The White Tiger is framed as a narrative letter written over seven nights to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao; it is a tale of servitude, economic prosperity, and murder. The novel employs a first-person narrator, Balram Halwai, whose unique, sarcastic voice carries the reader through his life in “new India.” Balram writes the letter in response to a statement he heard on the radio, “Mr. Jiabao is on a mission: he wants to know the truth about Bangalore.” Balram is an expert on the truth about the harsh realities and hidden cruelties of India.
At the beginning of his letter, Balram tells Jiabao that he respects China because the leaders of the country have never allowed a foreign entity to rule China’s people. Balram admits that he has been a “half-baked” servant for much of his life, a man with little education forced to make his way in any manner he can. Balram decides to put his ideas to work and become an entrepreneur, which is a growing opportunity for people in new India. But his past comes back to haunt him; Balram reveals that he is wanted for questioning in the murder of Mr. Ashok, his former employer, whom he did murder. When the authorities release Balram’s information, they are looking for Munna, the blackish son of Vickram Halwai, a rickshaw puller. Balram claims that his family named him Munna (Hindi for “boy”) because they had no time to care about the naming of a child. His teacher, Mr. Krishna, gives him the name Balram (the name of Krishna’s [a Hindi god’s] sidekick). With his new identity, Balram begins to see India with new eyes.
Having lived in the rural poverty of his home village, Laxmangarh, Balram sees the irony in the proclamations of the nation’s prime minister, who paints India as a picture of economic prosperity to the foreign media. Balram is haunted by the image of his mother’s funeral at the shore of the Ganga River—the black, muddy ooze threatened to suck her body into its depths. Balram thinks that in a place like this there can be no liberation. But in the midst of poverty, Balram recognizes the humility of his father, who wants his son to have a better life than he had. Vickram insists that Munna be taught to read and write despite the taunting of others in the village. One day, an inspector comes to Balram’s school and has the children read for him. The teacher insists that Balram read for the inspector, and upon successful completion of the...
(The entire section is 1997 words.)
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