Brighter Whiter Tiger
In French they talk a lot about courage. It is a sweet thought. I don’t know if this is specific to France, or it happens in Québec too…”bonne courage” or “les jours où je n’ai pas assez de courage” or “t’es courageuse” – it is one of those instances where I feel the French succeeds in capturing a deeper level of understanding that get’s lost in English. There *are* days when I do not have enough courage, and there are days when I want to wish for it for others. Courage seems to have a different meaning than bravery. It seems to come from within, in a different way. To be brave is to be proud in a certain way, to do something consciously, for yourself. Knight’s are brave, you are brave to getting a tatoo, but courage…courage seems to come from within the subconscious and has an element of selflessness and energy to it. Effort.
Today I was quiet. It rained and was chilly the way it only gets on the coast. I went for a long run in the morning (he went to work at 7am!) and then busied myself being domestic. I baked cookies and pretty decent pasta for lunch, met a friend for tea. I have some type of roast root vegetable salad in progress in the oven.(Update: It’s delicious.) For the first time in the past decade I have actually been organized enough to sign up for a CSA box, and despite the late start this season, our produce started flowing on Sunday. IT TASTES SO MUCH BETTER!!! I just keep thinking of the old peach ads where they show two peaches shaking (as if in a truck) side by side, and one stops, healthy and juicy after 50km; the other continues shaking for the rest of the commercial (to stimulate 2000km or something like that) and turns into a shrivelled bruised mess.
And so with that, I must take a break from MAUS. Between the rain and listening to an episode of TAL on Dos Erres I can’t read anything more about destruction and devastation. And so instead, behold! The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.
I’ve conveniently photographed my copy of this on a map, just to get all y’all situated. The story takes place in India-the small village of Laxmangarh, Delhi and Bangalore. I tore through this one over the long weekend, in ferry line-ups and an island camping trip in downtime-it was hilarious.
Don’t waste your time and money on those American books. They are so yesterday.
I am tomorrow.
The thing I most liked about this book was that it made some pretty profound observations, and it was also funny. Like, funny to the extent that I actually laughed out loud. That hasn’t happened in ages.
The narrator, Balram, explains the current situation of India: whereas before there were men in different caste systems based on skin colour, now there are only men with big bellies and men with small bellies. This is how everything is now divided: either you are rich, or you aren’t. The son of a rickshaw driver, who didn’t even have a name until he went to school, cheerfully recounts his climb from a tea servant to a chauffeur to a successful entrepreneur, by means of a serious of letters he authors to “Mr. Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the Freedom-loving Nation of China.” These letters are all authored in the first person, in a jovial tone, during the wee hours of the evening ‘neath the light of a chandelier:
When you have heard my story…you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtuerdl and develeoped in the glorious twenty-first century of man….
There’s no one else in this 150-square-foot office of mine. Just me and a chandelier above me, although the chandelier has a personality of its own. It’s a huge thing, full of small diamond-shaped glass pieces, just like the ones they used to show in the films of the 1970s. Though it’s cool enough at night in Banglore, I’ve put a midget fan-five cobwebby blades-right above the chandelier. See, when it turns, the small blades chop up the chandelier’s light and fling it across the room. Just like the strobe light at the best discos in Bangalore.
This is the only 150-square-food space in Bangalore with its own chandelier! but it’s still a a hole in the wall, and I sit here the whole night.
I’ve been tearing through alot of business-y books for my Masters research (ah yes, my thesis…I should get back to that…), and what really struck me about this one was the fact that in addition to being WAY more poignant that a lot of other books I’ve been reading; the three main “lessons” are effectively the same…
Taking control of your own destiny. The choice to become an entrepreneur, the need to take risks, find innovative solutions and seize opportunities when they arrive to make things happen. It’s pretty ridiculous how he illustrates this in the book.he basically *decides* he’s going to be rich: then does it.
The importance of listening. Being a people person is really important. Like way more important than hard work (still important), smarts (less important) or training (least important). Balram claws his way up the social ranks mainly through overheard conversations…but…conversations with the *right* (i.e. powerful and influential people) whom he already has a connection. Work. That. Pond.
Sacrifice and solitude. India has a lot of people in it. We’re talking about a billion. Yet Balram picks and choses who he hangs with. Even if it means a gross cockroach infested room away from the pack. He knows that his time is valuable, and without spending it wisely, he’ll fail. Further to that, Balram is in it to win it, mainly for himself, and himself alone. (Mainly).
Failure. It happens.
Perhaps what I find more interesting about this book than the back-breaking load of American books I’ve read on similar topics is that in White Tiger failure is way more of a non-event. Failure happens all the time. And as someone from the sweets making class, he really has nowhere to go but up. In alot of American books the idea of failure is really dwelled on.
The other two particularly interesting things I found about this book (perhaps mainly in it’s contemporary nature) were the changing take on family and politics.
Family. It happened. At the risk of a horrendous generalization, supported only by the half-dozen or so Indian books I’ve read, family has played a pretty substantial role culturally in India for centuries. This novel looks at the changing nature of family in India, and I think nicely extrapolates itself to N America. Ending with a more “successful” satellite family, with changed values and mobility. Yet, more alone.
Realistic political commentary. Finally the last, refreshing thing I took away from this book was it’s interpretation of international politics. It is a collection of letters from India to China. Descriptions of the boom are everywhere, exploding condo and road growth, coal consumption, industrialization. So many of the other books I’ve read skim over this subject. They seem to revert back to navel gazing, building American-centred businesses on American markets-which strikes me as archaic. As if thats what made the writers of those books successful in the past, so thats what they encourage others to do. And at the root of all of this was optimism and hope. Who better to tell this story than an Indian entrepreneur?
When you have heard my story…you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtuerdl and develeoped in the glorious twenty-first century of man.
The century, more specifically of the yellow and the brown man.
You and me.
Great book. Wicked first novel. Thanks Mr. Adiga.