The White Tiger

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The White Tiger Chapter 8: The Seventh Night Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Balram describes for Wen Jiabao how he went from living as a fugitive to becoming a pillar of Bangalore society. On their way to Bangalore after the murder, Balram and Dharam stop at a teashop where they discover a police poster out for Balram’s arrest. As Balram examines it “with a sense of pride.” an illiterate man approaches him and asks what crime the man in the poster has committed: he is unable to recognize Balram from the photo at all, as the photo looks like it could be of half the men in India.
Although Balram has just escaped from Delhi, the ineffective police poster with its grainy photograph makes it seem as though the process of remaking himself has already begun. It also emphasizes how all those trapped in the Rooster Coop essentially look the same, while Balram has now made himself something other than a rooster in a coop. Balram no longer resembles the boy he was. Of course, Balram sees this change as a source of pride, as him becoming a true entrepreneur, while one might also argue that what he has become is a corrupt murderer.
Themes
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Looking back on the period after the murder, Balram estimates that it took him four weeks in Bangalore to calm his nerves. He explains that he is not like the Indian politicians who can kill and move on immediately. He and Dharam keep to themselves until Balram finally takes courage and ventures out into the city. He tries to “hear the city’s voice,” just as he heard Dehli’s by sitting at cafés and writing down what he overhears.
Balram’s claim that it took him four weeks to recover from the murder, and his notion that this is a relatively long period of time, reveal his complicated relationship with his crime. He recognizes that he committed a terrible act, but when he compares his murder to the many murders committed by India’s rich and powerful, he feels himself to be almost virtuous. Meanwhile, he applies himself to learning from the streets of Bangalore as he learned from the streets of Delhi before.
Themes
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram quickly learns that Bangalore revolves around outsourcing, and companies that conduct business with Americans over the phone. Because of the time difference, men and women in Bangalore work on a nocturnal schedule. Balram realizes that the companies must need drivers to transport their employees back home safely at night, and resolves to start a taxi service that will do the job. After using some of the money he stole from Ashok to bribe the police to help eliminate his competition and make him appear as a legitimate businessman, he creates his “start-up”: White Tiger Drivers.
Once again, Balram’s ability to swiftly and totally reinvent himself brings him entrepreneurial success. His sense of himself as a White Tiger –an unusually intelligent, capable person subject to different moral codes and standards— allows him to justify pursuing his goals in underhanded ways. Note again, though, that while struggling to escape the Rooster Coop he wholeheartedly believes in the corrupt practices (bribery, etc) of the Light. Balram isn’t trying to change things in his society, he just wants to be one of the winners in that society.
Themes
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
White Tiger Drivers is an immediate success, and Balram quickly becomes a wealthy man. He renames himself Ashok Sharma after his master, but unlike the late Ashok he keeps his employees at a respectful distance. He tries to set an example with his behavior in the hopes that they will move up in life. Balram claims that he doesn’t “insult” his employees by telling them they are like family, and simply asks that they do their jobs responsibly.
By adopting the name Ashok, Balram’s transformation is complete. However, his choice to take his former master’s name shows that he has no desire to totally erase all traces of his former self. Each stage in his journey from rickshaw driver’s son to business entrepreneur is an important part of his identity. It also shows that he still feels some kind of connection to and perhaps guilt about Ashok, as well as that he has now achieved what he wanted: to have what Ashok had. At the same time he corrects Ashok’s mistakes: he treats his employees like employees.
Themes
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
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Despite his newfound wealth and power, Balram tries not to lose touch with the place he got his true education: the open road. As he wanders around Bangalore, he hears stirrings and rumors of revolution, of men trying to break out of the Rooster Coop. He doubts that anything will happen, because the Indian people wait passively for revolution to come from elsewhere, when in reality it is up to each individual to create his own revolution.
Balram’s experience has proven his conviction that the most important part of an entrepreneur’s education involves developing an awareness of one’s surroundings. His commitment to remaining in touch with his environment is unchanged, even after he achieves wealth and stability. His thoughts about revolution are interesting, in that once again he seems to believe only in a “revolution” of individual action, in which an individual acts solely to help himself as opposed to help others. Balram’s “revolution” changed nothing except Balram’s own social position.
