The White Tiger

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typical Indian village paradise" (19; 20; 32; 79). Descriptions such as the following reveal the ..... of tradition thrust upon him from birth. "\Vhich inhuman wretch.

An Ecocricical Reading of.Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger

An Ecocritical Reading of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger -

C.A. Caranston

Heav'n in one mould the kindred face has case Of men of dignity and mice of taste; Traps, dangers, terrors are alike their lot: Scar'd if they 'scape,° and worry'd if they're caught. • Aesop's fable , 'The Cicy Mouse and Councry Mouse' The prison of life and the bondage of grief are one and the same Before the onset of death, how can man expect to be free of grief? Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) THE NOVEL

The Importance of Connecting Why choose this novel for ecocritical investigation? Connections, that's where an ecocritic begins. Thematically the novel investigates how representations, from the Vedas to 'Sting', connect with, and influence actions in the material world. Extratextually (outside the novel) Aravind Adiga, the author of The White Tiger (2008), was born in Madras, in 1974. And as the target readers for this essay are students situated in Chennai, this novel seems likely to stimulate students' interest because of its author's place connections. On a practical note, a book by an Indiar, author of international fame (the novel won The Man


Booker Prize in 2008) is likely to be available in Chennai. In keeping with accessibility for the students, and with the. novel's mischievous use of technology and web connections (see http:!/ this essay will include: source information from the internet. In addition, Adiga has Australian citizenship, which is where I come in. Connections. Interrelationships. Interdependencies . Ecocriticism, then, encourages connections between regions, histories, cultures, languages and so on, but always, it examines the way in which 'nature' is represented. 'Eco': the science of ecology and economics: clarifying basic terminology. An ecocritic "considers the relationship between human and non-human life as represented in literary texts' and 'theorises about the place of literature in the struggle against environmental destruction" (Coupe 302). Humans are therefore not the foreground of the text; they share a place alongside.nonhuman life, and alongside representa.t ions of the organic environment. The definition also points to a concern with environmental destruction, i.e., the 'real' world. Ecocriticism 'connects textual worlds and organic worlds. One of the first words you'-ll learn as an ecocritic is oikos from which the 'eco' prefix is derived. On its own, 'eco', refers to 'household'- both inner and outer (in Tamil, akam, puram) - and the stewardship required to live sustainably at home (culture) and in the environment. It is directly related to 'economy,' which refers to 'household management.' The 'eco' in ecocriticism refers to 'ecology,' the science that studies "the relationships among organisms and the relationships between them and their physical environment" (Collin 77). 'Organisms' includes human beings; so ecology also looks at the relationship between humaris (as organisms) and other organisms, including . plant, animal (land and marine) life. Ecology therefore includes humans as part of the animal kingdom, a scientific approach that might cause tension for some faith-based groups.

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rnche He could be half the men in India'. (39) 0.

Image and text can only represent the 'actual' world symbolically, as \111 abstract idc:a.' Add rn that, the further distancing from the 'actual' or lived experience when you have a novel written in English which, according to the narrator (who is not telling the truth), neither he nor Wen Jiabao can speak (3); and then add to that the additional complexity created when, you, as reader of the letters, are masquerading as the addressee, 'His Excellency Wen Jiabao.' Given these warnings and obfuscations, and the biological significance behind the tide cf the novel, what hope do you hold for the critics expecting the White perspective of nation and character (or the government's booklet; or the government's radio station) to be 'straight' forward?

The Novel's Characters - or Caricatul'es? And an Aside on Cankam Literature Balram Hahvai is known by five names throughout the nan:a::ive, one of which is 'Country-Mouse,' and at the other end of the scale there is 'white tiger.' The hmdlords of Laxmangarh, Balram's natal village, aiso have animal names and "each had got his name from the peculiarities of appetite that had been detected in him" (24). The Buffalo "was the greediest. He had eaten up the rickshaws and the roads. So if you ran a rickshaw [which Balram's father does], or used the road, you had t.o pay him his feed - onethird of whatever you earned, no less" (25). There's the Buffalo's brother, the iecherous Wild Boar with tusklike teeth, who owns "all the good agricultural land Laxmangarh" (25). The Raven owns "the dry, rocky hillside around the fort, and rook a cut from the goatherds who went there to graze with their flocks.'' If the goatherds can't pay, the Raven sodomises them.. The Stork (whose sons Balram calls 'Mongoose' and the 'Lamb') owns "the river that fl.owed outside the village, and he took a cut of every catch of fish caught by every fisherman in the river, and a toll

