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Is Adiga’s Between The Assassination
a Coop for The White Tiger?
Dr. A.J. Sebastian sdb
Reader & Head, Dept. of English,
Nagaland University, Kohima, India
In his second novel, Between The Assassinations, Man Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga portrays character sketches of ordinary Indians in a small town of Kittur in South India. The novel probes into the sense and sensibilities of the people during a seven year period in Kittur’s history from 1984 to 1991 – between the two tragedies that shocked the nation with the assassinations of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. Through a series of stories, the author deftly chronicles the growth and transformation of Kittur, a microcosm of India.
The novel opens with a roadmap “How to get to Kittur,” mesmerising the readers with his magic realism like Gabriel Garcia Marques and Salman Rushdie. Adroitly placing Kittur in between Goa and Calicut, on the south-western coast of India, he invites his readers like a tourist guide to spend at least a week to observe life in its multifarious shades. He says, “Given the town’s richness of history and scenic beauty, and diversity of religion, race and language, a minimum stay of a week is recommended” (BTA 1).
Adiga turns Chaucerian in presenting a cavalcade of characters as in The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. As he makes the various characters march before us in their daily lives, preoccupations and evil designs, the portrait of Kittur is complete. Creating a landscape like R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi, the Man-Booker-Man depicts ‘God’s plenty’ in India, giving the readers an inkling into the Indian ethos and our great cultural fabric under threat in manifold ways.
The novelist has inherited R.K. Narayan’s realistic treatment of the Indian middle class, the class he understands best. He has peopled his stories in this collection with characters that can be found in any Indian village or town.
Adiga has neatly segmented his stories into seven days of narration, representative of the seven years of life that elapses in Kittur between the assassinations. This comes in contrast to The White Tiger, written in the epistolary form as a seven-part letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in the course of seven nights. Day and night are symbolically presented by Adiga as a leitmotif. In The White Tiger the protagonist speaks of light and darkness:
I am in the Light now, but I was born and raised in Darkness…. that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness. The ocean brings light to my country. Every place on the map of India near the ocean is well-off. But the river brings darkness to India – the black river” (TWT 14).
Again Balram calls his story “The Autobiography of a Half-Baked Indian.…Entrepreneurs are made from half-baked clay (10-11).
Balram is representative of the poor in India yearning for their ‘tomorrow’ (6). Shades of Balram, The White Tiger, is an amalgam of characteristics found in the varying characters Adiga has created in the many stories in Between The Assassinations, written in 2005. These stories are a perfect foil to the The White Tiger published recently. It is a Social criticism focusing on the poverty and misery of India and its religio-socio-political conflicts, encapsuled in humour and irony.
Adiga has chronologically arranged some important landmarks in the history of Kittur between the two great assassinations on 31 October 1984 and 21 May 1991. The seven years in between these tragedies are punctuated by several other fictionalised events in the stories narrated. History and fiction are so well knit in a realistic manner with first and third person narration.
Stories in the collection are of diverse nature, having protagonists, portraying various shades of characters in our multi-cultural, ethnic and religious ambience.
i. In “DAY ONE: THE TRAIN STATION,” Ziauddin, a young Muslim boy, who works for a living at the train station, often through stealing, finds himself coming under the sway of a foreign terrorist.
ii. “DAY TWO: THE BUNDER” presents Abbasi, a textile factory owner, who runs his business, engaged in unjust and corrupt practices, yet ironically professing the adage “RULES OF THE GAME MUST BE FOLLOWED AT ALL TIMES” (BTA 29).
iii. “DAY TWO (AFTERNOON): LIGHTHOUSE HILL” captures the tragedy of a Dalit bookseller named Xerox, who lands in prison for selling a copy of The Satanic Verses, banned in India.
iv. In “ DAY TWO (CONTINUED) OUR SCHOOL”, replete with humour and irony, Adiga delves into the character analysis of Shankara who is a half-cast with a Brahmin father and a low caste Hoyka mother. Embittered by rejection from all sides, he terrorizes by exploding a crude bomb in his college.
v. “ DAY TWO (EVENING): LIGHTHOUSE HILL (THE BASE OF THE HILL)” is a humour filled story of potbellied Mr. D’Mello, the assistant headmaster of St. Alfoso Junior Boy’s School, whom the students nicknamed ‘Ogre.’
vi. “DAY THREE: ANGEL TALKIES” is centred on Gururaj Kamath, a journalist, who is silenced for his honest exposition of corruption, riots and crime. Undaunted, he decides to stand up for truth, ironically hallucinating over his future newspaper where “THE TRUTH ALONE SHALL TRIUMPH, A NOCTURNAL NEWSPAPER” (134).