Themes
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Balram changes gears to recount an incident that occurred a few nights earlier. One of his drivers, Mohammad Asif, hit and killed a boy who had been riding a bicycle. Balram ordered Asif to call the police, who Balram has bought off with many bribes, and thereby manages to prevent the family from registering the case. Luckily the police are not required to register a bicyclist’s death, as they would a motorcyclist’s or a driver’s.
Now that Balram has the money, he follows the example of his former masters and distributes bribes with the same regularity they once did. The mirroring of this car accident with the accident in which Pinky killed the child highlights how, even though he was once a victim of his wealthy masters’ corrupt maneuvering, he has no reservations about imitating their behavior.
Themes
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram visits the victim’s parents the following day and expresses his deep sorrow for their loss, mentioning that he himself has lost many relatives. He gives them twenty-five thousand rupees and offers to train their other son as a driver in his company. Upon his return to the office, Asif asks Balram why he “wasted” so much money on the victim’s family, from whom the company had nothing to fear. Balram explains that he had to “do something different”— that he could not behave like the landlords of Laxmangahr. Balram explains further in his letter to Wen Jiabao: he (Balram) is in the Light now, where if a man wants to be good, he can be.
Balram views bribing the police to prevent the pressing of charges against his company as a necessary precaution, yet feels a sense of responsibility towards the victim’s family. While he has adopted the corrupt, self-interested behavior of Ashok’s family, his experience as a poor villager at the mercy of the Indian elite has caused him to feel a certain obligation to act morally. Yet his morality involves paying money for a death that his driver caused—he only gives that money once he’s sure that his business is secure. Now that he is among the privileged in the Light and his own survival is secured, he feels he can afford to act with charity towards others, but one might argue that while he gives, he, like Ashok and Ashok’s family, doesn’t give everything he can. His own self-interest still comes first.
Themes
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram addresses the question of guilt. He feels none towards Ashok: instead of dreaming that the dead man pursues him, Balram says that his nightmares are that he never committed the murder, and is still a servant in Delhi. Balram’s feelings about his family are more complicated. He assumes that the Stork’s family had his relatives killed, but tries not to dwell on their fate. To explain this seemingly monstrous attitude towards their deaths, he tells a story about the Buddha. When the Buddha was asked whether he was a man or a God, Buddha responded, “Neither. I am just one who has woken up while the others are sleeping.” Balram feels himself to have done the same.
Balram believes that the struggle to escape social and economic subjugation in Indian society, to achieve control over one’s future and to “wake up” from a life of servitude, trumps traditional notions of good vs. evil, God vs. the devil. He believes that the extreme inequality between rich and poor, as well as the complete lack of opportunity the poor have for self-advancement, render his crime and decision to sacrifice his family somewhat understandable. Balram a murderer and thief who has built a business on the backs of that murder and theft, is comparing himself to the Buddha, that exemplar of peace. That he can even make such a comparison is an indictment of the society in which he lives.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram brings his letter to Jiabao to a close, writing that the act of sharing his story with its secrets about entrepreneurship represents a significant leap forward in relations between India and China. He describes with enthusiasm the rapid economic development of Bangalore, and how exciting it is to feel like he himself has contributed to its growth.
Balram’s desire to share his secrets about entrepreneurship with a Chinese official, and to situate his story in the context of a political relationship, indicates that his vision for himself could involve following in Vijay’s footsteps and pursuing a future in politics. It also connects Balram the individual with India the nation. Both Balram, and the novel, see Balram as a kind of metaphor for the country as a whole. Of course, Balram sees himself as a positive example of the nation, while the novel itself reads as an indictment of the society that would mold Balram to become the man he has grown into.
Themes
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Balram proclaims that he is a first-gear man who looks at tomorrow instead of today: he knows he will become restless, sell his business, and move on to the next venture soon enough. He has already started purchasing real estate in Bangalore to lease to Americans, who he anticipates will soon flood the city. He imagines starting a school for poor children in Bangalore with his money, providing of course that he does not get caught for his crime. Yet Balram also feels that even if he is discovered, he will never regret what he did. In his eyes, the opportunity to experience living like a man, freed from servitude, has justified his crime.
Balram’s surprising admission that he dreams of starting a school reveals that even as he proclaims the virtues of learning from experience, or “on the road,” part of him still believes strongly in the virtues of a formal education. Here there is a hint that he wants to help young Indians from the Rooster Coop to better their fates. Yet at the same time he continues to believe that his murder and theft were just, that his actions that led to the death of his family were simply the price to pay for freedom.
Themes
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon