Transcript: Robert Adams on Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger | May 29, 2010

Robert Adams stands behind a wooden lectern on a stage, in a dimly lit auditorium, and addresses an unseen audience.
He’s in his sixties, balding, with a white goatee. He’s wearing rounded glasses, a beige suit, and a brown shirt.

He says OUR AUTHOR, ARAVIND
ADIGA WAS BORN IN MADRAS,
INDIA, IN 1974.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Robert Adams. Author, a love of reading. The white tiger. Hart House Theatre, Toronto. September 14, 2009."

Robert continues HE WAS BORN THE SON OF
A PRIVILEGED FAMILY.
HIS FATHER WAS A DOCTOR WHO
HAD MARRIED INTO A VERY
WEALTHY FAMILY.
WHEN ARAVIND ADIGA WAS
16 YEARS OLD, HE WENT TO
AUSTRALIA AND LIVED IN
AUSTRALIA FOR TWO YEARS.
AT 18, HE WENT TO THE UNITED
STATES, WHERE HE STUDIED
AT COLUMBIA FOR FOUR YEARS.
THAT WAS FOLLOWED BY THREE
YEARS AT OXFORD WHERE
HE TOOK HIS MASTERS DEGREE,
AND THEN HE WENT ON TO
NEW YORK CITY WHERE HE BECAME
A JOURNALIST AND HE WROTE FOR
TIME MAGAZINE, AND FOR
THE BRITISH NEWSPAPER
THE INDEPENDENT.
IN 2003, WHAT IS
THAT, SIX YEARS AGO?
HE RETURNED TO INDIA, TO
DELHI, TO THE CAPITAL, AND
BECAME
TIME MAGAZINE'S
MAN IN NEW DELHI.
HE IS A REMARKABLY
WELL-EDUCATED AND
WELL-TRAVELLED MAN.
HE NOW LIVES AND WRITES
IN BOMBAY, IN MUMBAI.
BUT IT WAS IN NEW DELHI,
BEGINNING IN 2003, THAT
HE REALIZED THAT AS THE SON OF
A PRIVILEGED INDIAN FAMILY,
HE HAD ABSOLUTELY
NO KNOWLEDGE AND
NO UNDERSTANDING OF
THE POOR OF INDIA.
HE HAS OFTEN REFERRED TO THE
FACT THAT HE HAD A MIDDLE-CLASS
AVERSION TO SPEAKING TO
POOR PEOPLE, EXCEPT IN
THE MASTER-SERVANT
RELATIONSHIP.
TO OVERCOME THAT MIDDLE-
CLASS AVERSION, THE YOUNG
REPORTER, YOUNG THEN,
ARAVIND ADIGA, TRAVELLED
ALL OVER INDIA.
HE STOPPED DRIVING A CAR.
HE TRAVELLED BY
BUS AND BY TRAIN.
AND HE TALKED
TO THE PEOPLE.
ARAVIND ADIGA BECAME
CONVINCED THAT INDIA'S
FAMED SPIRITUALITY AND
MYSTICISM WERE A FRAUD.
A SMOKESCREEN TO SHIELD THE
MIDDLE AND UPPER CLASSES
FROM THE MISERY
OF THE POOR.
DELIBERATE PROPAGANDA TO
SUSTAIN THE STATUS QUO.
THAT IS A QUOTATION.
OUR PROTAGONIST, BALRAM
HALWAI, IN TONIGHT'S NOVEL,
WARNS ALL THOSE WHO CARE TO
LISTEN NOT TO TAKE A DIP
IN HOLY MOTHER GANGES.
WHICH IS, OF COURSE,
CENTRAL TO THE HINDU FAITH.
UNLESS, I QUOTE, THEY WANT A
MOUTH FULL OF FECES, STRAW,
SOGGY PARTS OF HUMAN BODIES,
AND SEVEN DIFFERENT KINDS
OF INDUSTRIAL ACIDS.
BUT OUR PROTAGONIST, LIKE
OUR AUTHOR, IS ECUMENICAL.
AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE
NOVEL, THERE IS A WONDERFUL
PASSAGE, AND I QUOTE IT, IT
IS AN ANCIENT AND VENERATED
CUSTOM OF PEOPLE IN MY
COUNTRY TO START A STORY BY
PRAYING TO A HIGHER POWER.
YOUR EXCELLENCY, I TOO,
SHOULD START BY KISSING
SOME GOD'S ASS.
WHICH GOD'S ASS, THOUGH?
THERE ARE SO MANY.
THE MUSLIMS HAVE ONE GOD.
THE CHRISTIANS
HAVE THREE GODS.
AND THE HINDUS HAVE
36 MILLION GODS.
MAKING A GRAND TOTAL OF 36
MILLION AND FOUR DIVINE
ASSES FOR ME TO KISS.
NOW, THERE ARE SOME THINKING
PEOPLE OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES
WHO THINK THAT NOT MANY OF
THESE GODS ACTUALLY EXIST.
SOME BELIEVE THAT
NONE OF THEM EXIST.
THERE IS JUST US, AND AN
OCEAN OF DARKNESS AROUND US.
I'M NO PHILOSOPHER OR POET,
SO HOW SHOULD I KNOW?
IT'S TRUE THAT ALL THESE GODS
SEEM TO DO VERY LITTLE WORK.
MUCH LIKE OUR POLITICIANS.
AND YET, THEY KEEP WINNING
REELECTION TO THEIR GOLDEN
THRONES YEAR AFTER YEAR.
NOW, WITHOUT TAKING SIDES,
IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THAT IS
A BRILLIANT ATTACK ON
ALL ORGANIZED RELIGIONS.
IN WHATEVER RELIGION THE
FOLLOWERS BELIEVE THAT
ANYTHING GOOD THAT
HAPPENS COMES FROM GOD.
AND ANYTHING BAD THAT
HAPPENS IS THE FAULT
OF MAN, HUMANKIND.
AND SO GOD GOES ON WITH AN
UNBLEMISHED REPUTATION.
IT'S THE SORT OF ARRANGEMENT
THAT EVERY BUSINESSMAN
DREAMS OF.
KEEP THE PROFIT, AND GIVE
THE LOSSES TO SOMEBODY ELSE.
ARAVIND ADIGA, TRAVELLING
AROUND INDIA AFTER 2003,
ALSO CAME TO BELIEVE,
AND HE HAS SAID OFTEN IN
INTERVIEW, THAT THE MIDDLE
AND UPPER CLASSES IN INDIA
ARE BLIND TO THE SUFFERING
OF THE POOR WHO ARE THE
GREAT MAJORITY OF THE BILLION
PLUS INDIAN POPULATION.
THEY ARE AS BLIND TO THE
SUFFERING OF THE POOR AS THE
AMERICAN MIDDLE-CLASS AND
RICH WERE TO THE SUFFERING
OF BLACK AMERICANS IN 1947
WHEN RALPH ELLISON WROTE
HIS MODERN AMERICAN
CLASSIC
THE INVISIBLE MAN.
IN 1947, WHITE AMERICA WAS
AWARE OF BLACKS, BUT THEY
HAD LITTLE CONTACT OUTSIDE THE
MASTER-SERVANT RELATIONSHIP.
AND JUST AS WHITE AMERICA
ONCE DID NOT SEE THE MISERY
OF BLACK AMERICA, SO NOW
RICH INDIA DOES NOT SEE
THE MISERY OF POOR INDIA.
AND YET, THE WRETCHEDNESS IS
THERE FOR ANYONE WHO CARES
TO SEE IT.
IN SPITE OF INDIA'S BOASTED
ECONOMICAL MIRACLE, WITH AN
INCREASE OF 9.6 PERCENT IN
THE GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT
LAST YEAR, IN SPITE OF
THAT, 76 PERCENT OF INDIANS
STILL LIVE ON LESS
THAN TWO DOLLARS A DAY.
AND ACCORDING TO ARAVIND
ADIGA, AND THE UNITED
NATIONS, 400 MILLION
INDIANS LIVE AT SOME LEVEL
OF MALNUTRITION.
TAKE BOMBAY,
MUMBAI, FOR EXAMPLE.
PEARL, MY WIFE, PEARL
AND I HAVE TRAVELLED.
WE HAVE SEEN IN BOMBAY
ALL THE TOURIST SITES.
WE SAW THE HANGING GARDEN,
THE TOWERS OF SILENCE, THE
WONDERFUL HOTELS AND PRIVATE
HOMES ON THE WATERFRONT,
THE MAGNIFICENT STRUCTURES
LEFT BY THE BRITISH WHEN
THEY LEFT IN 1947.
WE SAW THE JAINIST TEMPLES.
BUT WE ALSO WENT THROUGH
BOMBAY, MUMBAI, AT NIGHT.
AT NIGHT, IN THAT INDIAN
CITY, 3 MILLION PEOPLE,
3 MILLION
PEOPLE
ARE HOMELESS.
3 MILLION PEOPLE LIVE ON THE
SIDEWALK IN BOMBAY AT NIGHT.
3 MILLION.
AS YOU PASS, YOU SEE
FAMILIES, MEN, WOMEN,
CHILDREN GROUPED ON A PATCH
OF CLOTH WITH THEIR FEW
MEAGER POSSESSIONS.
BEHIND THEM, THERE ARE
OTHER FAMILIES LIVING
IN CARDBOARD BOXES.
AND BEHIND THOSE, THERE ARE
THE LUCKY ONES WHO LIVE IN
ABANDONED RUINED BUILDINGS
WITHOUT DOORS OR WINDOWS,
BUT AT LEAST WITH ROOVES.
WHAT IT MUST BE LIKE DURING
THE MONSOON SEASON, WITH
THE RAINS IS BEYOND
MY IMAGINATION.
AND EVERYWHERE IN INDIA,
EVERYWHERE IN THE BIG
CITIES, THERE ARE CHILDREN
WITH ORANGE HAIR, AND
PROTRUDING STOMACHS, THE
CLEAR SIGNS OF MALNUTRITION.
WHEN THIS NOVEL,
THE WHITE
TIGER,
CAME OUT IN 2008,
AND WON THE MAN BOOKER
PRIZE, THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS
PRIZE IN LITERATURE IN THE
BRITISH COMMONWEALTH,
IT CREATED QUITE A STORM
IN INDIA BECAUSE IT IS
THE MOST DIRECT ATTACK
ON CORRUPTION AND MORAL
BLINDNESS THAT I HAVE
EVER READ IN LITERATURE.
IT ISN'T, OF COURSE, THE
FIRST BOOK ABOUT CORRUPTION
IN INDIA.
I CAN THINK VERY QUICKLY
OF SALMAN RUSHDIE'S
MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN, OF V.S.
NAIPAUL'S
AREA OF DARKNESS.
AND, OF COURSE, THE
MASTERPIECE, OUR
TORONTONIAN, ROHINTON
MISTRY'S
A FINE BALANCE.
BUT THIS IS THE MOST RECENT
NOVEL, AND I THINK THE
MOST DAMNING.
A LITTLE MORE BACKGROUND BEFORE
WE GET TO THE NOVEL ITSELF.
INDIA HAS, GIVE OR
TAKE, A BILLION PEOPLE.
5 PERCENT ARE PROSPEROUS.
5 PERCENT.
THEY INCLUDE MILLIONAIRES,
BILLIONAIRES, IN BOTH
TRADITIONAL INDUSTRIES
AND THE NEW INDUSTRIES
OF TECHNOLOGY.
THERE IS A FILM INDUSTRY
CENTRED ON BOMBAY THAT IS
IMMENSELY SUCCESSFUL.
WE CALL IT BOLLYWOOD.
IN THE MAJOR CITIES... NOW
IT IS TIME FOR MY MAP.