vii. A story surrounding the smack addict Ramachandran is recounted in “DAY FOUR: THE COOL-WATER WELL JUNCTION.” His little daughter Soumya is made to do the filthy errand for him.
viii. In “DAY FIVE: VALENCIA (TO THE FIRST CROSSROAD),” the story revolves around the elderly Jayamma, the honest Hindu cook of a Christian advocate, tinged with humour and irony.
ix. The mosquitto-man, George D’Souza, is the protagonist of “DAY FIVE (EVENING): THE CATHEDRAL OF OUR LADY OF VALENCIA.” Fired from a construction site, he takes up to DDT spraying and gets the job as driver to Mrs. Gomes. However, on one fine day he is unceremoniously laid off by the rich lady.
x. In “DAY SIX: THE SULTAN’S BATTERY” Adiga scrutinises Ratnakar Shetty, a sexologist, who sells bottles full of white pills to those afflicted by venerial diseases. He is typical of the quack doctors of India.
xi. “DAY SIX (EVENING): BAJPE” brings to light the pathetic story of the childless couple Giridhar Rao and Kamini, who find solace in socialite company of the circle of Intimates. The story is rendered realistic being set in the changing landscape of Bajpe in the wake of rapid industialisation and consequent deforestation.
xii. The Communist Comrade Thimma, and his disciple Murali are central to the story in “DAY SEVEN: SALT MARKET VILLAGE” which exposes the Marxist-Maoist ideology and its fatal consequences to the poor villagers.
Since some of the episodes in these stories recur in The White Tiger, the collection may be considered the seed-bed of the Booker winning novel. Some parellels may be brought to focus. In “ANGEL TALKIES” a poor employee of the rich Mr. Engineer is forced to own up the accidental killing by the boss.
Engineer was drunk; he was coming back from his mistress’ home; he hit the fellow like some stray dog, and drove away….The police know perfectly well who drives drunkenly down the road at night….He lets one of the employees in his factory to say he was driving the car when it happened. The guy gives the police a sworn affidavit (123).
Similarly, in The White Tiger, Balram is blackmailed to own up an accidental killing to protect Asoke’s wife Pinky madam.
I, Balram Hawai….do make the following statement of my own free will and intention: That I drove the car that hit an unidentified person…. That there were no other occupants of the car at the time of the accident. That I was alone in the car, and alone responsible for all that happened. I swear by almighty God that I make this statement under no duress and under instruction from no one (TWT 168).
In “SALT MARKET VILLAGE,” Adiga concludes the story as Murali keeps awake at midnight concentrated on the ceiling fan, symbolizing his disillusionment and daydreaming to freedom from Communist oppression:
At midnight he was still awake. He was staring at the ceiling fan, whose fast-rotating blades were chopping the beam of light from the halogen streetlamps outside the bedroom into sharp white glints: they showered down on Murali like the first particles of wisdom he had received in his life (BTA 281).
Similar daydreaming is done by Balram in The White Tiger watching the chandeliers in his room to suppress his fear of being caught:
It makes me happy to see a chandelier. Why not, I’m a free man…Free people don’t know the value of freedom…Sometimes ….I turn on both chandeliers and then lie down amid all the light, and I just start laughing. A man is hiding, and yet he’s surrounded by chandeliers! There – I’m revealing the secret to a successful escape. The police searched for me in darkness: but I hid myself in light (TWT 117-18).
Creativity in Adiga leads his readers to view the different stories in Between The Assassinations to focus finally on to the portrait of the anti-hero Balram, who escapes from the Rooster Coop in The White Tiger. Hence, Between The Assassinations may be considered the coop from which The White Tiger makes his escape to a world of crime, corruption and wealth. However, Balram remains a dreaded hollow psychopath.
Adiga’s portrait brings out multitudes of people of Kittur belonging to different castes, creeds and economic status. Life goes on in the township despite riots, corruption, injustice, poor-rich divide and terrorism that raise their ugly heads time and time again.
Through the novel Adiga brings to light the ever widening gap between the poor and the rich, which if uncontrolled may flare up in the form of violence and terrorism. These are eye-openers to law makers and administrators to have the political will to deliver justice to the poor and the marginalised, rooting out corruption in all forms.
Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger. Noida: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008.
-----. Between The Assassinations. New Delhi: Picador, 2008. (Abbreviated BTA).
With a drive created by white tiger, this second book I felt was much complicated and actually left halfway through, the experiment might be good but lacks my interest to keep working for the author by trusting him through different silos of the chapters, i lost my patience!!