An Emcritical Reading of Aravind Adiga's The i'i/hfre Tiger


c " every -i-:.0;-ci:man vv.ho crcsseu,-l t h.e n.ver to to our v1·1· (24). Exploit'..."- l.J....H. . 1. d.-.......1.•": !! ..L, i.)n;.ly (256) If his father's samsara is to return as a beast cf burden endlessly dragging death in a cart (- and for what? The killing of the lizard?) what ·would samsara be for Baltarn who is about to kill a man? is not


Comemporary Contemplations on Ecoliteramre

deterred from action by the eerie prologue. His defiance is resounding. To Kusum, threatening an arranged marriage,, it is 'No.' It is 'no' to the custom; it is 'no' to the family, and it is 'no' to the sacred texts that control the family, the dharma-sutras. In an attempt to regain composure, he gets into the car (referred to repeatedly as 'the egg') and assumes the lotus position Buddha.' But it's an inversion of the Buddha story. According to the Manusmriti (7) the Enlightened One was formed in the 'egg' from which Brahman was hatched, and then the i:-gg was split into two, heaven and earth (Renou 123). Bairam will emerge from his mechanical egg, chose earth rather than moksa as his liberation, choose himsa rather than ahimsa, slay his master, and emerge a murderer and a rich man, from out of the rain and mud of the highway (286).

The Third Fainting Scene: At the Zoo - Preface to the Third

Death: When writes about the good old days of British Colonialism, his perspective is c:rbout as accurate as Mr Ashok's nostalgic rendition of the village of Laxmangarh. He visualises India under Colonial rule as a zoo; now, under Independence, there are jungles. He compares: See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo. A dean. well-kept, orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy. Goldsmiths here. Cowherds here. Landlords there. The man called a Halwai made sweets. The man called a cowherd tended cows. The untouchable cleaned faeces. Landlords were kind to their serfs. Women ·covered their heads with a veil and turned their eyes to the gronnd when talking to strange men. And chen, thanks to all those politicians in Delhi, on the fifteenth of August, 1947 - the day the British left - the cages had been let open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law. Those that were the most ferocious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else ·J;;, and grown big bellies. That was all that counteC. 1ww, the 5i:.:c oi·} ·our belly .... To sum up - in the old days there were one rhous:rnd

An Ec0critical Reading :if Anvind Adig1's The White



castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just rwo casres: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: cat - or get eaten up. (63-4)

The third cime Balram faints is at che zoo in Delhi while walking with his nephew. He stops Dharam from throwing stones at a hippo, telling him "Let animals live like animals; let humans live like humans. That's my whole philosophy in. a sentence" (276). At that moment he comes face to face with a white tiger, "[t]he creature that gets born only once every generation in the jungle" (276). Except that this is not the jungle. This magnificent toporder predator is in "a clean, well-kept, orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy." Zoos have been seen as rhe last protection for species threatened by extinction. "Yet the zoo has been established and is being maintained precisely by those responsible for the extinction of species in the first pbce" (Kappeler 342). Unlike the diminishing population of his wild and colourful counterparts, white tigers are on the increase: zoo managers and administrators visit a further indignity on The White Tiger's familiar, by inbreeding tigers (for the white gene) to raise revenue. Balram watches his exploited namesake pace the cage: I watched him walk behind the \>amboo bars. Black stripes and sunlit white fur flashed through lists in the dark bamboo; it was like watching the slowed-down reels of an old black-and-white film.u He was walking in the same line, again and again - from one end of the bamboo bars to the .other, then turning around and repeating ic over, at exactly the S:\me pace, like a thing under a spell. He was hypnotizing himself by w.Jking like this only way he could tolerate this cage.

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Then che thing behind the bamboo bars stopped moving. It turned its face to my face. The tiger's eyes met my eyes, like my master's eyes have met mine so often in the mirror of the car. All at once, the tiger vanished. (277)



Conremplations on Ernlirera.rure _A n

Face to face: with the degraded 'real thing· rather than glo:iou:.;

representation, Bairam recognises the animal's suffering as his :::iwn; even the white tiger is miserably captive. 'With the meeting ·Jf eyes a solution presents itse!f. Freedom for the tiger in the zoo requires a key to uniock the cage; Bairam, however, i.s outside the '\ ll1 he nee d do rs . d•rspose o f 111s' l