[chuckling]

Robert continues I DON'T KNOW WHY THERE
IS ALWAYS LAUGHTER
AS I PRODUCE MY MAP.
I THOUGHT THIS WAS
BETTER THAN AVERAGE.

[laughter]

Robert takes out a simplified map of India, China, and what is now Pakistan highlighted in gray.

He points with a stick and continues INDIA.

[laughter]

Robert continues PAKISTAN.
WEST PAKISTAN, WHICH IN
1972 BECAME BANGLADESH.
THE MOUNTAIN
KINGDOM OF NEPAL.
THE HIMALAYAS ALL
ACROSS HERE, OF COURSE.
CHINA TO THE NORTH,
AFGHANISTAN UP HERE, IRAN
OVER HERE, BURMA OVER
HERE, BUT THIS IS INDIA,
WITH THE CAPITAL AT DELHI.
THIS BIG SPOT DOWN HERE
WILL FIGURE IN THE NOVEL.
IT IS BANGALORE.
BANGALORE, NOW THE
TECHNOLOGICAL CENTRE OF
INDIA, THE SILICONE
VALLEY OF INDIA.
I'LL COME BACK TO MY
MAP IN A LITTLE WHILE.
IN THE MAJOR CITIES, LIKE
DELHI... DELHI, MADRAS,
CALCUTTA, THERE IS THE
VISIBLE EVIDENCE OF PROSPERITY.
BUT IN THE GREAT MASS OF
INDIA, THAT SUCCESS HAS
TRICKLED DOWN VERY SLOWLY
TO THE OTHER 95 PERCENT
OF THE POPULATION.
ESPECIALLY OUTSIDE THE
MAJOR CITIES, THE POOR HAVE
LITTLE ACCESS TO CLEAN
WATER, TO SANITATION,
EDUCATION, OR
PROPER HEALTHCARE.
WHERE THERE ARE HOSPITALS,
THERE ARE RARELY ANY DOCTORS
TO STAFF THOSE HOSPITALS.
EVERY DAY, ONE THOUSAND
INDIANS DIE OF TUBERCULOSIS.
ONE THOUSAND,
EVERY DAY.
IN RURAL INDIA, THE GREAT
MASS OF INDIA, IN RURAL
INDIA, OUTSIDE THE CITIES
AND MAJOR TOWNS, THE HINDU
CASTE SYSTEM IS
IN FULL OPERATION.
YOU LIVE AND DIE IN THE CLASS
INTO WHICH YOU WERE BORN.
UPWARD SOCIAL MOBILITY IS
POSSIBLE ONLY IN THE NEXT LIFE.
IN THEORY, INDIA IS A
SECULAR STATE, SO DEFINED
IN ITS CONSTITUTION AFTER
THE BRITISH LEFT IN 1947.
BUT THE GREAT MAJORITY
OF INDIANS ARE HINDU.
AND THE TEACHING OF HINDUISM
WHICH GOES BACK INTO THE
MISTS OF TIME IS THAT ALL
YOU CAN HOPE FOR IN THIS
LIFE IS TO LIVE VIRTUOUSLY
AND MOVE UP A SOCIAL NOTCH
IN THE NEXT LIFE.
AND RURAL LANDLORDS HAVE
EXPLOITED THE CASTE SYSTEM
TO THE FULL.
AND THE EXPLOITED POOR
HAVE ACCEPTED THEIR LOT.
RURAL INDIA, AND THAT IS
MOST OF INDIA, HAS THE SAME
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AS ENGLAND
HAD BEFORE THE YEAR 1700.
OUR CHIEF CHARACTER, OUR
PROTAGONIST IN TODAY'S
NOVEL,
THE WHITE TIGER,
BALRAM HALWAI, REFERS TO
RURAL INDIA, WHICH IS MOST
OF INDIA, AS 'THE DARKNESS'.
DARK, DARK BECAUSE OF
SUPERSTITION, IGNORANCE,
EXPLOITATION AND RELIGION.
OUR PROTAGONIST SAYS, I
QUOTE HIM, INDIA HAS NEVER
BEEN FREE.
FIRST THE MUSLIMS, AND THEN
THE BRITISH BOSSED US AROUND.
IN 1947, THE BRITISH LEFT,
BUT ONLY A MORON WOULD SAY
WE HAVE BEEN
FREE SINCE THEN.
ARAVIND ADIGA, OUR AUTHOR,
HAS PUBLICLY STATED THAT
THE DARKNESS OF INDIA IS NOT THE
LEGACY OF BRITISH IMPERIALISM.
IT IS HIS OPINION, AND THE
OPINION OF SALMAN RUSHDIE,
V.S. NAIPAUL, ROHINTON
MISTRY, IT IS HIS OPINION
THAT IT IS THE FAULT OF
THE INDIAN RULING CLASSES.
IT IS IN THEIR INTEREST TO
KEEP THE PEOPLE UNEDUCATED
AND RELIGIOUS.
THE PRISONERS OF THEIR
CASTE AND THEIR IGNORANCE.
BUT THE GREAT INDIAN CITIES
ARE JUST AS CORRUPT AS THE
INDIAN COUNTRYSIDE AS THE
DARKNESS BECAUSE THERE IS
ONE DIFFERENCE.
BECAUSE OF THEIR SIZE THE
INHABITANTS OF A GREAT
INDIAN CITY ARE NOT KNOWN
TO EACH OTHER THE WAY THEY
WERE IN THEIR VILLAGES.
CASTE FADES AWAY, ALTHOUGH
THE UPPER CLASS, THE
BRAHMANS, STILL
CLING TO IT.
FOR THE OTHERS, NO ONE IN
A CITY CAN KNOW REALLY WHO
YOU ARE, OR WHAT
YOUR CASTE IS.
IN A BIG CITY, YOU ARE
WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE.
AND IN OUR NOVEL,
THE WHITE
TIGER, TODAY THAT IS
VERY IMPORTANT.
OUR AUTHOR, ARAVIND ADIGA
HAS SAID VERY OFTEN, QUOTE,
ONE TRAIN TRIP FROM BIHAR.
BIHAR IS THE
PROVINCE IN THE EAST.
THE MOST BACKWARD, THE
MOST WRETCHED, THE MOST
POVERTY-STRICKEN
PROVINCE IN INDIA.
ONE TRIP FROM BIHAR IN THE
EAST TO DELHI, TAKES YOU
FROM THE 18th CENTURY
TO THE 21st CENTURY.
AND THESE PEOPLE WHO MAKE
THAT JOURNEY ARE MAKING
THAT TRANSITION IN AN
INCREDIBLY SHORT PERIOD OF TIME.
IT TOOK GREAT BRITAIN MORE
THAN 300 YEARS TO CHANGE
FROM BEING AN AGRICULTURAL,
FEUDAL COUNTRY, TO BEING A
MODERN, INDUSTRIAL,
WELFARE, DEMOCRATIC NATION.
INDIA, LIKE CHINA, THE OTHER
SIDE OF HIMALAYAS, IS GOING
THROUGH THAT SAME TRANSITION
IN AN INCREDIBLY SHORT
PERIOD OF TIME.
AND THE AGONY, THE AGONY OF
THE PROCESS IS VERY EVIDENT.
IN THE GREAT CITIES, MAINLY
AROUND THE COAST, EXCEPT
FOR DELHI, IN THE GREAT
CITIES, MADRAS, BANGALORE,
CALCUTTA, AND SO ON, IN THE
GREAT CITIES, CASTE HAS
BEEN SIMPLIFIED.
IN THE GREAT CITIES, INDIAN
CITIES, THERE ARE ONLY
TWO CASTES.
IN OUR NOVEL, THEY ARE
REFERRED TO AS THE MEN WITH
BIG BELLIES, AND THE
MEN WITH SMALL BELLIES.
THE MEN WITH BIG BELLIES
CONTROL THE WHOLE SYSTEM...
POLITICAL, LEGAL
AND ECONOMIC.
THEY CONTROL IT BY WHOLESALE
BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION AT
EVERY LEVEL.
NOW, YOU MIGHT WONDER WHY
DO THE OPPRESSED 95 PERCENT
NOT RISE UP AGAINST THE 5
PERCENT WHO OPPRESS THEM?
AND THE NOVEL OFFERS
A NUMBER OF ANSWERS.
FIRST, IN THE COUNTRYSIDE,
WHERE THE GREAT MASS OF
INDIANS STILL LIVE IN SPITE
OF MIGRATION TO THE CITIES,
THE CASTE SYSTEM IS
STILL IN OPERATION.
AND THE CASTE SYSTEM TEACHES
YOU TO BE CONTENT WITH YOUR
LOT IN LIFE.
SECOND, WHY THE OPPRESSED DO
NOT RISE UP, YOU HAVE THE
FAMILY, THE BASIC UNIT
OF SOCIETY IN INDIA.
THE FAMILY, THE EXTENDED
FAMILY IS BOTH YOUR SUPPORT
AND YOUR PRISON.
YOU MUST DO NOTHING TO
ENDANGER THE FAMILY.
I WAS VERY TAKEN BY
SOMETHING ARAVIND ADIGA SAID.
I QUOTE HIM.
IN RURAL INDIA, LOYALTY
TO FAMILY IS A TEST
OF MORAL CHARACTER.
TO SAY YOU WERE RUDE TO YOUR
MOTHER THIS MORNING WOULD
BE MORALLY THE EQUIVALENT
OF YOU EMBEZZLED MONEY
