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Their India

Amit Dasgupta

By Aravind Adiga
Harper Collins, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 521, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 9 September 2008

Descriptions of India are never complete; for some, she is a glass half full, while for others, a glass half empty. Adiga’s book is about the millions in India for whom the glass is always completely empty nor is there any hope that it ever will have any water!   Adiga’s first novel is a pitiless and brutal indictment of India. The story is told through the eyes of Balram Halwai and is a simple and commonplace one. Son of a rickshaw puller and born in a faceless village, he grows up as all children of the forgotten poor do—taken out of school, forced to work in tea stalls wiping tables and sodomized at will. With age, he is transferred to more ‘paying and manly’ tasks such as crushing coal and breathing in the dust particles so that death and lung disease are inevitable. He watches his father die unattended, spitting blood in a filthy government hospital and nurses the eternal dream of the poor—escape. And one day, he does.   He is plucked by good fortune from the dung heap that the majority of Indians are condemned to live and fornicate and die in. Balram Halwai, the lucky one is touched by God, or is it Gods, since there are so many that Indians remember to turn to at times of distress. He is hired as a driver to a rich and debauched landlord and his America returned son and daughter-in-law. They live in a city—a mecca for the inhabitants of the dung heap. From thereon begins the story of growing up and of discovering the ‘real’ India—dark, seamy, corrupt and evil. An India that the dung heap desperately wishes to be a part of, for it provides money, food, clothing (starched uniforms), shelter, respect and the promise of paid sexual favours with blonde foreigners. Most of all, it evokes that great human emotion: jealousy and hatred. Adiga spares no one for the rot that has eaten into the soul of the nation and her people.   Balram begins to live in a new world and with a new routine. He is now the coveted village lad who has finally ‘made it’. Everyone back home looks up to him. His rustic simplicity and his gratitude for the good fortune that has come his way makes him accept and tolerate massaging the calloused and smelly feet of ...

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