Hirsh Sawhney interviews Aravind Adiga, the author of the Booker-shortlisted novel The White Tiger. The novel tells the story of a village man who becomes a driver for a wealthy businessman, and in this interview Adiga punctures a hole in the notion that India is a rising world power with enviable economic growth.
Rail: Tell us about the India your book is set in.
Adiga: The book deals with an India smack in the middle of “the boom,” and it challenges a lot of comfortable assumptions about Indian democracy and economics. I want to challenge this idea that India is the world’s greatest democracy. It may be so in an objective sense, but on the ground, the poor have such little power.
Rail: What are some of the starker things you learned about India during this era of hype and optimism, when you were working as a reporter for Time?
Adiga: The fact that a lot of Indians have very little political freedom, especially in the north of India. That elections are rigged in large parts of the north Indian state of Bihar, and they’re also accompanied by violence. There’s like thirty-five killings during every election. If you were a poor man you’d have to pick China over India any day because your kids have a better chance of being nourished if you’re poor. Your wife is more likely to survive childbirth. You’re likely to live longer. There are so many ways in which India’s system fails horribly.
This, of course, is not quite what Fareed Zakaria, Thomas Friedman, and others have been telling the American public about India for the last few years.