FROM THE BANK.
THE FAMILY IS YOUR PRISON.
TO TAKE UP SOME
REVOLUTIONARY, SOCIAL,
OR POLITICAL CAUSE, MIGHT CAUSE
YOU TO NEGLECT YOUR FAMILY.
AND TO MANY INDIANS, THAT
WOULD BE UNTHINKABLE.
THIS IS ONE OF THE
THEMES OF THE NOVEL.
YOU CANNOT NEGLECT
YOUR FAMILY.
FAMILY IS PARAMOUNT.
THIS NOVEL DREW A LOT OF
NEGATIVE ATTENTION IN INDIA.
AND MUCH OF THE NEGATIVE
CRITICISM IS OF THE CHIEF
CHARACTER, BALRAM HALWAI,
NOT BECAUSE HE KILLED A MAN,
BUT BECAUSE HE
SACRIFICED HIS FAMILY.
THAT OCCASIONED MUCH OF
THE CRITICISM IN INDIA
AT EVERY LEVEL.
AND THE OTHER REASON WHY
THE INDIAN POOR HAVE NEVER
RISEN UP AGAINST THE RICH,
AND AGAIN THE NOVEL MAKES
THIS CLEAR, IS THAT BECAUSE
OF THE DEEPLY INGRAINED
HABIT OF ARAVIND ADIGA'S
PHRASE, SERVITUDE.
SERVITUDE.
IT IS REALLY A LEGACY
OF THE CASTE SYSTEM.
THE BELIEF BY THE MAJORITY
THAT THEY ARE BORN TO SERVE.
SERVANTS ARE EVERYWHERE IN
INDIA, EVEN IF YOU HAVE ONLY
JUST MADE IT INTO THE
LOWER MIDDLE, MIDDLE,
OR UPPER-CLASS, YOU
CAN AFFORD SERVANTS.
PEOPLE ARE
DESPERATE FOR WORK.
AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO
PAY THEM VERY MUCH.
AND WHAT IS MORE, YOU
CAN TRUST YOUR SERVANTS.
WHY?
BECAUSE THEY ARE TERRIFIED
OF LOSING THEIR JOBS.
SECOND, SERVANTS FEAR THE
PUNISHMENT THAT WILL BE
METED OUT TO THEIR FAMILIES
IF THEY SHOULD TURN AGAINST
THEIR EMPLOYER.
THIS IS PARTICULARLY TRUE IN
RURAL INDIA OUTSIDE THE CITIES.
OUR PROTAGONIST IN THIS
NOVEL, BALRAM HALWAI, TELLS
US HOW A SERVANT OF ONE
LANDLORD DID SOMETHING
WRONG, AND THE LANDLORD HAD
THE SERVANT'S ENTIRE FAMILY
KILLED IN RETALIATION.
ONLY SOMEONE PREPARED TO
SACRIFICE HIS OR HER WHOLE
FAMILY CAN ATTACK, CAN TURN
AGAINST HIS OR HER MASTER.
BUT THERE IS EVEN A MORE
IMPORTANT REASON THAN THAT
WHY THE POOR OF
INDIA DO NOT RISE UP.
OUR PROTAGONIST, BALRAM
HALWAI, CALLS IT THE
ROOSTER COOP SYNDROME.
THE ROOSTER COOP SYNDROME.
IN INDIAN MARKETS, HENS,
ROOSTERS, CHICKENS, ARE
STUFFED INTO WIRE CAGES
WHERE THEY SPEND THEIR DAYS
FIGHTING FOR THE
SPACE TO BREATHE.
ACCORDING TO BALRAM HALWAI,
IT IS JUST THE SAME
FOR THE POOR OF INDIA.
THEY SPEND ALL THEIR TIME
AND ALL THEIR ENERGY JUST
FIGHTING TO SURVIVE.
THEY HAVE NO ENERGY LEFT TO
FIGHT TO LEAVE THEIR CAGE,
TO FIGHT AGAINST
THEIR MASTERS.
ARAVIND ADIGA, OUR AUTHOR,
HAS OFTEN POINTED OUT THAT
FOR ALL THE ABOVE REASONS,
A CRIME COMMITTED BY A
SERVANT AGAINST HIS OR HER
MASTER IS A RARITY IN INDIA.
AND I CAN GIVE YOU ONE
EXAMPLE TO SUPPORT THAT.
IN THE LAST YEAR FOR WHICH
I COULD FIND A STATISTIC,
2007, IN NEW DELHI, THERE
ARE ABOUT, GIVE OR TAKE...
I DON'T TRUST ANY INDIAN
GOVERNMENT STATISTIC...
BUT THERE ARE ABOUT, GIVE
OR TAKE, 17 MILLION PEOPLE
LIVING IN DELHI.
IN 2007, THERE WERE 6
RECORDED CASES OF A SERVANT
ATTACKING OR ROBBING
HIS EMPLOYER.
6 OUT OF 17 MILLION.
IN THE FACE OF SUCH A STATIC
AND RIGID CLASS SYSTEM,
HOW CAN IT BE THAT INDIA HAS
BEGUN TO PRODUCE SO MANY
SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEURS,
EXTREMELY RICH SUCCESSFUL
BUSINESS PEOPLE OFTEN
AT THE CUTTING EDGE
OF TECHNOLOGY?
AND THE ANSWER IS THAT,
INVARIABLY, THESE INDIAN
EQUIVALENTS OF BILL GATES
EMERGE FROM THE CLASS THAT
ALREADY
HAS,
THE 5
PERCENT WHO ARE ALREADY
MIDDLE OF UPPER CLASS.
AS FOR THE REST, THE
MILLIONS, AND TENS OF
MILLIONS OF PEOPLE STARVING
IN THE VILLAGES, WHO COME
TO THE BIG CITY, LEAVING
THEIR VILLAGES, ALMOST
ALWAYS FIND AN URBAN
POVERTY EVEN MORE TERRIBLE,
MORE WRETCHED THAN THE
POVERTY THEY LEFT
IN THE VILLAGE.
FOR A VILLAGE INDIAN TO
BECOME ONE OF THE SUCCESSES
IN A CITY IS
ALMOST UNHEARD OF.
I SAY
ALMOST
BECAUSE IT
CAN HAPPEN, BUT IT IS RARE.
AS RARE AS A TIGER
BEING BORN WHITE.
BUT WHITE TIGERS DO EXIST.
THEY ARE BORN, PERHAPS
ONCE IN A GENERATION.
AND OUR NOVEL IS
ABOUT A WHITE TIGER.
A HUMAN WHITE TIGER CALLED
BALRAM HALWAI, WHO BEGINS IN
RURAL POVERTY IN BIHAR,
IN EASTERN INDIA.
WHO BEGINS IN INCREDIBLE
POVERTY, BUT ENDS UP AT
30 YEARS OLD, A TYCOON IN
BANGALORE, SILICONE VALLEY.
THE NOVEL IS HIS
REMEMBERED LIFE STORY.
HE'S 30 YEARS OLD.
IT IS WRITTEN IN THE
FORM OF SEVEN LETTERS.
LETTERS HE WRITES OVER
SEVEN NIGHTS TO THE
PRIME MINISTER OF
CHINA, WEN JIABAO
WHO IS VISITING INDIA.
AND, IN PARTICULAR,
BANGALORE, TO INTERVIEW
INDIAN ENTREPRENEURS AND
DISCOVER THE SECRET.
HOW IS IT THAT THEY ARE FAST
BECOMING THE TECHNOLOGICAL
CENTRE OF THE WORLD?
AT THE VERY BEGINNING,
BALRAM HALWAI TELLS US THAT
THE SEVEN LETTERS HE IS
WRITING TO THE CHINESE
PREMIER WILL BE WRITTEN IN
ENGLISH, THE LANGUAGE OF
BUSINESS, THE LINGUA FRANCA
OF THE WORLD, THE ESPERANTO
OF THE MODERN WORLD.
HE WILL WRITE HIS SEVEN
LETTERS IN ENGLISH, WHICH
NEITHER HE NOR THE CHINESE
PREMIER CAN SPEAK, WRITE,
OR UNDERSTAND.
WE, THE READERS, UNDERSTAND
IMMEDIATELY THAT THE LETTERS
WILL BE NEITHER
WRITTEN NOR SENT.
THEY ARE BALRAM'S
REFLECTIONS UPON HIS LIFE.
AS WE MEET HIM, BALRAM
HALWAI BUBBLES WITH IDEAS.
HE CONFESSES HE HAS VERY
LITTLE FORMAL EDUCATION.
HOWEVER, HE HAS PICKED
UP SOME FACTS, AND HE IS
INORDINATELY PROUD OF THEM.
DURING HIS BRIEF PERIOD
AT SCHOOL, FOR EXAMPLE,
HE LEARNED THE NAME OF THE
FOUR GREAT INDIAN POETS.
NOW HE CAN REMEMBER ONLY
THREE OF THE NAMES.
BUT HE LIKES TO
RECITE THE NAMES.
IT BECOMES LIKE A MANTRA.
OM MANI PADMA OM.
HE'S ALSO PROUD OF HIS
KNOWLEDGE OF HISTORY.
YES, HIS KNOWLEDGE OF WORLD
HISTORY TOTALLY INACCURATE.
HE PICKED IT UP FROM A PAPERBACK
HE FOUND IN THE STREET.
HE COMPLIMENTS, WHEN HE
WRITES IN HIS MIND TO THE
CHINESE PREMIER, HE
COMPLIMENTS WEN JIABAO
ON BEING THE LEADER OF ONE
OF THE ONLY THREE NATIONS
WHICH HAVE NEVER BEEN
DOMINATED BY A FOREIGN POWER.
CHINA, AFGHANISTAN,
ETHIOPIA.

