Tag Archive for 'Arvind Adiga'

Arvind Adiga: Why I’ve learned many languages

In The Daily Beast:

I grew up, as many Indians do, in an archipelago of tongues. My maternal grandfather, who was a surgeon in the city of Madras, was fluent in at least four languages and used each of them daily. He spoke Tulu with his wife, Kannada with his daughters, Tamil with his patients, and English with his grandchildren. In my hometown of Mangalore, on India’s southern coast, it was common for a boy of my generation to speak one language at home, another on the way to school, and a third one in the classroom. These were not just dialects or variants, either. Kannada, which I spoke at home, and Hindi, which I had to learn in school, belong to different linguistic families and are as dissimilar as, say, Spanish and Russian.

Columbia University, where I went to study in 1993, insisted its undergraduates learn a foreign language, so I discovered French. I remember the thrill of sitting in the Hungarian Pastry Shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and working my way, over the course of a week, through an entire André Gide novel in the original French. In England, where I studied in the late 1990s, I took a class in German, having heard that its peculiar syntax and word structure posed not just a linguistic, but a cognitive, challenge: German speakers apparently thought about the world in an entirely different way. More:

The angry old man

Arvind Adiga‘s new novel chronicles the real estate wars of Mumbai and creates its own riff on the ‘Bombay novel’. In Mint Lounge, Sanjukta Sharma reviews Adiga’s Last Man in Tower:

The triumph of Last Man in Tower is its sense of the city. The narrative is built, layer upon layer, by roadside temples, drawing rooms, beach joggers, particular kinds of silk shirts, street dogs, pigeons and debris on roads flooded by incessant rain. The two neighbourhoods, Vakola and Versova, get the author’s unflinching attention and the minutiae of life here is deeply observed: “The face of this tower, once pink, is now a rainwater-stained, fungus-licked grey, although veins of primordial pink show wherever the roofing has protected the walls from the monsoon rains”; “The rains had turned the pit into a marsh: cellphone, eggshell, politician’s face, stock quote, banana leaf, sliced-off chicken’s feet and green crowns cut from pineapples. Ribbons of unspoiled cassette-tape draped over everything like molten caramel”; “An invisible line went down the middle of the beach like an electrified fence; beyond this line, the bankers, models, and film producers of Versova were engaged in tai-chi, yoga, or spot-jogging. Behind the exercising crowd, a woman in a billowing red dress posed against rocks as a photographer snapped…. Homeless men stood in a semi-circle round the photo-shoot, from where they passed loud and accurate judgement on the model’s physique and posing skills.” More:

Also read in AFP: White Tiger returns to bite ‘Shining India’

City of the White Tiger

Booker Prize-winning author Arvind Adiga describes Delhi as a city of class barriers and wild peacocks, where he learnt to want something more than his life. In Mint Lounge:

One Tamil businessman, the son of a famous babu, took pity on me.

“New Delhi is full of beautiful, sensitive Sikh women interested in painting and music. And they are stuck with these big hairy men drinking Royal Challenge. They’re all looking for south Indians to have affairs with, trust me.”

A portly Bengali public relations man told me the secret of his success: language lessons. Years ago, when the Indian economy opened up, he had figured out that Delhi would soon be full of lonely Swedish businesswomen looking for someone to talk to. His insight had paid off handsomely. “Keep away from Danish,” he said—he was learning that now. “Go for Finnish. Icelandic.”

I took my troubles to a woman; she got to the heart of the problem.

“Why don’t you have a car? You’ve got the money.”

I told her I had lived in New York for most of my adult life; I didn’t know how to drive.

“Then get a driver.”

I had been out of India for so many years that I was uncomfortable with having servants. I could not order people around.

“Then you can kiss your chances of getting laid in Delhi goodbye,” she said.


In late 2003, I was still paying taxes in America, so it horrified me that the US consulate was hosting a “Gallo drinking appreciation event” one evening on the lawns of the ITC Sheraton. What a waste of my tax money, I thought, walking past the people quaffing free Californian Chardonnay. Behind them, a pianist was playing old film tunes, and a slim short woman in a green dress was dancing around him.

The friend who had brought me there noticed my noticing her.

