The White Tiger – Trapped in The Rooster Coop

Servitude is engrained in the Oriental. Give them freedom and they won’t know what to do with it. Supplication, propitiation and obsequiousness certainly have their place in a generalised view of the characteristic Indian steriotype. Genetically predisposed to be of service, even when being dishonest. A behaviour full of contradiction. And this is the kind of sense Adiga creates in the character of Balram Halwai, who attempts to break free of this ‘Rooster Coop’. But what exactly does it mean and how does it work:

‘When you get here, you’ll be told we Indians have invented everything from the Internet to hard-boiled eggs to spaceships before the British stole it all from us.
Nonsense. The greatest thing to come out of this country in the ten thousand years of its histor is the Rooster Coop.
        Go to Old Delhi, behind the Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters, stufed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench – the stench of terrified, feathered flesh. On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently chopped up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of dark blood. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.
        The very same thing is done with human beings in this country.


        Watch the roads in the evenings in Delhi; sooner or later you will see a man on a cycle-rickshaw, pedalling down the road, with a giant bed, or a table, tied to the cart that is attached to his cycle. Every day furniture is delivered to people’s homes by this man – the deliver-man. A bed costs five thousand rupees, maybe six-thousand. Add the chairs, and a coffee table, and it’s ten or fifteen thousand. A man comes on a cycle-cart, bringing you this bed, table, and chairs, a poor man who may make five hundred rupees a month. He unloads all this furniture for you, and you give him the money in cash – a fat wad of cash the size of a brick. He puts it into his pocket, or into his shirt, or into his underwear, and cycles back to his boss and hands it over without touching a single rupee of it! A year’s salary, two years’ salary in his hands, and he never takes a rupee of it.
……..
Why?
        Because Indians are the world’s most honest people, like the prime minister’s booklet will inform you?
        No. It’s because 99.9 per cent of us are caught in the Rooster Coop just like those poor guys in the poultry market.
        The Rooster Coop doesn’t always work with miniscule sums of money. Don’t test your chauffeur with a rupee coin or two – he may well steal that much. But leave a million dollars in front of a servant and he won’t touch a penny…The trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy…The Great Indian Rooster Coop.
…….
A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 per cent – as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way – to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.
…….
I will never envy the rich of America or England…they have no servants there. They cannot even begin to understand what a good life is.
        Now, a thinking man like you…must ask two questions.
        Why does the Rooster Coop work? How does it trap so many millions of men and women so effectively?
        Secondly, can a man break out of the coop? What if one day, for instance,  driver took his employer’s money and ran? What would his life be like?
…….
        The answer to the first question is that the pride and glory of our nation, the repository of all our love and sacrifice…the indian family, is the reason we are trapped and tied in the coop.
        The answer to the second question is that only a man who is prepared to see his family destroyed – hunted, beaten, adn burned alive byu the maasters – can break out of the coop. That would take no normal human being, but a freak, a pervert of nature.
        It would, in fact, take a White Tiger. You are listening to the story of a social entrepreneur, sir.’ pp. 173-177

Published in: on December 26, 2009 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

The White Tiger – Value for Money

The reason behind 3hr+ movies with intermissions and tasteless excess:

‘That evening, while driving back to the apartment, I looked into the rearview mirror. Mr Ashok was wearing a T-shirt.
It was like no T-shirt I would ever choose to buy at a store. The larger part of it was empty and white and there was a small design in the centre. I would have bought something very colourful, with lots of words and designs on it. Better value for the money.’ – p.149

[please post any pics to best communicate this]

Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm  Comments (3)  

The White Tiger – Murder

‘Here’s a strange fact: murder a man, and you feel responsible for his life – possessive, even. You know more about him than his father and mother; they knew his foetus, but you know his corpse. Only you can complete the story of his life; only you know why his body has to be pushed into the fire beofre its time, and why his toes curl up and fight for another hour on earth.’ -pp.46-47

Reminiscent for me of Clint Eastwood’s excellent portrayal of the reality of violence in Unforgiven:

                               MUNNY
                   Well, that fella today, you shot
                   him alright.

                              THE KID
                          (forced bravado)
                   H-hell yeah.  I killed the hell
                   out of him... three shots... he
                   was takin' a sh-sh-shit an'...
                   an'...

     The Kid is shaking, becoming hysterical, he can't go on, and
     Munny hands the bottle back.

                               MUNNY
                   Take a drink, Kid.

                              THE KID
                      (breaking down, crying)
                   Oh Ch-ch-christ... it don't... it
                   don't seem... real... How he's...
                   DEAD... how he ain't gonna breathe
                   no more... n-n-never.  Or the
                   other one neither... On account
                   of... of just... pullin' a
                   trigger.

     Munny walks back to the edge of the rise and watches the
     rider and it is a lovely sunset happening and he is
     talking to no one in particular.

                               MUNNY
                   It's a hell of a thing, ain't it,
                   killin' a man.  You take
                   everythin' he's got... an'
                   everythin' he's ever gonna have...

                              THE KID
                        (trying to pull him-
                           self together)
                   Well, I gu-guess they had it...
                   comin'.