[laughter]

Robert continues THERE IS NO WAY THAT BALRAM
HALWAI, FROM BIHAR, COULD
KNOW THAT CHINA WAS UNDER
TOTAL FOREIGN DOMINATION
FOR THE WHOLE OF
THE 19th CENTURY.
THAT AFGHANISTAN WAS
CONQUERED THREE TIMES BY
MONGOL ARMIES IN THE 13th,
14th AND 16th CENTURIES,
BY THE SHAH OF PERSIA IN
THE 17th CENTURY, AND THAT
ETHIOPIA WAS AN ITALIAN
COLONY IN THE 1930s.
THROUGH GOSSIP, BALRAM
HALWAI HAS LEARNED OTHER
GEMS JUST AS UNTRUE AND
JUST AS INACCURATE.
SUCH AS THAT THE COUNTRIES
OF THE WEST, LIKE CANADA,
THE U.S., ENGLAND, HAVE
BEEN OVERWHELMED BY
HOMOSEXUALITY
AND DRUG ABUSE.
AND THAT THE USE OF THE
CELLPHONE ROTS YOUR BRAIN.
AND YET, IN SPITE OF ALL
THIS MISINFORMATION, WHEN
BALRAM THINKS AND WRITES
OF HIS OWN FIRSTHAND
EXPERIENCE, HE IS
REMARKABLY PERCEPTIVE.
I THINK OF ONE PARTICULAR
SENTENCE WHICH STAYS WITH ME.
I QUOTE IT.
A RICH MAN'S BODY IS LIKE
A PREMIUM COTTON PILLOW,
SOFT AND WHITE.
BUT A POOR MAN'S BODY HAS
HIS LIFE WRITTEN ON HIS
BODY WITH A SHARP PEN.
NOT A BAD SENTENCE.
AND THERE ARE EQUALLY
WONDERFUL SENTENCES
THROUGHOUT THE NOVEL,
SOMETIMES DESCRIBING IN
DETAIL THE MISERY OF THE
POOR, AND SOMETIMES IN
DETAIL THE OBSCENE
LUXURY OF THE RICH.
HOWEVER, BALRAM DOES
REALIZE THAT IN SPITE OF ALL
THE VALUABLE INFORMATION HE
THINKS HE HAS, THERE IS
MUCH THAT HE DOES NOT KNOW.
HE HAS, OUR PROTAGONIST,
BALRAM HALWAI, A REMARKABLE
DEGREE OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE.
HE IS NEVER DISHONEST
WITH HIMSELF.
HE HAS REALIZED, AND IT IS
A TRUTH, AND IT IS A GREAT
TRUTH, THAT SAME TRUTH WAS
POINTED OUT TO ME DECADES
AGO BY A GREAT
SHAKESPEAREAN SCHOLAR WHOM
I KNEW AND STUDIED WITH.
THE MORE EDUCATION YOU HAVE,
THE MORE YOU SPECIALIZE.
AND THE MORE YOU SPECIALIZE,
THE FEWER AND FEWER ARE THE
OPPORTUNITIES
AVAILABLE TO YOU.
THE MAN WITH LITTLE FORMAL
EDUCATION IS NOT TRAPPED
IN A SPECIALIZATION.
HE CAN TRY EVERY DIFFERENT
OPPORTUNITY THAT IS AVAILABLE
TO HIM.
IF THE FIRST ONE FAILS,
HE CAN TRY ANOTHER.
I QUOTE FROM BALRAM'S LETTER
TO THE CHINESE PREMIER.
PAY ATTENTION, Mr. PREMIER,
FULLY FORMED FELLOWS,
AFTER 12 YEARS OF SCHOOL AND
THREE YEARS OF UNIVERSITY,
WEAR NICE SUITS.
THEY JOIN COMPANIES, AND
THEY TAKE ORDERS FROM OTHER
MEN FOR THE REST
OF THEIR LIVES.
ENTREPRENEURS ARE MADE
FROM HALF-BAKED CLAY.
THEY ARE HALF-BAKED IN THE
SENSE THEY HAVE NOT BEEN
FULLY FORMED.
CIRCUMSCRIBED BY PREPARATION
FOR A SPECIALIZATION FOR
ONE PARTICULAR FIELD.
THEY CAN MOULD THEMSELVES AS
OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF.
AND SO THIS SELF-DESCRIBED
HALF-BAKED FELLOW, THIS
BROWN INDIAN, WILL
SHARE HIS WISDOM WITH
THE CHINESE PREMIER.
WHY?
BECAUSE, AS BALRAM SAYS, I
QUOTE, THE FUTURE OF THE
WORLD LIES WITH THE YELLOW
MAN AND THE BROWN MAN.
NOW THAT OUR ERSTWHILE
MASTER, THE WHITE-SKINNED MAN,
HAS WASTED HIMSELF.
AND NOW PERHAPS IT IS TIME
TO GO TO THE BEGINNING OF
THE NOVEL.
BALRAM HALWAI WAS BORN IN
THE OBSCURE VILLAGE OF
LAXMANGARH... IN THE
NORTHEAST, BACKWARD PRIMITIVE
POVERTY-STRICKEN
PROVINCE OF BIHAR.
HE WAS BORN, HIS FULL
NAME IS BALRAM HALWAI.
THAT IS HALWAI IS
HIS FAMILY NAME.
HALWAI MEANS IN HINDI,
A MAKER OF CANDIES.
IT'S A CASTE NAME.
HIS FATHER DOESN'T MAKE
CANDIES, HE PULLS A RICKSHAW,
BUT THAT IS OKAY.
THAT IS A PERMITTED MENIAL
JOB FOR ANYONE BORN A HALWAI.
BALRAM'S VILLAGE
WAS UNREMARKABLE.
THE VILLAGE OF LAXMANGARH.
LIKE MOST OTHER INDIAN
VILLAGES, IT WAS SPLIT DOWN
THE MIDDLE BY A SHINING
STRIP OF RAW SEWAGE.
THE ONLY OBJECT OF INTEREST
IN LAXMANGARH WAS THE
NEARBY RUINED BLACK
FORT UP ON A HILL.
IT WAS BUILT BY THE MONGOLS,
OR THE BRITISH, OR SOME
OTHER LONG GONE OPPRESSOR.
AS A CHILD, LITTLE BALRAM
WAS AFRAID OF THE BLACK FORT.
IT IS ONLY AS A SUCCESSFUL
ADULT THAT HE CAN COME BACK,
GO UP THE HILL AND SPIT
AT THE FORT IN VICTORY.
IN HIS LETTER TO THE CHINESE
PRIME MINISTER, BALRAM
SUMMARIZES THE OFFICIAL
INDIAN GOVERNMENT
DESCRIPTION OF A
TYPICAL INDIAN VILLAGE.
I QUOTE, THE CHILDREN OF THE
VILLAGE WILL BE FOUND TO
MATCH UP TO THE MINIMUM
HEIGHT AND WEIGHT STANDARDS
SET BY THE UNITED NATIONS.
HA!
ELECTRICITY POLES DEFUNCT,
WATER TAP BROKEN.
CHILDREN TOO LEAN AND SHORT
FOR THEIR AGE, AND WITH
OVERSIZED HEADS FROM WHICH
VIVID EYES SHINE LIKE THE
GUILTY CONSCIENCES OF
THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA.
OH, YES, A TYPICAL INDIAN
VILLAGE PARADISE, Mr. JIABAO.
ONE DAY I'LL HAVE TO COME
TO CHINA AND SEE IF YOUR
VILLAGE PARADISES
ARE ANY BETTER.
LIFE IN THE VILLAGE IS MUCH
THE SAME, DAY AFTER DAY.
ONLY THREE EVENTS
DISTURB THE ROUTINE.
INDEED, THOSE THREE EVENTS
BECOME PART OF THE ROUTINE.
FIRST, THE POLICE WILL
TURN UP TO MAKE SOMEBODY'S
LIFE MISERABLE.
TWO, THE TITLE, THE TITLE
OF THE EVENING PORNOGRAPHIC
FILM WILL BE ANNOUNCED.
THE INDIAN FILM INDUSTRY,
BOLLYWOOD, HAS A RIGID
MORAL CODE.
NO KISSING ON SCREEN.
BUT THERE IS A VAST AND
VERY PROFITABLE PORN FILM
INDUSTRY BECAUSE LAWS IN INDIA
ARE NOT MADE TO BE OBSERVED.
THEY ARE MADE TO IMPRESS
THE FOREIGN OBSERVER.
THREE, THERE WILL BE A VISIT
FROM ONE OR MORE OF THE
LANDLORDS WHO CONTROL THE
VILLAGE, THE VILLAGE AND THE
SURROUNDING COUNTRYSIDE.
THEY ARE AN
INTERESTING GROUP.
THE VILLAGERS HAVE GIVEN EACH
OF THEM AN ANIMAL NICKNAME.
AFTER ALL, THE LANDLORDS
HAVE REDUCED THE VILLAGERS
TO AN ANIMAL-LIKE STATE.
WHY SHOULD THE VILLAGERS
NOT RETURN THE COMPLIMENT?
FIRST, THERE IS
THE BUFFALO.
HE CONTROLS THE ROADS.
EVERY RICKSHAW PULLER, LIKE
BALRAM'S FATHER, MUST TURN
OVER ONE-THIRD
OF HIS INCOME.
THEN THERE IS THE WILD
BOAR WHO EMPLOYS THE
AGRICULTURAL LABOURERS AT
NEGLIGIBLE WAGES AT LESS
THAN A DOLLAR A DAY.
THEN THERE IS THE RAVEN,
WHO RENTS OUT THE WORST
AGRICULTURAL LAND, BUT WILL
TAKE RENT IN THE FORM OF
MALE SEXUAL FAVOURS.
AND, FINALLY, THERE IS THE
BOSS OF ALL THE BOSSES,
THE STORK.
THE STORK, HE OWNS THE
RIVER, THEREFORE THE FISH.
BUT THE STORK HAS OTHER
INTERESTS, AND WE COME BACK
TO HIM LATER.
THOSE OTHER FOUR LANDLORDS
WHO CONTROL THE VILLAGE AND
SURROUNDING COUNTRYSIDE.
BALRAM, BALRAM
GOES TO SCHOOL.
HE IS SIX OR SEVEN OR EIGHT
WHEN HE GOES TO SCHOOL.
SIX OR SEVEN OR EIGHT
BECAUSE NO RECORDS ARE KEPT.
THE POOR, NOBODY CARES,
NOBODY REMEMBERS.
IT IS THE SCHOOLTEACHER
WHO NAMES HIM BALRAM.
UNTIL THEN, THE FIRST SIX OR
SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS OF HIS
LIFE, HE WAS JUST
CALLED MUNNA.
MUNNA IS THE HINDI
WORD FOR BOY.
THE INDIAN POOR ARE SOMETIMES
SLOW TO NAME A CHILD.
INFANT MORTALITY
IS VERY HIGH.
THE CHANCES ARE HE WILL NOT
SURVIVE, AND SO IT IS A GOOD
IDEA NOT TO BECOME
TOO ATTACHED.
THE POOR IN ENGLAND USED
TO DO THE SAME THING, TWO,
THREE, 400 YEARS AGO.
YOU MAY REMEMBER THE
PROSTITUTE'S BABY IN
SHERI HOLMAN'S WONDERFUL NOVEL
ABOUT 19th CENTURY ENGLAND
THE DRESS LODGER.
THE POOR WERE VERY
SLOW TO NAME A CHILD.
THE LITTLE BOY WHO BECOMES
BALRAM HAS A SLIGHTLY
DIFFERENT PERCEPTION.
I QUOTE HIS CONVERSATION
WITH HIS TEACHER.
THE TEACHER, DIDN'T
YOUR MOTHER NAME YOU?
SHE'S VERY ILL, SIR.
SHE LIES IN BED AND
SHE SPEWS BLOOD.
SHE HAS NO TIME
TO NAME ME.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR FATHER?
HE'S A RICKSHAW PULLER, SIR.
HE'S GOT NO TIME TO NAME ME.
AND SO THE TEACHER CALLS THE
LITTLE BOY MUNNA, BALRAM.
IT'S IRONIC.
BALRAM IS, OF COURSE, A DIVINE
FRIEND OF THE GOD KRISHNA.
BALRAM ONLY GETS SENT TO
SCHOOL WHEN HE IS SIX OR
SEVEN OR EIGHT BECAUSE HIS
FATHER HAS AN AMBITION FOR HIM.
I QUOTE THE FATHER.
HE MUST LEARN TO
READ AND WRITE.
MY WHOLE LIFE I'VE BEEN
TREATED LIKE A DONKEY.
ALL I WANT IS THAT ONE SON OF
MINE SHOULD LIVE LIKE A MAN.
BUT BALRAM DOESN'T
STAY LONG IN SCHOOL.
HE'S TAKEN OUT TO GO TO WORK
TO EARN MONEY FOR THE FAMILY.
A GIRL COUSIN IS
GETTING MARRIED.
AND MONEY HAS TO BE FOUND FOR
THE DOWRY AND FOR THE WEDDING.
HIS OLDER BROTHER, KISHAN,
HAD HAD TO LEAVE SCHOOL EARLIER
FOR THE SAME REASON.
THE MARRIAGE OF
ANOTHER GIRL COUSIN.
THE DEMANDS AND OBLIGATIONS
OF FAMILY LIFE ARE ABSOLUTE.
OF COURSE, THE FAMILY
WILL GET ITS REWARD.
WHEN KISHAN, THE OLDER BROTHER,
OR BALRAM HIMSELF MARRIES.
I QUOTE BALRAM ON HIS
BROTHER'S MARRIAGE.
QUOTE.
WE SCREWED THE
GIRL'S FAMILY.

[chuckling]

Robert continues 5,000 RUPEES CASH.
THAT'S 100 DOLLARS.
SO DO THE OPPRESSED
OPPRESS EACH OTHER IN
THE ROOSTER COOP SYNDROME.
WHEN BALRAM'S MOTHER DIES,
IT IS AT HER CREMATION,
AT THE GANGA, THE HOLY
MOTHER GANGES, THAT BALRAM
REALIZES HOW TRAPPED HE IS
IN THE CYCLE OF POVERTY.
I QUOTE HIM.
AND THEN I UNDERSTOOD THIS
WAS THE REAL GOD, THIS
BLACK MUD OF THE GANGA,
INTO WHICH EVERYTHING DIED
AND DECOMPOSED AND WAS
REBORN FROM AND DIED AGAIN.
THE SAME WOULD HAPPEN
TO ME WHEN I DIED.
NOTHING WOULD GET LIBERATED.
BUT BALRAM HAD LEARNED ONE
IMPORTANT THING AT SCHOOL.
THE CORRUPTION AT THE SCHOOL,
OF COURSE, WAS A GIVEN.
THAT THE TEACHER OF THE
SCHOOL STOLE THE BUDGET FOR
THE CHILDREN'S LUNCHES.
THAT HE STOLE THE CHILDREN'S
UNIFORMS AND RESOLD THEM.
THAT WAS A GIVEN.
I QUOTE, EVERYONE IN THE
VILLAGE KNEW THAT HE WOULD
HAVE DONE THE SAME THING.
WHAT BALRAM LEARNS IS
THAT HE WAS EXCEPTIONAL.
AN INSPECTOR CAME
TO THE SCHOOL.
HE HAD SEEN
BALRAM'S QUICK MIND.
AND HE HAD CALLED
HIM A WHITE TIGER.
AND THAT VISION OF HIMSELF
WOULD STAY WITH BALRAM
FOR HIS WHOLE LIFE.
AFTER HE LEAVES
SCHOOL TO EARN MONEY,
HIS FIRST JOB IS CLEARING
TABLES AT A TEA SHOP.
AND HE PICKS UP A
LOT AT THE TEA SHOP.
PERMANENT SCARS ON HIS EARS
BY BEING BEATEN WITH A HOT
LADLE, AND A LOT OF
STREET-WISE INFORMATION.
AS HE SAYS, I USED
MY TIME AT THE TEA SHOP
TO OVERHEAR EVERYTHING.
I'M A GREAT BELIEVER IN
EDUCATION, ESPECIALLY MY OWN.
HIS RICKSHAW-PULLING FATHER,
VIKRAM HALWAI DIES SPITTING
UP BLOOD IN A GOVERNMENT
HOSPITAL WHERE NO DOCTOR
BOTHERS TO COME.
NO DOCTOR BOTHERS TO COME,
AFTER ALL, EVERY DOCTOR PAID
400,000 RUPEES FOR THE JOB.
IT'S ASKING TOO MUCH FOR
THEM ACTUALLY TO ATTEND.
AND YET, BALRAM REFLECTS
WITH A WRY HUMOUR, THAT
WHAT THE HOSPITAL WROTE,
VIKRAM HALWAI, CURED AND
DISCHARGED, WAS
IN FACT TRUE.
HIS FATHER DID
LEAVE THE HOSPITAL.
AND HIS TUBERCULOSIS
WOULDN'T BOTHER HIM ANYMORE.
BALRAM LOOKS
FOR OTHER WORK.
HIS GRANDMOTHER COMES UP
WITH 600 RUPEES SO HE CAN
LEARN TO DRIVE A CAR.
THE FAMILY IS A SUPPORT
AS WELL AS A PRISON.
BALRAM GOES TO THE
NEARBY CITY OF DHANBAD.
WE ARE ALWAYS IN THIS AREA
IN THE PROVINCE OF BIHAR.
HE GOES TO THE NEARBY
CITY OF DHANBAD.
HE COMES BY CHANCE TO
THE HOUSE OF THE STORK,
ONE OF THE LANDLORDS WHO
SQUEEZE HIS VILLAGE DRY.
AND HE CALLS OUT TO THE
STORK, I AM FROM YOUR VILLAGE.
AND THE STORK GIVES HIM A
JOB AS THE NUMBER TWO DRIVER.
WHY?
OUT OF PITY, COMPASSION,
VILLAGE LOYALTY?
NOT EXACTLY.
THE STORK, THE LANDLORD,
KNOWS WHICH FAMILY BALRAM
COMES FROM.
AND BALRAM KNOWS
THAT THE STORK KNOWS.
AND A STORY THAT CARRIES
GREAT WEIGHT WITH BALRAM IS
ONE I ALREADY MENTIONED.
IT'S ONE ABOUT
THE BUFFALO.
ONE OF THE STORK'S
FELLOW LANDLORDS.
THE BUFFALO'S SON HAD BEEN
KIDNAPPED FOR RANSOM.
AND THE BUFFALO SUSPECTED
THAT ONE OF HIS SERVANTS
WAS INVOLVED.
AND SO WITHOUT TRIAL, THE
BUFFALO HAS THE SERVANT AND
HIS WHOLE FAMILY DESTROYED.
THE WOMEN ARE RAPED TO
DEATH BY A TEAM OF MEN.
AND AS BALRAM SAYS, I QUOTE,
THE STORK COULD COUNT
ON MY LOYALTY.
THE STORK HAS TWO SONS.
ONE IS A MIRROR
IMAGE OF THE FATHER.
HE'S CALLED THE MONGOOSE.
THE OTHER ONE,
ASHOK, IS ATYPICAL.
VERY INTERESTING.
ASHOK, THE STORK'S OLDER
SON, HAD BEEN SENT TO THE
UNITED STATES FOR
HIS EDUCATION.
AND HE HAD COME
BACK MARRIED.
MARRIED TO A GIRL PINKY,
KNOWN TO THE INDIAN SERVANTS
AS PINKY MADAM.
IN HINDI, THE TITLE ALWAYS
COMES AFTER THE NAME.
PINKY MADAM.
SHE IS OF AN
INDIAN FAMILY.
BUT SHE IS CHRISTIAN AND
WHOLLY AMERICAN IN HER
ATTITUDES AND UPBRINGING.
BOTH SHE AND ASHOK ARE
APPALLED BY THE WAY THE
SERVANTS ARE TREATED IN
THE STORK'S HOUSEHOLD.
AS WELL AS BEING THE NUMBER
TWO DRIVER, BALRAM IS
EXPECTED TO CLEAN SPITTOONS,
SWEEP, MASSAGE THE FEET OF
THE ELDERLY.
AND WHEN ASHOK SEES HIS
FATHER, THE STORK, SLAP
BALRAM, HE SAYS TO HIS
FATHER, FATHER, DO YOU HAVE
TO HIT THE SERVANTS?
THIS IS NOT AMERICA.
DON'T ASK QUESTIONS
LIKE THAT.
WHY SHOULDN'T I
ASK QUESTIONS?
THEY EXPECT US TO HIT THEM.
THEY RESPECT US FOR IT.
AND ASHOK ACCEPTS HIS
FAMILY'S ATTITUDES AND MORES.
HE IS AS TRAPPED BY HIS
UPBRINGING, BY HIS FAMILY,
AS BALRAM IS BY HIS.
PINKY MADAM, ASHOK'S WIFE,
IS APPALLED AND TERRIFIED
WHEN BALRAM, LIKE ALL OTHER
INDIAN DRIVERS, DRIVES ON
BOTH SIDES OF THE ROAD.
LIKE THE BRITISH, THEY
SHOULD DRIVE ON THE LEFT.
HE DRIVES ON BOTH.
BUT AS BALRAM REFLECTS,
WELL, I SUPPOSE YOU ARE
MEANT TO DRIVE ON THE LEFT
SIDE, BUT UNTIL NOW, I HAD
NEVER MET ANYONE WHO BECAME
AGITATED OVER THE RULE.

[chuckling]

Robert continues I HAVE TO DIGRESS
FOR A SECOND.
WE WERE IN BOMBAY, AND WITH
A FRIEND, A NEW YORKER,
WE ENGAGED TAXIS
TO TAKE US AROUND.
AND MY FRIEND, EPHRAIM'S
TAXI DRIVER WAS THE SPITTING
IMAGE OF SAMMY DAVIS, SO
HE CALLED HIM SAMMY DAVIS.
AND OUR DRIVER FOUND
THAT VERY FUNNY.
AND EPHRAIM'S DRIVER GOT
INTO A TRAFFIC ACCIDENT.
AS WE DRIVE AROUND, WE CAME
UPON MY FRIEND AND THE
OTHER TAXI SMASHED UP.
AND OUR DRIVER CAME OUT WITH HIS
ONE PERFECT ENGLISH SENTENCE.
THAT SAMMY IS ONE
FUCKING CRAZY DRIVER.

[laughter]

Robert continues I DON'T KNOW WHY I THOUGHT
OF THAT, BUT I DID.
ANYWAY, BUT UNTIL NOW, I HAD
NEVER KNOWN ANYONE TO GET
AGITATED OVER THIS RULE.
BALRAM GETS TO BE THE
NUMBER ONE DRIVER.
AND TO SEE A LOT OF
ASHOK AND HIS WIFE PINKY,
A LOT OF THEM IN THE
REAR-VIEW MIRROR.
BY A BRILLIANT PIECE OF
BLACKMAIL, HE DISCOVERS, AS
THE NUMBER TWO DRIVER, THAT
THE NUMBER ONE DRIVER, A
MAN CALLED RAM PERSAD,
IS A SECRET MUSLIM.
WHY SHOULD THAT MATTER?
BY ITS CONSTITUTION, INDIA
IS A SECULAR COUNTRY.
BUT THE REALITY IS THAT NO
HINDU FAMILY WOULD EMPLOY
A MUSLIM.
BALRAM BLACKMAILS THE
BUTLER, WHO MUST HAVE KNOWN
THAT RAM PERSAD WAS MUSLIM.
RAM PERSAD, WHO HAD HOGGED
THE ROOM THEY BOTH SHARED,
TAKEN THE ONE BED, BALRAM
SLEPT ON THE FLOOR, IS
DISMISSED, AND BALRAM
BECOMES THE HEAD CHAUFFEUR.
BALRAM IS QUITE PREPARED
TO USE RELIGION WHEN IT IS
TO HIS ADVANTAGE.
I HAVE NOTICED THE
HABIT ELSEWHERE.