“Speak to her,” he said. “She’s into books.” He whispered: “Bengali.”

Noticing my reticence, he brought the woman over by the arm to where I stood.

I was 28 then; she looked a few years older. Almost as soon as we began talking she told me she had been divorced.

I was not sure about the cultural significance of this; did she not want me to make a pass at her?

To confuse me further, she added, “Twice divorced.”

Having no idea what she wanted me to say, I asked if she had read Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

No, but she had all his books at home. She lived in Greater Kailash-II. What was I doing after this?

The pianist left; the lights flickered. Gallo appreciation evening was over. People left the lawns.

Now came the dreaded part of the evening. When we got to the lobby of the hotel, I confessed: “I have no car.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, with a smile. “I have one.”

I met her four times. When I called for a fifth meeting, her secretary picked up the phone and said: “She is in Calcutta.”

The next time I called, she said: “She is in Bangalore.”

The next time the phone was not picked up. More:

Love and loathing in Bombay

In Mint-Lounge, Booker-winning author Arvind Adiga on how he imagined Bombay, how he confronted the city’s harsh realities while living there and why he decided to leave. Adiga’s new novel, Last Man in the Tower, will be published in 2011 by HarperCollins India.

I moved to Mumbai in November 2006. The girl I had been seeing in Delhi came to the city to work for a marketing firm; she brought me along with her books and bags and bric-a-brac from Rohini. I had quit my job with Time magazine at the start of the year to finish a novel. Instead I had wasted my time doing little freelance jobs for my ex-employer. Unless I left Delhi—too many journalists, too many stories—I would never get this novel done. Going to Kolkata was the original plan; a friend said he might rent out his place near Minto Park. But then the girl came to Mumbai.

I first saw the city in 1985 with my mother. We were the guests of my granduncle Suresh, a lawyer who lived in Bandra. Many in my family had migrated from Mangalore to practise law in Bangalore or Madras. Suresh, a feisty, affectionate, beak-nosed man was the only one who had chosen Mumbai—a far-away, Hindi-speaking place where south Indians were reportedly attacked by the Shiv Sena. He drove us up to see the Queen’s Necklace; I had paani puris near the Gateway of India and puked them into the ocean. And though 18 years passed before I came back, Mumbai always found ingenious ways to remind me of its existence. More:

A new bend in the river

Having moved beyond postcolonialism and a welter of sari-and-mango novels, Indian literature has struck out into darker, messier terrain, Rana Dasgupta writes. Is this the new lore of an agonised nation? From The National:

Novels and nations are linked by an intimate kind of analogy. If nations are the stage on which modern life and feeling unfold, novels are the form in which these things are recounted, understood and turned, finally, into lore. Such is the apparent scale and ambition of modern life that no smaller treatment than the novel will finally match up – not even cinema, which, for all its protean vitality, has never quite displaced the novel from the pinnacle of modern cultural achievement.

This is why emerging nations strive to beget great novels. During the years of America’s rise, for instance, the project of the “great American novel” was conscious and determined. Industry alone would not make the United States great: to grow beyond Europe it needed to match Flaubert and Tolstoy. In 1897, the novelist Frank Norris wrote that American writers should be focused on the task of creating the novel “which is the most thoroughly American in its tone and most aptly interprets the phases of American life”. More:

My wild trip home

Arvind Adiga at the Daily Beast on how he travelled from Brooklyn back to his hometown of Mangalore, and discovered an India he never knew existed.

In 2003, my employer in New York, Time Inc., sent me back to India to be a reporter for Time magazine. One of the reasons I wanted to come back, after more than a decade in England and America, was to finish the literary project I’d begun years ago as a student at Oxford, where I had read large parts of Balzac’s novel series The Human Comedy, a complete portrait of the France of his time. I wanted, in a modest way, to do the same for the one place on earth I thought I knew inside-out: Mangalore, my hometown in the south of India. In my apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I sketched out a plan for a bonsai version of The Human Comedy-a series of interconnected stories about each of the typical residents of Mangalore-businessman, teacher, student, farmer, politician, and so on. The book would be true to the external appearance of Mangalore’s buildings and people, but would also capture the inner drives-jealousy, lust, compassion-that shaped the town.

