Bring Your Questions for White Tiger Author Aravind Adiga

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I recently had occasion to visit India for the first time to speak at a conference put on by the media conglomerate India Today. Sadly my visit was very short, just a toe-touch. Still, it was fascinating from start to finish. On the way over, one of the flight attendants told me she was using her down time in New Delhi to have a complete-body medical examination at Max Healthcare for about $350. Medical tourism in action. The final event of the conclave was a raucous Q&A between former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and an audience of Indian elites who weren’t buying his assertions that Pakistan has the potential to be a good neighbor.

My experience was heightened considerably by the book I was reading at the time, The White Tiger, by the young journalist Aravind Adiga. It is one of the most thrilling novels I’ve ever read: pungent, evocative, brutally depressing, outrageously funny.

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It is a novel of class and caste, told from the lower ranks, in which misery and aspiration battle for supremacy. Along the way, you learn a great deal about modern India. I’ve also been reading two good non-fiction books about India: Maximum City, by Suketu Mehta, and Imagining India, by Nandan Nilekani. I would recommend both of them; but The White Tiger is an absolute must-read.

The book is a best-seller and has won awards including the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Writing for the Telegraph, Amrit Dhillon called it a “new departure in India by [its portrayal of] the emotions, sorrows, and aspirations of the hitherto invisible poor.” This portrayal has, not surprisingly, caused an uproar among Indians — as, more recently, Slumdog Millionaire did.

Adiga was born in Madras (now Chennai), and studied at Columbia and Oxford. He was a South Asia correspondent for TIME and has also been published in the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. His second novel, Between the Assassinations, will be published in June.

Adiga has agreed to take questions from Freakonomics readers about The White Tiger, Indian society … or even Bollywood ad campaigns and autorickshaw pricing. So post your questions in the comments section below. As with past Q&A’s, we will post his answers here in a few days.

Addendum: Adiga answers your questions here.


Mohamed

Is India a bully? Why does it not have good relations with any neighbor including Nepal, a Hindu country? How long can it hide in the pages of history and not recognize the reality of its geography?

Elaine McCarthy

Do you think it's possible that Indians will one day have the political will to eradicate poverty, or do you think Indian politicians and non-poor people consider poverty endemic -- the poor you will have with you always?

Ashish

Is India a bully? Why does it not have good relations with any neighbor including Nepal, a Hindu country? How long can it hide in the pages of history and not recognize the reality of its geography?

- Mohamed

In response:

India's relations with the government of Nepal may not be the best because of their brutal Maoist nature and also because Nepal has allowed Islamic terrorists to use its territory to plan attacks on India. The Bihar and UP border with Nepal is rife with fundamentalist ideology. On the other hand, people from India and Nepal are on the most cordial terms possible. By the way, India does not support LTTE, a Hindu Tamil group in Sri Lanka fighting for its independence, despite the large Indian Tamil population. India is responsible for liberating Bangladesh. Do you know why it was necessary? Because the light-skinned West Pakistanis-descended from Pathans and Jats, did not consider the Bengali speaking dark-skinned Bangladeshi Muslims worthy enough to be Muslims. Read some history and get your facts right before you make a comment!

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Darwin

Why does India fail to fully embrace the impressive body of its ancient Vedic knowledge? Recent research at universities such as Ohio State has proven that at least some of this has great utility to modern medicine in cancer treatment and prevention as well as antiaging efforts, and that Sanskrit has much in common with German.

When ancients described the properties of the Vedic "gods" they were actually describing the fundamental forces of nature as per quantum physics. (If you think this preposterous, read the descriptions of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu and Brahman AKA unified field to a physicist.) How did they know this?

Ancient Vedic philosophers anticipated much of the philosophy and mathematics credited to the Greeks, and there are designs for cities and machines in these documents. Isn't study of the Vedas worthy of a national research project, or perhaps a whole university?

Mr. Meek

Mr. Mohamed, India is not a bully. You are a bully.

Raghu

An 8% annual growth of the Indian economy is thought necessary to have a significant effect on reducing India's poor. The world wide recession has decreased growth from 9-10% down to 5-6%. Do you think that India needs to expand domestic consumption and remain a relatively closed economy to try to increase growth or continue to try to expand multilateral trade to increase growth over the next 5-10 years?

Gram Massla

Mr. Adiga,
Your book is an absolute revelation after reading sops like Shashi Taroor. The Indian dispora's venom toward your book got me curious. Your story telling skill is matchless and your honesty is humbling. To many Indians the poor is simply a part of that that is distateful and, ultimately, invisible about their environment. Your insightful book revealed so much to me during my own trips to India. Being of Indian origin I was somewhat dimly aware of what you write without the reality brought to the front of my being with full force. Bravo. Keep writing.

Shane

The last time when I was India, I heard that half of the politicians should be in jail. How come Indians tolerate these old people with old ideas to rule such a large democracy.