[laughter]

Robert continues BALRAM INGRATIATES HIMSELF
INTO THE GOOD GRACES OF
ASHOK AND HIS WIFE PINKY
BY A MYRIAD OF CLEVER
LITTLE TOUCHES.
FOR EXAMPLE, HIS PASSENGERS
NOTICE THAT WHEN HE PASSES
A HINDU TEMPLE, HE
TOUCHES HIS EYE.
THAT IS, IN FACT,
A HINDU CUSTOM.
LIKE GENUFLECTING IF
YOU GO NEAR A CHURCH.
HIS PASSENGERS
COMMENT ON IT.
THEY FIND IT QUAINT,
PICTURESQUE.
SO BALRAM, DRIVING ALONG,
PASSES A TREE, A QUOTE
SACRED TREE, SO HE
TOUCHES HIS HEAD.
THEY PASS A BUSH, HE
TOUCHES HIS BOTTOM.
HE PLAYS UPON HIS PASSENGERS,
AND THEY ARE ENCHANTED.
ENCHANTED.
THE SERVANT ALWAYS KNOWS THE
MASTER MUCH BETTER THAN THE
MASTER KNOWS THE SERVANT.
AND THAT IS A GENERAL
TRUTH, I THINK.
DRIVING ASHOK EVERYWHERE
MEANS THAT BALRAM GETS TO
KNOW A LOT ABOUT
PRACTICAL POLITICS.
ASHOK AND HIS BROTHER, THE
MONGOOSE, AND HIS FATHER,
THE STORK, DERIVE THEIR
INCOME, NOT SO MUCH FROM
THE VILLAGES THEY CONTROL,
LIKE LAXMANGARH, BALRAM'S
HOME VILLAGE, BUT FROM THE
FACT THEY CAN TAKE COAL
FOR NOTHING FROM
GOVERNMENT COAL MINES.
THE COAL BUSINESS IS VERY
PROFITABLE, BUT IT COSTS
THEM A LOT IN BRIBES.
THEY HAVE TO PAY OFF EVERY
PROVINCIAL POLITICIAN AND
EVERY FEDERAL POLITICIAN.
THE FIRST POLITICIAN THEY
HAVE TO BRIBE IS THE MAN
IN BIHAR KNOWN AS
THE GREAT SOCIALIST.
HE BEGAN AS A REFORMER, BUT
THEN, OF COURSE, SUCCUMBED
TO CORRUPTION.
HE ALONE EXPECTS A MILLION
AND A HALF RUPEES A YEAR.
HE IS, BY THE WAY,
A REAL FIGURE.
I LOOKED HIM UP.
HIS NAME IS LALU
PRASAD YADAV.
HE IS THE POLITICAL
BOSS OF BIHAR.
IF YOU WISH TO FORM THE
GOVERNMENT OF INDIA,
YOU HAVE TO BUY
LALU PRASAD YADAV.
THE GREAT SOCIALIST.
I QUOTE, HE IS SAID TO HAVE
EMBEZZLED 1 BILLION RUPEES
FROM THE DARKNESS AND
TRANSFERRED THAT MONEY INTO
A SMALL, BEAUTIFUL EUROPEAN
COUNTRY WHERE ALL THE
PEOPLE ARE WHITE, AND
ALL THE MONEY IS BLACK.
ALL THIS BALRAM LEARNS FROM
THE BACK SEAT OF THE CAR.
HE REALIZES THAT PROVINCIAL
AND FEDERAL POLITICS ARE
MUCH THE SAME AS THE
VILLAGE POLITICS HE KNEW
AS A CHILD.
WHERE THE VOTES OF THE
POOR WERE SOLD ON BLOCK
BY THE LANDLORDS.
HE REMEMBERS THAT WHEN HIS
FATHER'S FRIEND, ANOTHER
RICKSHAW PULLER, TRIED TO
GO TO VOTE, TO CAST HIS OWN
BALLOT, THE POLICE
BEAT HIM TO DEATH.
BALRAM REMEMBERS
HIS OWN SITUATION.
HE HAS VOTED 12 TIMES IN
ELECTIONS AT VARIOUS LEVELS,
AND HE HAS NEVER ONCE SEEN
THE INSIDE OF A POLLING BOOTH.
AS THE STORK, AS THE STORK'S
WEALTH GROWS, AND HIS
INTERESTS WIDEN, THE STORK
AND HIS FAMILY MOVE TO THE
FASHIONABLE DELHI
SUBURB OF GURGAON.
THEY LEAVE THE AREA OF
BIHAR, AROUND LAXMANGARH,
AND THEY GO TO DELHI, TO
THE FASHIONABLE SUBURB
OF GURGAON.
THEY DO THIS
FOR TWO REASONS.
ONE, TO BE NEAR THE REAL
CENTRE OF POWER, AND THE
OTHER TO GET AWAY
FROM THE NAXALITES.
THE NAXALITES ARE THE
GROWING COMMUNIST
INSURGENTS PREYING ON THE
MISERY OF THE PEOPLE OF BIHAR.
THE COMMUNIST GUERRILLAS
ARE BECOMING VERY POWERFUL,
SO THE STORK AND HIS
FAMILY MOVE TO DELHI.
AS HE DRIVES INTO DELHI
PROPER, TAKING ASHOK, THE
ASTUTE BALRAM SEES THE TWO
INDIAS OF THE BIG BELLY AND
SMALL BELLY JUXTAPOSED.
YOU COULD CALL THIS NOVEL
THE TALE OF TWO INDIAS,
BIG BELLY, SMALL BELLY.
FIRST, BALRAM SEEMS
TO WAX LYRICAL.
I QUOTE HIM, DELHI, THE
CAPITAL OF OUR GLORIOUS
NATION, THE SEAT OF
PARLIAMENT OF THE PRESIDENT
OF ALL MINISTERS AND PRIME
MINISTERS, THE PRIDE OF OUR
CIVIC PLANNING, THE
SHOWCASE OF THE REPUBLIC.
THAT'S WHAT
THEY
CALL IT.
AND THEN THE OTHER INDIA, I
QUOTE, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE
LIVE ON THE SIDES OF
THE ROAD IN DELHI.
THEY HAVE COME
FROM THE DARKNESS.
YOU CAN TELL BY THEIR THIN
BODIES, FILTHY FACES, BY THE
ANIMAL LIKE WAY THEY LIVE
UNDER THE HUGE BRIDGES AND
OVERPASSES, MAKING FIRES AND
WASHING, AND TAKING LICE
OUT OF THEIR HAIR WHILE
THE CARS ROAR PAST THEM.
NOW, ASHOK, THE STORK'S SON,
HAS BEEN EXPOSED FOR A LONG
TIME TO AMERICAN DEMOCRACY.
ASHOK HAS READ HIS
INDIAN HISTORY.
HE HAS READ THE
BIOGRAPHY OF GANDHI.
AND GANDHI'S DREAMS FOR THE
INDIA THAT WOULD EMERGE
AFTER INDEPENDENCE IN 1947.
HE SEES WHAT BALRAM SEES.
BUT ASHOK IS TRAPPED IN HIS
FAMILY AND HIS UPBRINGING.
BUT HE HAS ENOUGH
SELF-KNOWLEDGE, ASHOK,
TO ADMIT THE IRONY
OF THE SITUATION.
AS HE RETURNS FROM THE
HEADQUARTERS OF THE RULING
CONGRESS PARTY, AND FROM THE
HOUSE OF THE PRESIDENT OF
INDIA, HE SAYS TO HIMSELF
OUT LOUD, QUOTE, WE'RE
DRIVING PAST A STATUE OF
GANDHI AFTER I GAVE A HALF
A MILLION RUPEES
TO A MINISTER.
IT'S A FUCKING JOKE.
AND IT'S ON OCCASIONS LIKE
THAT THAT BALRAM LEARNS HIS
ONE SENTENCE OF ENGLISH.
UP TO NOW, BALRAM'S LOYALTY
TO HIS EMPLOYER, AND HIS
EMPLOYER'S FAMILY,
HAS BEEN ABSOLUTE.
ALTHOUGH HE KNOWS THAT HIS
WILLINGNESS TO SERVE IS
HIS PRISON.
AS HE WRITES IN HIS
IMAGINARY LETTER TO THE
CHINESE PRIME MINISTER, THE
DESIRE TO BE A SERVANT HAS
BEEN BRED INTO ME, HAMMERED
INTO MY SKULL, NAIL AFTER
NAIL, AND POURED INTO MY
BLOOD, THE WAY SEWAGE AND
POISON ARE POURED
INTO MOTHER GANGES.
IT'S A VERY DIFFICULT
CONDITIONING TO OVERCOME.
WHEN ASHOK'S WIFE, PINKY,
WEARS A VERY LOW DECOLLETAGE
IN THE BACKSEAT BALRAM IS
ASHAMED OF HIS ERECTION.
I QUOTE, MASTER AND MISTRESS ARE
LIKE FATHER AND MOTHER TO ME.
HOW CAN I GET EXCITED?
THEY ARE LIKE FATHER AND
MOTHER TO ME, MY EMPLOYERS.
AND HIS LOYALTY IS PUT TO
THE ULTIMATE TEST WHEN A
DRUNKEN PINKY, PINKY MADAM,
TAKES THE WHEEL OF THE CAR,
HITS AND KILLS A CHILD,
AND THEN DRIVES ON.
THE STORK AND HIS FAMILY
COMPEL BALRAM TO SIGN A
CONFESSION THAT HE WAS AT
THE WHEEL, THAT HE KILLED
THE CHILD.
HE IS TOLD THAT THE JUDGE
HAS BEEN TAKEN CARE OF.
THAT HIS GRANDMOTHER,
BALRAM'S GRANDMOTHER HAS BEEN
CONSULTED AND FULLY APPROVES
OF HIS TAKING THE BLAME.
SUCH LOYALTY TO
YOUR EMPLOYER.
BUT UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF
WHAT HE HAS HEARD FROM THE
BACK OF THE CAR, BALRAM
IS BECOMING CYNICAL.
AS HE WRITES IN HIS LETTER,
THE JAILS OF DELHI ARE FULL
OF DRIVERS WHO ARE THERE
BEHIND BARS BECAUSE THEY
ARE TAKING THE BLAME
FOR THEIR GOOD SOLID
MIDDLE-CLASS MASTERS.
WE HAVE LEFT THE VILLAGES,
BUT THE MASTERS STILL OWN
US BODY, SOUL AND ASS.
WHAT A FUCKING JOKE.
BUT BALRAM IS
LET OFF THE HOOK.
A POLICE CONTACT OF THE
STORK'S FAMILY LETS THEM
KNOW THAT NO ONE REPORTED
SEEING THE ACCIDENT.
THERE WILL BE NO
INVESTIGATION.
THE CHILD IS DEAD.
THERE ARE A
BILLION PEOPLE.
THE ONLY PERSON NOT HAPPY
WITH THE DEVELOPMENT IS
ASHOK'S WIFE, PINKY.
SHE IS HORRIFIED
BY THE CORRUPTION,
AND SHE LEAVES FOR AMERICA.
BALRAM IS A LITTLE
TAKEN ABACK.
I QUOTE HIM, WHO WOULD HAVE
THOUGHT THAT OF THAT WHOLE
FAMILY, THE LADY WITH THE
SHORT SKIRT WOULD BE THE ONE
WITH A CONSCIENCE?
BALRAM, WHO SO EASILY COULD
HAVE GONE TO PRISON FOR HIS
EMPLOYER, STARTS TO
EXPERIENCE A CHANGE.
HE MAKES TENTATIVE INQUIRIES
ABOUT THE ACTIVITIES OF
THE COMMUNIST GUERRILLAS.
BUT THAT ISN'T REALLY
THE WAY HE WANTS TO GO.
BALRAM IS TOO MUCH OF
AN INDIVIDUAL TO FIND
A SOLUTION IN
COMMUNAL ACTION.
RATHER, HE BEGINS TO
CHEAT HIS EMPLOYER.
HE SIPHONS GAS OUT OF
THE CAR AND HE SELLS IT.
HE USES THE CAR AS A TAXI.
HE SPLITS BILLS FOR
NON-EXISTENT REPAIRS WITH
A DISHONEST MECHANIC.
AND NOW I QUOTE FROM
BALRAM'S IMAGINARY LETTER.
IT'S A KEY PASSAGE.
THE STRANGEST THING WAS THAT
EACH TIME I LOOKED AT THE
CASH I HAD MADE BY CHEATING
HIM, INSTEAD OF GUILT,
WHAT DID I FEEL?
RAGE.
THE MORE I STOLE FROM HIM,
THE MORE I REALIZED HOW
MUCH HE HAD STOLEN FROM ME.
TO GO BACK TO THE ANALOGY
I USED EARLIER WHEN
I DESCRIBED INDIAN POLITICS,
I WAS GROWING A BELLY AT LAST.
HE USES THE MONEY HE
STEALS TO BUY A WHORE.
HE DREAMS OF A GOLDEN-HAIRED
WHORE LIKE THE WHORES THAT
ASHOK GOES TO NOW THAT PINKY
HAS GONE BACK TO AMERICA.
THE REAL THING, A
GOLDEN-HAIRED WHORE,
JUST LIKE THE PROSTITUTES IN
THE PORNO MOVIES THEY USED
TO SHOW IN HIS VILLAGE.
HE SAVES UP.
HE GOES TO A BROTHEL.
BUT THE BROTHEL
KEEPER CHEATS HIM.
AS THE GIRL IS DOING HER
WORK, HE SEES THE DARK
ROOTS IN HER HAIR.
THIS IS NOT
THE REAL THING.
AND HE COMPLAINS.
AND THE PIMP SAYS, YOU
DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY
FOR THE REAL THING.
AND BALRAM REALIZES THAT FOR
A REAL GOLDEN-HAIRED WHORE,
FOR ALL THE GOOD THINGS IN
LIFE, HE NEEDS MUCH MORE
MONEY THAN HE WILL EVER EARN
AS THE NUMBER ONE CHAUFFEUR.
AND THEN HIS THOUGHTS TURN
TO THE HUGE SUMS OF MONEY
THAT ASHOK HAS ON THE BACK
SEAT OF THE CAR AS BRIBES
FOR POLITICIANS.
AND HE CONSIDERS
HIS OPTIONS.
SHOULD I STEAL THE MONEY?
FOR STEALING THE MONEY: YOUR
FATHER WANTED YOU TO BE A MAN.
Mr. ASHOK MADE YOU TAKE THE
BLAME FOR KILLING THAT CHILD.
YOU DON'T GET MUCH MONEY.
THIS IS A PITTANCE.
IT'S A BIG CITY; YOU
CAN'T SAVE ANYTHING.
THE VERY FACT THAT ASHOK
MIGHT THREATEN YOUR FAMILY
IF YOU ATTACK HIM
MAKES YOUR BLOOD BOIL.
BUT AGAINST KILLING HIM:
YOUR FATHER WANTED YOU
TO BE AN HONEST MAN.
Mr. ASHOK DOES NOT SPIT AT
YOU LIKE OTHER EMPLOYERS.
Mr. ASHOK DOES PAY YOU.
HE EVEN PAID YOU AN INCREASE
WITHOUT YOU ASKING.
AND REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED
TO THE FAMILY OF THE
BUFFALO'S SERVANT.
Mr. ASHOK WILL ASK HIS
FATHER, THE STORK, TO DO
THE SAME TO YOUR FAMILY IF
YOU STEAL AND RUN AWAY.
HE IS IN AGONY
OVER THE CHOICE.
HE HESITATES.
AND ASHOK, HIS EMPLOYER,
MISTAKES HIS UNEASINESS
FOR A FRUSTRATED
DESIRE TO GET MARRIED.
SO HE SAYS TO HIM, I CAN
SEE WHAT IS TROUBLING YOU.
I WILL GIVE YOU THE
MONEY FOR YOUR WEDDING.
I'LL PAY THE WHOLE COST.
HERE'S 100 RUPEES.
TWO DOLLARS.
AND THAT IS THE
FINAL INSULT.
ASHOK THROWS THE MONEY DOWN
A SEWER AND DEFECATES ON IT.
THE AGE-OLD SIGN
OF CONTEMPT.
HIS MIND IS MADE UP.
AND THEN COMES THE LETTER
FROM HIS GRANDMOTHER...
ACTUALLY, SHE'S NOT REALLY
HIS GRANDMOTHER, SHE'S HIS
FATHER'S SECOND WIFE,
BUT SHE HAS BECOME THE
MATRIARCH OF THE FAMILY.
SHE HAS TAKEN
THE TITLE 'GRANNY'.
SHE WRITES TO HIM, FIRST,
ACCEPT THE ARRANGED
MARRIAGE THAT WE ARE
PREPARING FOR YOU.
NEWS TO HIM.
SECOND, SEND MONEY.
IT IS 11 MONTHS
SINCE YOU SENT MONEY.
AND YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE
SUPPOSED TO TURN THE BULK
OF YOUR INCOME OVER TO US.
THIRD, WE ARE SENDING
YOU YOUR COUSIN DHARAM.
TRAIN HIM TO BE A DRIVER.
AND, FINALLY, IF YOU DON'T
COMPLY WITH ALL THESE
INSTRUCTIONS, WE WILL
WRITE TO YOUR EMPLOYER.
SHE SIGNS OFF, YOUR
LOVING GRANNY, KUSUM.