Late in 2003, after settling down in New Delhi-where my job with Time required me to live- I took a flight down south to Mangalore. I had not been back since 1990, the year of my mother’s unexpected death; so not only was this is my first visit in over a decade, it was also my first trip to my hometown without my mother around. I was here, finally, as an adult-free to wander, to speak to anyone, to look at the town with new eyes. And what I discovered, in the course of a weeklong trip, was that I didn’t know my hometown at all. More:

Paper tigers

Before Aravind Adiga’s crudely moralising novel, he wrote crudely moralising short stories. S Subramanian reviews “Between the Assassinations” by Aravind Adiga in The National:

It is no coincidence that Aravind Adiga’s book of short stories, Between the Assassinations (written before his Booker-prize winning debut The White Tiger, but just now published in India), also begins at a railway station. The station is in the fictional town of Kittur, which a short prefatory note locates on India’s western coast, between Goa and Calicut. To really understand the town, Adiga writes, “a minimum stay of a week is recommended.” He gives himself 12 stories.

Narayan and Adiga lived through inarguably the two most exciting periods of modern Indian history – the former through India’s birth as an independent country, the latter through India’s birth as an economic contender. But Malgudi feels timeless, a compact bubble only occasionally nudged by drafts of air from the outside world. In Narayan’s lore, the two most famous people to have ever visited the village are Lord Rama and Mahatma Gandhi, and one imagines they both found a similar Malgudi waiting for them.


Authenticity and the South Asian political novel

Amitava Kumar in the Boston Review [via 3quarksdaily]:

In May this year, a fourteen-year-old girl named Aarushi Talwar was found murdered in her parents’ house outside Delhi. The teen’s parents were both dentists. The main suspect in the killing was the servant employed by the Talwars, a forty-five-year-old Nepalese migrant named Hemraj. Most servants in a large city like Delhi are the poor who have arrived from impoverished eastern states, mostly Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Orissa.

In India, even an ordinary middle-class person can employ domestic help. You provide a poor young man or woman space to sleep, leftover food, and old clothes, and you are likely to get away with paying as little as fifty dollars a month. A hundred maximum.

Delhi is a city of seventeen million people, and six were robbed or murdered by their servants last year. This is not a very high number, but a large part of the urban middle-class mythology is built around the fear of being robbed, and even killed, by domestic servants. As it turned out, in the Aarushi murder case, the police had been inept. They had simply concluded that Hemraj was guilty because he was missing. Not only were no photographs taken of the crime scene, but even the trail of blood leading to a staircase was not investigated. A day later, a retired police officer broke the lock on the door leading to the terrace above and found the servant’s corpse already decomposing in the heat. The search for a new suspect was underway.

The case took a sensational turn when the police arrested Aarushi’s father. There was no clear evidence to suggest that the dentist had committed the murders, but the police provided the media with lurid speculations. There were stories about the father’s alleged affair with a fellow doctor. The police said that the daughter had come to know of this and confronted him. Officers also openly alleged that Aarushi was involved in a relationship with Hemraj, and the enraged doctor killed the ill-suited lovers.

None of this turned out to be based in fact.


A wounded city turns from tears to anger

Arvind Adiga in the Times, UK:

My first assignment as a journalist in Bombay was in 2003, when I visited the home of a man accused of planting a bomb that had killed several people a few days earlier at the Gateway of India, the city’s most famous landmark. The suspected terrorist lived in a typical Bombay slum, congested, with packed houses that shared walls and windows, and I spent the day quizzing the neighbours, who said they had heard and seen nothing suspicious, even though the police were sure that the man had assembled the bomb at home.

I couldn’t help thinking: If the police were right, and this man had built a bomb right here, with all these people noticing nothing, how safe was anyone in the city?

That evening I went back to the Gateway – a large stone arch built near the ocean – and walked into the famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which stands right next door. I ordered tea at the Sea Lounge, a restaurant inside the hotel, and watched the Gateway through the glass windows. The mood inside was tranquil, relaxing; a man in a suit played Gershwin on a piano.


Previously on AW: Arvind Adiga: ‘Invasion of Mumbai’

‘Invasion of Mumbai’

Author Aravind Adiga, whose debut novel The White Tiger won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, spoke to BBC Radio:

These places they picked are rich with symbolic significance. But part of what life in Mumbai has taught me – and I’ve seen previous terror attacks here – is that the city is extremely resilient and bounces back very, very quickly.