India needs to get credit for the economic growth, however most of the poor are still poor and lately according to NYT, children are starving to put it midly. Should India spends it resources on space technology rather than uplifting the average Joe on the street?

Scott Baker

My wife is Indian (I am not) and I recently had the chance to spend two weeks in her country - Mumbai, the Tea plantations in Munar and with my new in-laws. My overall impression was positive. While there are some fits and starts common to any new democracy (I was almost swept up in a mini-riot over a slain politician), there is no denying the direction of India is onward and upward. So why, I wonder, does America practically tie itself at the hip to China when India, the world's largest democracy, seems like such a better fit? Is it just the economics or, as my wife suggests, a holdover from Inida-Soviet Union alliances of the past?

Bond

Unfortunately, India, a secular country by its constitution, is turning more in to nationalist hindu country as days go by. By the Pakistan becomes unstable, India will fear itself and will eventually lead to its division in 17 small nations.

Tariq F

It seems that for a long time Indians had limited confidence in India - always complaining about the country, deploring its economic "Hindu rate of growth" as it was called, and in the case of the elite trying to distance themselves from it culturally (as noted well in V.S. Naipaul's "India: A Wounded Civilization").

But in the last 10 years, and coinciding with increasing economic growth as the economy has opened up, Indians have found a new confidence - captured largely by political slogans such as "India Shining" (popularized by the BJP). I find that some of the backlash against Slumdog Millionaire by some of the elite in India (including such figures as Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan) and indeed "The White Tiger" has to be understood in this context. Naturally, ignoring 400m people below the poverty line and wishing them away is reprehensible. But to what extent does this backlash represent India's psyche wishing to remain in a state of self-denial or otherwise exhibiting a deep fear of returning to the insecurities of the past?

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Sreenivasa Reddy Gali

Where do you see India in next 25 years - culturally, politically, Technologically and Human relations wise?

Shivam Khullar

Arvind, I really liked how the book started and it gripped me quite well to the end .. But somehow I had a feeling as if I was looking for more. The narrative is very honest and very very true... but it was just a narrative. Probably that was what you really wanted from this piece, but as a reader, I kept looking for more ..

Nevertheless , Congratulations on the success of the book.

zini

Thanks for letting us know about this book.

There is uproar and protest about everything famous within India. There is one group of people or other always joining the impromptu 'protest' festivals. So, if you see that there is an 'uproar' against 'slumdog millionaire', it just shows that it has become famous in India.

Mohamed @1: Good relations exist between India and Nepal and most other neighbors to most extent, except one. About that one neighbor: if your smooth-talking neighbor's dogs rampages your house,tearing and destroying every thing on a weekly basis, what would you do ?

Maksimus

Not sure where you're getting your information Mohamed. India has never been an aggressor in its history except when repelling invaders. Better read up on your history

whatever

I do have a question for Mr. Adiga: what are you doing with the profits from your book?

MTD

White Tiger channels a lot of mid-century African American fiction like that of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. How deep do you think the parallels go, not in terms of your fiction, but in terms of the society that fiction reflects? Is modern India as striated with respect to class, caste, as was 1950's and 60's America with respect to race? And do you see this situation improving or devolving? Would an Indian version of Barack Obama, i.e. a member of the minority class, ever have a chance of being elected to India's highest office or is the political class just too static?

p.s. I loved White Tiger and can't wait for the next installment.

Nat

India has quite decent relations with Nepal - obviously when people of neighboring countries imagine India, they see a big-sized country and hence the over-awe. There might be something to the recent economic growth as neighboring countries have seen average Indians becoming 'richer', yet the average Pakistani or Nepali or Bangladeshi in their own village will see themselves quite similar to an average Indian in his/her own village.

In other words, the nominal size and economic prosperity are not homogeneously Indian, even though our neighbors might be tempted to imagine so.

The notion of India being a 'Hindu' country is grossly misplaced, despite the events since 1990s have made the assertive Hindu identity the dominant one. To begin with, Hindu philosophy is quite all encompassing including atheists and agnostic strains of reasoning.

Nepal is a Hindu country whereas India is not, even though India is the bedrock of any flavor of Hinduism.
Pakistan is a Muslim country - by virtue of its constitution and founding father's diktat - whereas India is not, even though India's muslim population is almost numerically equivalent to that of India.
Sri Lanka is a declared Buddhist country whereas India is not, even though Gautam Buddha was born in India.

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Tim O'Rourke

After watching Slumdog Millionaire I was wondering does that movie accurately portray the plight of orphans in India?

rf

What's up with the "superpower" fetish among Indian elites?

What's the action plan on clothing, feeding, sheltering, providing loos for, and utilizing the human potential of the hundreds of millions of Indians living in poverty?

India is the most over-hyped country on the planet. All talk and no substance.