[laughter]

Robert continues THE BOY DHARAM TURNS UP.
BALRAM RELUCTANTLY
ACCEPTS HIM.
BUT THEN HE WRITES BACK TO
THE GRANDMOTHER, TO THE
FAMILY, QUOTE, I CAN'T
LIVE THE REST OF MY LIFE
IN A CAGE, GRANNY.
I'M SO SORRY.
HE IS CONTEMPLATING THEFT
AND MURDER TO GET OUT OF
THE PRISON, THE CAGE, THE
ROOSTER COOP OF HIS CASTE.
AND HE IS NOT VOLUNTARILY
GOING TO ACCEPT THE PRISON
OF FAMILY.
HE DOES, HOWEVER,
ACCEPT THE BOY.
WHY?
IT'S A LONG PASSAGE.
I THINK IT'S BECAUSE
HE SEES HIMSELF
IN THE YOUNG BOY.
BUT THE DIE IS CAST.
HE HITS HIS MASTER ASHOK
OVER THE HEAD AND CUTS HIS
THROAT, AND ABSCONDS
WITH 700,000 RUPEES.
THE MURDER TAKES PLACE ABOUT
NINE-TENTHS OF THE WAY
THROUGH THE NOVEL.
AND ONLY THEN IS BALRAM ABLE
TO SAY I AM A FREE MAN.
THE MURDER WASN'T EASY.
AND EVEN MORE DIFFICULT
WAS HIS LETTER TO HIS
GRANDMOTHER REPUDIATING
HIS FAMILY OBLIGATION.
HE'S UNDER GREAT STRESS.
HE FAINTS.
HE FLEES WITH
HIS YOUNG COUSIN.
FAR AWAY FROM DELHI, DOWN
TO THE CITY, THE SILICONE
VALLEY CITY OF BANGALORE.
TECHNOLOGICAL
CENTRE OF INDIA.
TAKES HIM A FULL FOUR WEEKS
FOR HIS NERVES TO CALM DOWN.
HE HAS A LOT OF BAGGAGE.
FIRST, HE KILLED HIS MASTER.
THAT WAS A NECESSARY MOVE
IF HE WAS TO STEP INTO
HIS EMPLOYER'S
PRIVILEGED POSITION.
HE REFLECTS, QUOTE, I
PROTECTED HIS GOOD NAME
WHEN I WAS HIS SERVANT.
AND NOW, I AM IN A
SENSE, HIS MASTER.
HE TAKES ON HIS
OLD MASTER'S NAME.
HE IS NO LONGER BALRAM HALWAI.
HE IS NOW ASHOK SHARMA.
SHARMA IS A BRAHMAN NAME.
IN A BIG ANONYMOUS CITY LIKE
BANGALORE, AS I REPEAT,
YOU ARE WHAT
YOU SAY YOU ARE.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS CRIME
WILL ALWAYS BE WITH HIM.
I QUOTE HIS LETTER, IT
WAS A WRONG THING TO DO.
NO QUESTION ABOUT IT.
IT HAS DARKENED MY SOUL.
ALL THE SKIN WHITENING
CREAMS SOLD IN THE MARKETS
OF INDIA WON'T
CLEAN MY HANDS AGAIN.
NICE TOUCH OF
LADY MACBETH.
BUT ISN'T IT LIKELY, HE
GOES ON, THAT EVERYONE WHO
COUNTS IN THIS WORLD,
INCLUDING YOU,
PRIME MINISTER, HAS
KILLED SOMEONE OR OTHER
ON HIS WAY TO THE TOP?
KILL ENOUGH PEOPLE AND THEY
WILL PUT UP BRONZE STATUES
TO YOU.
BUT THAT WAY IS GLORY, AND
THAT'S NOT WHAT I SEEK.
ALL I WANTED WAS THE
CHANCE TO BE A MAN.
AND FOR THAT, ONE
MURDER WAS ENOUGH.
HE ALSO HAD TO LIVE WITH THE
FACT THAT BECAUSE OF THE
MURDER HE HAS SENTENCED
HIS FAMILY TO DEATH.
AND THAT, I REPEAT, IS WHY
THE NOVEL ACHIEVED SO MUCH
NEGATIVE CRITICISM IN INDIA.
THE STORK, ASHOK'S FATHER,
HAS PUT UP A REWARD OF
1 MILLION dollars.
THAT IS 40 MILLION RUPEES
FOR BALRAM'S CAPTURE.
HE HAS CERTAINLY SOUGHT
REVENGE ON BALRAM'S FAMILY.
BUT BALRAM DEFENDS HIMSELF.
ONLY A MAN WHO IS PREPARED
TO SEE HIS FAMILY DESTROYED
CAN BREAK OUT OF THE COOP.
AND HE HAS BROKEN OUT.
HE OPENS A LIMOUSINE SERVICE
TO FERRY THE PERSONNEL OF
LARGE PRIVATE COMPANIES.
HE HAS GUARANTEED HIS
SUCCESS BY BRIBING THE
POLICE TO CLOSE ALL
HIS COMPETITORS.
HE NOW HAS A FLEET OF 26
TOYOTAS THAT HE RUNS
FROM HIS LITTLE OFFICE.
IT'S TEN FEET BY 15 FEET.
IT'S LIKE THE CAGE HE HAS
BROKEN OUT OF EXCEPT IN HIS
LITTLE OFFICE, HE HAS
CHANDELIERS THAT
POUR LIGHT ON HIM.
LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT BECAUSE HE
HAS BROKEN OUT OF THE DARKNESS.
BALRAM, OR ASHOK SHARMA AS
HE NOW IS, IS A MIXTURE OF
FASCINATING CONTRADICTIONS.
HE WILL EMPLOY AS ONE OF
HIS 26 DRIVERS AT LEAST
ONE MUSLIM DRIVER.
SOMETHING HIS MURDERED
NAMESAKE'S FAMILY
WOULD NEVER HAVE DONE.
AND YET, WHEN THAT SAME
MUSLIM DRIVER ACCIDENTALLY
KILLS A CYCLIST, BALRAM, OF
COURSE, DOES WHAT THE STORK
WOULD HAVE DONE, WHAT EVERY
OTHER CORRUPT BOSS WOULD
HAVE DONE.
HE BRIBES THE ASSISTANT
COMMISSIONER OF POLICE TO
HANDLE THE INVESTIGATION
PERSONALLY.
THE ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER
OF POLICE GOES TO THE
FAMILY OF THE DEAD CYCLIST
AND SAYS, YOU KNOW, THAT
WHEN YOUR SON WAS KILLED,
THE LIGHTS ON HIS BICYCLE
WERE NOT WORKING.
AND IF WE INVESTIGATE,
OTHER THINGS WILL COME OUT.
THE FAMILY IS SO TERRIFIED
BY AUTHORITY THAT THEY
AGREE TO ACCEPT THE POLICE
VERSION THAT THEIR DEAD
VICTIM WAS KILLED BY AN
UNKNOWN HIT-AND-RUN DRIVER.
BALRAM KNOWS THAT FOR THIS
AND FUTURE FAVOURS, HE WILL
HAVE TO KEEP PAYING THE
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER OF
POLICE, BUT I QUOTE, THERE
IS NO END TO THINGS IN INDIA,
Mr. JIABAO.
YOU HAVE TO KEEP
PAYING AND PAYING.
BUT I COMPLAIN ABOUT THE
POLICE THE WAY THE RICH
COMPLAIN ABOUT THE POLICE,
NOT THE WAY THE POOR COMPLAIN.
AND THE DIFFERENCE
IS EVERYTHING.
BUT BALRAM IS NOT LIKE ALL
THE OTHER BIG BELLIED MEN.
AFTER HIS FRIEND,
THE ASSISTANT POLICE
COMMISSIONER HAS SETTLED
THE BUSINESS, BALRAM, OF
HIS OWN FREE WILL, GOES TO
THE VICTIM'S FAMILY, AND
OFFERS THEM 25,000 RUPEES,
PLUS A JOB AS A DRIVER
FOR THE VICTIM'S BROTHER.
AND THE FAMILY ACCEPTS.
IF YOU ARE POOR, YOU
HAVE LITTLE CHOICE.
BALRAM HAS SET HIMSELF
TO LIVE BY AN ETHIC.
NOT ONE IMPOSED BY HIS
FAMILY, NOT ONE IMPOSED BY
HIS CASTE, BUT ONE OUT
OF HIS OWN IMAGINING.
HE WILL LIVE BY AN ETHIC.
HE CARES FOR HIS YOUNG
COUSIN, THE BOY, DHARAM,
THE BOY HE VERY NEARLY
ABANDONED IN HIS FLIGHT
AFTER THE MURDER.
HE SENDS DHARAM
TO A GOOD SCHOOL.
BUT HE KNOWS THAT ONE
DAY DHARAM, HIS COUSIN,
WILL ASK HIM, ABOUT THE
FAMILY BALRAM SACRIFICED.
HE ANTICIPATES THE QUESTION
THAT DHARAM WILL PUT TO HIM.
COULDN'T YOU HAVE
SPARED MY MOTHER?
COULDN'T YOU HAVE WRITTEN TO
HER AND WARNED HER TO RUN AWAY?
BUT BALRAM THINKS, THE
QUESTION IS A FEW YEARS AWAY.
I'LL HAVE TO COME UP WITH
AN ANSWER OR KILL HIM.
IF ONE DAY TO AVOID BEING
BETRAYED BY A BITTER DHARAM,
BALRAM HAS TO KILL HIM TO ENSURE
HIS SILENCE, THEN SO BE IT.
LIKE SHAKESPEARE'S MACBETH,
BALRAM IS SO WADED IN BLOOD
THAT HE CANNOT GO BACK.
MEANWHILE, HIS MIND
IS FULL OF PROJECTS.
HE HAS STARTED BUYING LUXURY
APARTMENTS TO SELL OR RENT
TO AMERICANS WHO ARE
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF
BANGALORE'S PROSPERITY.
IN HIS IMAGINARY LETTER, HE
INVITES THE CHINESE PREMIER
TO INVEST WITH HIM.
IN A LOVELY LITTLE JOKE,
BALRAM SAYS, INVEST WITH ME.
WE COULD MAKE A KILLING.

