu gods and goddesses in bite-sized portions with colorful graphics on the side.

For example, I finally got the straight dope on Kali, who, as I said earlier, got kind of a bad rap in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Patel writes:

“Though the fiercest of the gods, Kali is quite often mistaken as the goddess of death.  She is, in fact, the goddess of kala (time) and is thought to end our illusions and free us from the cycle of karma by bringing us liberation from our bodies.  Her role is profound, as she is responsible for making sure that all things die in order to continue the cycle of life.”

“Pure toxic muck”
Rivers have made my hometown of Missoula, Montana famous.  If you’re literary, you’ve read Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, if you’re a Brad Pitt fan, you’ve seen A River Runs Through It and if you love to fly-fish, you’ve likely done both multiple times.  But while the Blackfoot, Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers are known for world-class trout fishing, India’s Ganges has a different reputation…

Instead of fish (in one section of the Yamuna River, a main tributary of the Ganges, no fish or any other aquatic life has been spotted in ten years!), “Mother Ganga” is filled with cancer-causing runoff from riverside tanneries, gallons upon gallons of raw sewage from overtaxed water treatment plants, hundreds of dead bodies (disposing of relatives in the Ganges is a traditional practice) and countless plastic bags holding offerings from religious pilgrims.

Off the Deep(ak) end
If, like me,  you’re looking for alternatives to western medicine , you’ll eventually find yourself in the realm of medical guru Deepak Chopra.  Nicknamed “McMeditation” by critics for reaping multi-million dollar profits from his mind-body “woo woo”, Chopra recently apologized on Twitter for causing April 4th’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake along the U.S.-Mexican border.  “Was meditating on Shiva mantra & earth began to shake,” Chopra tweeted. “Sorry about that.”

A year prior to this earth-shattering confession, I had turned off my inner critic and read Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, one of Chopra’s 45 books on Ayurvedic medicine, transcendental meditation and spirituality.  His theory of the “ghost of memory” – a cell’s memory of sickness – intrigued me.  His megalomania…not so much.

Out of  lifelines

One of my favorite movies of 2008, Slumdog Millionaire was based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup.  The plot gradually reveals how a teen from India’s slums  is able to give the correct answers to questions way beyond his education level when he becomes a contestant on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  The movie’s hero walks out with a huge payout, as did the movie studio – Slumdog had a $15 million budget and grossed $377,910,544 worldwide.

As for the movie’s child stars…

According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, eight-year-old actors Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali (who played the young versions of the male and female leads) were only paid $2,475 and $730 respectively for their work.  Ismail was last reported as homeless; his family’s shack was bulldozed in May 2009.  Ali’s father allegedly attempted to sell her to a wealthy family; the filmmakers have since hired a social worker to ensure her safety.
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Responses

  1. And there’s so much more to India! There’s Johnny Quest, snake charmers, Krishna, the Upanishads, India Pale Ale, the legend that from sea you can smell India before you can see it, Sanskrit, Buddha! – it goes on an on. Good blog – It really got me thinking.

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  2. Wow, you’ve got alot to say about India! Don’t forget yoga, Phil and koolwine. I still have a 2 volume hardcover copy of the Jungle Books my grandparents gave me when I was just learning to read (and they were still reading to me). All I remember is the character Riki Tiki Tavi (sp?), the mongoose and his child friend… who I don’t remember. hhmmm, why is that? Last summer I read ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’, by Salman Rushdie. a book remarkably similar to “The House of Spirits” you recently reviewed. Besides an interest in India, I choose Rushdie because he the only famous person born on my birthday.
    Where are you headed next (literary-wise)?

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  3. My personal opinion: India is a country you either love or you hate, it assaults your senses in so many ways that you either surrender or you retreat and book the next flight home never to come back again. I surrendered.

    And, my five cents: the cities of Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment and Sarnath, where he taught his first sermon. And Varanasi, the city of Ghats flanking the Ganges, a must see crowded city of opposites, bustling with activity where life and death are closely intertwined.

    If your interest is history during the period of the British rule in India historian William Dalrymple’s “White Moguls” is an engaging historical narrative of the political, social attitudes as well as the culture exchange that characterized the early part of the 18th century in what was then Hindustan –northern India- and the Deccan, to the south. Highly entertaining as well.

    For a modern view, description and history of the city of Delhi I suggest “City of Djinns”, by the same author. If you’ve been to Delhi visiting the bazaars, the Red Fort , the many temples gardens and museums you would want to go back and take with you your heavily annotated copy of this book and start all over again!

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    • Great travel and reading suggestions! Thank you!

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  4. I enjoyed reading the book very much. Thank you for bringing my awareness to it. I have always been fascinated by the “mystical” India – the gods, the legends, the traditions. This book brought to light for me the interactions of the castes and the injustices inherent within that system. I found his metaphor of the rooster cage intriguing. We raise chickens on our little farm and the analogy is apt. I, too, was sympathetic to the plight of the main character but was put off by his method to escape the rooster cage and the lack of concern for the consequences to his family.
    I think my first awareness of India was when the Beatles sought enlightenmient from a yogi. I have since read much about Hinduism and Buddhism, read histories of India, read the autobiography of Ghandi and other biographies about him. And, of course, have seen the movie “Ghandi” several times. Have also seen “Slumdog Millionaire”. (Which our Indian friends liked very much, too.) My wife and I love Indian food. It is our favorite. If I do say so myself I make a pretty mean chicken vindaloo. We have friends from the Punjab. She cooked for us one evening – it was heaven! While there are many elements of Indian culture that I like I don’t think I would like living there at all. It just seems like life is churning to rapidly for me there. Thanks, again. Rodney

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    • Thanks for sharing your own connections with India. My husband is a huge Beatles fan and told me about their relationship with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, so it made me smile to find out that you have that association as well. Am so glad to hear that The White Tiger intrigued you.

      You mentioned a book called Between Shades of Gray in your previous comment. I haven’t found a Lithuania book yet, so I will look that one up. If you’ve already begun reading, let me know if you recommend it.

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      • I finished “Between Shades of Gray” this weekend. It’s published by Philomel which as you probably know is a division of Penguin’s Young Readers Division. It was OK. It didn’t have much about Lithuania or it’s culture. It did mention the custom of their Christmas celebration but I don’t recall learning much more about Lithuania than that, aside from the fact of the deportations to Russia which is its subject. It’s told from the viewpoint of a 16 year old girl and feels like it is written for teenagers. While the sufferings of the deportations are great, the theme and its associations don’t get explored very deeply. It did keep my interest throughout, however. Made for a decent Sunday afternoon read.

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      • Bummer. I was hoping you’d found my Lithuania book for me, but it sounds like I should keep looking. I’ll still add it to my “Further Reading” page and keep it in mind just in case I can’t find anything better. Thanks for the follow up!

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