On the morning after the attacks I was driving past the very heart of Mumbai, an open space, a playground that we call the Oval. I saw a group of boys – they looked like homeless kids – who had set up a cricket pitch, they hammered a twig down in the ground and that was the wicket.

That really struck me as symbolising the Mumbai spirit – they didn’t care about what was happening, they wanted to play cricket in the morning.


Authenticity and the South Asian political novel

Amitava Kumar in The Boston Review [via 3quarksdaily]:

All through the summer, I followed the story from my home in upstate New York. Then, in mid-June, I read an article in a British newspaper about the Aarushi case, in which I found out that a popular novel had already been written this year about middle-class Indian fear of domestic servants. The novel, the article said, “tells the story of a bitter and disenchanted chauffeur in Delhi who slits his employer’s throat.”

That is how I came to discover Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize.

Soon after I learned of the book, I met Adiga in New York City. He was born in Chennai, India and later migrated to Australia. He then studied at Columbia University and at Oxford. After university he returned to India, where for three years he worked as TIME ’s correspondent before quitting to write fiction. Adiga told me that his novel is the fruit of his labors as a reporter in India. He traveled to various parts of the country, including places whose backwardness shocked his sensibility. The White Tiger is his rebuke of the cheerful, and false, notion of a new, transformed India.


And in the Sunday Times an interview with Arvind Adiga:

‘We all live in the greatest democracy on earth . . . what a f****** joke.” So the newest Indian literary idol, Aravind Adiga, sets out his stall in his incendiary, bitterly hilarious and Man Booker prize-winning first novel, The White Tiger. Adiga gives democracy a relatively easy ride – it’s free market capitalism that takes the real hiding.


The Sultan’s Battery — a short story by Arvind Adiga

The Guardian has a short story by Aravind Adiga, who won the Booker prize this week with his first novel ‘The White Tiger‘:

The Sultan’s Battery, which appears on the way towards Salt Market Village, is one of the prime tourist attractions of Kittur.

He walked fast towards the white dome of the Dargah, a fold-up wooden stool under one arm, and in the other a red bag with his album of photographs and seven bottles full of white pills. When he got to the Dargah, he walked along the wall, without paying any attention to the long line of beggars along the wall: the lepers who were sitting on rags, the men with mutilated arms and legs, the men in wheelchairs and the men with bandages covering their eyes, and the one creature, with little brown stubs like a seal’s flippers where he should have had arms, a normal left leg, and a soft brown stump where he should have had a second leg, who lay on his left side, twitching his hip continuously, like an animal getting galvanic shocks, and intoning, with blank, mesmerised eyes: “Al-lah! Al-laaaah! Al-lah! Al-laaah!”


Roars of anger

Aravind Adiga‘s debut novel, The White Tiger, won the Booker prize this week. But its unflattering portrait of India as a society racked by corruption and servitude has caused a storm in his homeland. He tells Stuart Jeffries why he wants to expose the country’s dark side. In The Guardian:

Arvind Adiga

Arvind Adiga / The Guardian

How do you get the nerve, I ask Aravind Adiga, to write a novel about the experiences of the Indian poor? After all, you’re an enviably bright young thing, a middle-class, Madras-born, Oxford-educated ex-Time magazine correspondent? How would you understand what your central character, the downtrodden, uneducated son of a rickshaw puller turned amoral entrepreneur and killer, is going through?

It’s the morning after Adiga, 33, won the £50,000 Man Booker award with his debut novel The White Tiger, which reportedly blew the socks off Michael Portillo, the chair of judges, and, more importantly, is already causing offence in Adiga’s homeland for its defiantly unglamorous portrait of India’s economic miracle. For a western reader, too, Adiga’s novel is bracing: there is an unremitting realism usually airbrushed from Indian films and novels. It makes Salman Rushdie’s Booker-winning chronicle of post-Raj India, Midnight’s Children (a book that Adiga recognises as a powerful influence on his work), seem positively twee. The Indian tourist board must be livid.


Previously in AW: The Booker victory