[chuckling]

Robert continues BALRAM DREAMS OF CREATING AN
ARMY OF WHITE TIGERS LIKE
HIMSELF TO JOIN HIM
IN HIS PROJECTS.
IT'S A LOVELY PASSAGE.
I QUOTE, AFTER THREE OR
FOUR YEARS IN REAL ESTATE,
I THINK I MIGHT SELL
EVERYTHING, TAKE THE MONEY,
START A SCHOOL, AN ENGLISH
LANGUAGE SCHOOL, FOR POOR
CHILDREN IN BANGALORE.
A SCHOOL WHERE YOU WON'T BE
ALLOWED TO CORRUPT ANYONE'S
HEAD WITH PRAYERS AND
STORIES ABOUT GOD AND GANDHI.
NOTHING BUT THE FACTS
OF LIFE FOR THESE KIDS.
A SCHOOL FULL OF WHITE
TIGERS UNLEASHED ON
BANGALORE, WE'D HAVE
THIS CITY AT ITS KNEES.
I COULD BECOME THE
BOSS THE BANGALORE.
I'D FIX THE ASSISTANT
COMMISSIONER OF POLICE.
BUT JUST AS MACBETH SAW LIFE
FINALLY AS A STORY, A TALE
TOLD BY AN IDIOT FULL OF
SOUND AND FURY SIGNIFYING
NOTHING, SO BALRAM
CONCLUDES HIS LITTLE SPEECH
ON HIS AMBITION WITH, I
QUOTE, ALL THIS DREAMING I'M
DOING, IT MAY WELL TURN OUT
TO BE NOTHING, BUT STILL,
HE HAS ACHIEVED
A GREAT DEAL.
AS HE SAYS, HAVEN'T I
SUCCEEDED IN THE STRUGGLE
THAT EVERY POOR MAN HERE
SHOULD BE UNDERTAKING?
THE STRUGGLE NOT TO TAKE THE
LASHES YOUR FATHER TOOK,
NOT TO END UP IN A MOUND OF
UNDISTINGUISHABLE BODIES
THAT WILL ROT IN THE BLACK
MUD OF MOTHER GANGES?
AND HOW DID HE SUCCEED
IN THAT STRUGGLE?
BY USING EVERYTHING HE
LEARNED AS A CHAUFFEUR FROM
THE REAR SEAT OF THE CAR.
HE GIVES FULL CREDIT.
MANY OF MY BEST IDEAS
ARE BORROWED FROM PEOPLE
I WAS DRIVING ABOUT.
IT WAS INGENIOUS, I THINK,
OF ARAVIND ADIGA TO MAKE
HIS PROTAGONIST
A CHAUFFEUR.
HE BORROWED THE IDEA, OF COURSE,
FROM GEORGE BERNARD SHAW.
HIS PLAY
MAN
AND SUPERMAN.
YOU WILL REMEMBER THAT IN
THAT PLAY THE HERO WAS THE
CHAUFFEUR JACK TANNER.
SHAW, A FABIAN SOCIALIST,
WAS CONVINCED THAT WHEN THE
REVOLUTION COMES IT WILL
COME FROM THE CHAUFFEURS
BECAUSE THEY ARE THE PEOPLE
WHO KNOW WHAT THE RICH ARE
PLANNING ON THE BACKSEAT.
REMEMBER THAT THESE SEVEN
LETTERS DO NOT CONSTITUTE
A CONFESSION BY BALRAM
HALWAI, NOW ASHOK SHARMA.
THEY ARE MERELY HIS REFLECTION
UPON HIS SUCCESS.
AND HE IS WELL-PLEASED
WITH WHAT HE HAS DONE.
HE CONSIDERS A
DESCRIPTION OF HIM
IN THE POLICE
WANTED POSTER.
I QUOTE, THIN, SMALL,

Robert laughs and continues
AND HE LAUGHS.
I AM IN BETTER
SHAPE THESE DAYS.
FAT AND POT-BELLIED WOULD
BE MORE ACCURATE NOW.
ONE OF THE MOST DELICIOUS
IRONIES OF THIS NOVEL FOR ME
IS THAT BALRAM HALWAI WAS
BORN IN THE VILLAGE OF
LAXMANGARH, IN THE PROVINCE
OF BIHAR, IN THE DISTRICT
OF GAYA, NEAR THE
TOWN OF BODH GAYA.
BODH GAYA JUST THERE.
BODH GAYA, WHERE TWO AND A
HALF THOUSAND YEARS AGO A
YOUNG MAN SAT UNDER A FIG
TREE 2500 YEARS AGO, A YOUNG
MAN SAT UNDER A FIG TREE
AND RECEIVED ENLIGHTENMENT
AND BECAME THE BUDDHA.
IN SANSKRIT, THE
ENLIGHTENED ONE.
AND THE BUDDHA CONCEIVED
OF THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS.
THAT LIFE IS SUFFERING.
THAT SUFFERING IS
CAUSED BY DESIRE.
THAT DESIRE
CAN BE OVERCOME.
AND THAT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR
THE INDIVIDUAL TO ACHIEVE
PERFECT INNER HARMONY,
PERFECT SELF-KNOWLEDGE,
PERFECT ENLIGHTENMENT,
NIRVANA.
NOW, ONE ENORMOUS DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN THE BUDDHA AND
BALRAM HALWAI, AND THERE
ARE MANY DIFFERENCES...
WELL, ONE SIMILARITY IS
THAT THEY BOTH ACHIEVED
PERFECT SELF-KNOWLEDGE.
BALRAM HALWAI NEVER
LIES TO HIMSELF.
THERE IS NEVER ONE MOMENT
WHEN HE IS DISHONEST
WITH HIMSELF.
THE GREAT DIFFERENCE, OR ONE
OF THE GREAT DIFFERENCES,
BETWEEN THE BUDDHA AND
BALRAM IS THAT THE BUDDHA
WENT FROM RICHES TO RAGS,
AND BALRAM HALWAI WENT
FROM RAGS TO RICHES.
THE DIFFERENCE IS SEEN IN
THEIR DIFFERENT MESSAGES
TO THE WORLD.
DOES BALRAM, THE RICH
BUSINESSMAN AT THE END OF
THE NOVEL, THE NOW
30-YEAR-OLD ASHOK SHARMA,
THE WHITE TIGER OF
BANGALORE, DOES HE THINK
IT WAS ALL WORTH IT?
ARAVIND ADIGA HAS CALLED
THIS NOVEL THE STORY OF ONE
MAN'S QUEST FOR FREEDOM.
WAS THAT FREEDOM WORTH
BALRAM'S LOSING HIS NAME,
HIS IDENTITY, HIS FAMILY?
BALRAM ANSWERS THE QUESTION
IN THE FINAL PARAGRAPH OF
HIS FINAL IMAGINARY LETTER.
EVEN IF I AM CAUGHT ONE DAY,
HE SAYS, EVEN IF ALL MY
CHANDELIERS COME CRASHING
DOWN, EVEN IF I WALK THE
WOODEN STAIRS TO THE HANGMAN'S
NOOSE, I WILL NEVER SAY
THAT I MADE A MISTAKE
THAT DAY IN DELHI,
WHEN I SLIT MY
MASTER'S THROAT.
I'LL SAY IT WAS ALL
WORTHWHILE TO KNOW,
FOR A DAY, FOR AN HOUR,
JUST FOR A MINUTE,
WHAT IT MEANS NOT
TO BE A SERVANT.
AND, THEN, IN A FINAL
REFERENCE TO THE POOR
CHILDREN HE DREAMS OF
FINDING AND GROOMING TO BE
WHITE TIGERS, HE SAYS, HA
HA, I THINK I AM READY
TO HAVE CHILDREN NOW.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[applause]

Watch: Robert Adams on Booker Prize winning novel The White Tiger