                               MUNNY
                   We all got it comin', Kid.
Published in: on December 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm  Comments (1)  

A Passage to India – Death (Again)

Fielding converses with Adela Quested:

”…it has made me remember that we must all die; all these personal relations we try to live by are temporary. I used to feel death selected people, it is a notion one gets from novels, because some of the characters are usually left talking at the end. Now “death spares no one” begins to be real.’
‘Don’t let it become real, or you’ll die yourself. That is the objection to meditating upon death. We are subdued to what we work in. I have felt the same temptation, and had to sheer off. I want to go on living a bit.” – p.262

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Marriage

Fielding, the learned professor provides us with another rejection of accepted tradition:

‘At my age one’s seldom amazed,’ he said, smiling. ‘Marriage is too absurd in any case. It begins and continues for such very slight reasons. The social business props it up on one side, and the theological business on the other, but neither of them are marriage, are they? I’ve friends who can’t remember why they married, no more can their wives. I suspect that it mostly happens haphazard, though afterwards various noble reasons are invented. About marriage I am cynical.’ -p.260

But Fielding obviously has a view on REAL marriage of which he is not cynical, surely…

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – The Eternal Sleep

‘Those in the Civil Station kept watch a little, fearing an attack, but presently they too enteredt the world of dreams – that world in which a third of each man’s life is spent, and which is thought by some pessimists to be a premonition of eternity.’ – p.239

It is interesting then that quickly following this passage, Fielding has this to say:

‘Liking here better he smiled and said, ‘It’ll get us to heaven.’
‘Will it?’
‘If heaven existed.’
‘Do you not believe in heaven, Mr Fielding, amy I ask?’ she said, looking at him shyly.
‘I do not. Yet I believe that honesty gets us there.” – pp.240-241

 
Hypnos, Greek god of sleep, and his brother, Thanatos, god of death, as painted
by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Poetry to address the Heat?

The following passage describes quite incisively the severity of the heat that accompanies India’s summer months, drawing neat contrast with the life pattern of Europe:

‘Making sudden changes of gear, the heat accelerated its advance after Mrs moore’s departure, until existence had to be endured and crime punished with the thermometer at a hundred and twelve. Electric fans hummed and spat, water splashed onto screen, ice clinked, and outside these defences, between a grayish sky and a yellowish earth, clouds of dust moved hesitatingly. In Europe life retreats out of the cold, and exquisite fireside myths have resulted – Balder, Persephone – but here the retreat is from the source of life, the treacherous sun, and no poetry adorns it, because disillusionment cannot be beautiful. Men yearn for poetry though they may not confess it; they desire that joy shall be graceful, and sorrow august, and infinity have a form, and India fails to accommodate them. The annual helter-skelter of April, when irritability and lust spread like a canker, is one of her comments on the orderly hopes of humanity. Fish manage better: fish, as the tanks dry, wriggle into the mud and wait for the rains to uncake them. But men try to be harmonious all the year round, and the results are occasionally disastrous. The triumphant machine of civilisation may suddenly hitch and be immobilized into a car of stone, and at such moments the destiny of the English seems to resemble their predecessors’, who also entered the country with intent to refashion it, but were in the end worked into its pattern and covered with its dust.’ – pp.214-215

Is the weather so linked to civilisation? And is it true that India fails to accomodate the men who yearn for poetry? What kind of poetry?

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Judgement on Indian Behaviour

‘Aziz was innocent and all actions must be based on that, and the people who said he was guilty were wrong and it was hopeless to try to propitiate them. At the moment when he was throwing in his lot with Indians, he realized the profundity of the gulf that divided him from them. They always do something disappointing. Aziz had tried to run away from the police, Mohammed Latid had not checked the pilfering. And now Hamidullah! – instead of raging and denouncing, he temprized. Are Indians cowards? No, but they are bad starters and occasionally jib. Fear is everywhere; the British Raj rests on it; the respect and courtesy Fielding himself enjoyed were unconscious acts of propitiation.’ – p.182

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – South of Latitude 30

‘Mr McBryde [District Superintendent of Police] was shocked at his downfall [Aziz’s after his accusation of assault], but no Indian ever surprised him, because he had a theory about climatic zones. The theory ran: ‘All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30. They are not to blame, they have not a dog’s chance – we should be like them if we settled here.’ Born at Karachi, he seemed to contradict his theory, and would sometimes admit as much with a sad, quiet smile.’ – p.176

Why Latitude 30? The heat? Physical, social, economic geographical concerns?

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Proverbs and Peaceful Co-existence

The following takes place towards the end of Aziz’s planned picnic to the Marabar caves as he replies to Fielding’s query as to the day-trip’s cost:

‘Aziz, have you figured out what this picnic will cost you?’
‘Sh! my dear chap, don’t mention that part. Hundreds and hundreds of rupees. The completed account will be too awful; my freinds’ servants have robbed me right and left, and as for an elephant, she apparently eats gold. I can trust you not to repeat this. And M.L. – please employ initials, he listens – is fat the worst of all.’ [ML is Mohammed Latif, a servant]
‘I told you he’s no good.’
‘He is plenty of good for himself; his dishonesty will ruin me.’
‘Aziz, how monstrous!’
‘I am delighted with him really, he has made my guests comfortable; besides, it is my duty to employ him, he is my cousin. If money goes, money comes. If money stays, death comes. DId you ever learn that useful Urdu proverb? Probably not, for I have just invented it.’
‘Mt proverbs are: A penny saved is a penny earned; A stitch in time saves nine; Look before you lap; and the British Empire rest on them. You will never kick us out, you know, until you cease employing MLs and such.’
‘Oh, kick you out? WHy should I trouble over that dirty job? Leave it to the politicians…No, when i was a student I got excited over your damned countrymen, certainly; but if they’ll let me get on with my profession, and not be too rude to me officially, I really don’t ask for more.’
‘But you do; you take them to a picnic.’
‘This picnic is nothing to do with English or Indians; it is an expedition of friends.’ – p.170

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment