The White Tiger

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Mr. Ashok Character Analysis

The Stork’s son and Balram’s master. Ashok recently returned from America and has a gentler, milder personality compared to his wealthy and entitled family members. He feels disillusioned by the widespread corruption in India and his family’s role in it, but goes along with his relatives, handing out bribes to ministers and currying favor with politicians. Compared to the other wealthy people around him, Ashok demonstrates more outward signs of compassion for Balram, seeming to take an interest in his servant’s welfare and trusting him entirely. Ashok becomes increasingly decadent and goes into something of a downward spiral after his wife, Pinky Madam, leaves him and goes back to America. Balram feels a strong, mysterious connection to his master, but after several months in his service concludes that Ashok is no less cruel and selfish than his father and brother, that the generosity he offers is not nearly what he could afford to give.

Mr. Ashok Quotes in The White Tiger

The The White Tiger quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Ashok or refer to Mr. Ashok. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Free Press edition of The White Tiger published in 2008.
Chapter 2: The Second Night Quotes

“Many of my best ideas are, in fact, borrowed from my ex-employer or his brother or someone else whom I was driving about. (I confess, Mr. Premier: I am not an original thinker—but I am an original listener.)

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

After describing his murder of Ashok at the end of the previous chapter, Balram begins this chapter by stating that he still feels a sense of fondness to his ex-employer. He also explains that many of his entrepreneurial conceits came from Ashok and that this borrowing technique is characteristic of what has allowed him to succeed.

This passage upends the preconception that entrepreneurial success is the result of entirely innovative ideas that are conceived of by a single creator. Instead of seeing the entrepreneur as a solitary genius, Balram believes that real talent lies in listening. Indeed, that one can be “an original listener” implies that listening is not a universal and passive process but rather something that can be done more or less attentively—and in a variety of different ways. The very definition of originality is thus reimagined here, with Balram seeing entrepreneurial brilliance to be a matter of recombining and manifesting the ideas of others.

The ethics of Balram’s behaviors here become increasingly murky. Having already admitted to murder, he now divulges that he has often stolen the intellectual property of others—even of the man that he has killed. Yet Balram does not find this behavior problematic, instead seeing in it further proof of his entrepreneurial brilliance and originality. Thus this passage shows that his moral compass is based on achieving success – financial might, worldly power – rather than personal respect or fairness: For Balram the ability to correctly execute an idea is itself moral. A white tiger, after all, doesn't question itself for killing itself prey.

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Chapter 4: The Fourth Night Quotes

“We’re driving past Ghandi, after just having given a bribe to a minister. It’s a fucking joke, isn’t it.”

Related Characters: Mr. Ashok (speaker), Pinky Madam
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Ashok makes this comment after a day of being chauffeured by Balram around Delhi. He is horrified of the irony of passing a famous Ghandi statue after a day spent buying off officials.

This line speaks to the deeply paradoxical nature of Delhi society: Though on the outside it may be covered in monuments that affirm moral integrity, on the inside it is a morass of political corruption. Thus what Gandhi, who is considered the father of the Indian state, stands for is not only being ignored, but also actively betrayed under the nose of his very statue. Ashok’s frustration is motivated in part by a historical critique—on the inability of India to follow Ghandi’s moral principles—and in part by disgust at the mere thought of what his family has done.

Yet if Ashok’s comment casts him as deeply corrupt, the very fact that he speaks this line reveals a more ethical disposition. Certainly, many characters engage in similar behaviors, but few like Ashok hold themselves accountable for these behaviors—or even see them to be negative. But by noting the symbolic mismatch of the Ghandi statue and the day’s acts, Ashkok reveals a capacity to notice these behaviors—and to find them lacking. Thus he, like Balram, is both a witness and agent of corruption: partially redeemed for their observational powers but also condemned for perpetuating the broken system.

Ashok's moral concerns also mark him in two other ways: first, they make him a more sympathetic character, so Balram's eventual murder of him is thus harder to justify. Second, though, in the context of the "jungle" of Indian portrayed in the novel, they mark him as weak, as someone who might be murder-able.

Chapter 5: The Fifth Night Quotes

“... But where my genuine concern for him ended and where my self-interest began, I could not tell: no servant can ever tell what the motives of his heart are... We are made mysteries to ourselves by the Rooster Coop we are locked in.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

While caring for Ashok in the wake of Pinky Madam’s departure, Balram finds himself growing fond of his master. But he also questions his own motives for such feelings, noting that the social structure prevents him from correctly ascertaining his feelings.

Balram shows himself, here, to be deeply skeptical of his own emotional responses. He rejects the idea of his “genuine concern,” observing that it may just be “self-interest”: It would behoove him to feel compassionate toward Ashok and to treat him with more care, because Ashok might in turn reward or protect him. This is a textbook examples of the Rooster Coop because instead of rebelling, Balram has actually found himself caring about the very man who helps keep him encaged. Thus Balram indicates that Indian society both subdues revolutionary impulses and forms odd emotional connections between servants and masters.

Although this comment pertains to a specific relationship and specific culture, it also makes a poignant statement on the broader functioning of human emotions. Each society, after all, has some form of a Rooster Coop: a social system that divides people into different strata and creates an incentive system for members of certain strata to behave in specified ways toward others. Balram’s claim that “we are made mysteries to ourselves” in such a setup indicates that human identity itself is shaped and occluded by any such hierarchy—for the individual’s emotions cannot be separated from the desires dictated by the Coop.

Chapter 6: The Sixth Morning Quotes

“The rest of today’s narrative will deal mainly with the sorrowful tale of how I was corrupted from a sweet, innocent village fool into a citified fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness, All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter 6, Balram prepares the reader for the direction of the story to come. He explains that he followed and mimicked Ashok’s newly perverted behaviors.

This passage marks a decisive shift in the tone and trajectory of Balram’s story. Whereas he has previously considered the tale to mark his self-improvement from ignorance to knowledge, Balram here inverts its direction: from laudable innocence to “wickedness.” For the first time, the reader has a sense that Balram looks retrospectively at his life with a sense of guilt, instead of simply believing that his choices were uniformly positive.

Despite this note of self-criticism, however, Balram continues to offload the full extent of his moral responsibility. When he says, “All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok,” Balram presents his behaviors to be the result of mimicking his master, just as he hadpreviously in the novel. Thus, he is not in fact taking a new stance on the world, but rather applying the same entrepreneurial techniques to an undesirable subject.

Furthermore, the way that he describes his transformation from “village fool” to “citified fellow” portrays the change in him not as dependent on his own character but rather on the environment in which he finds himself. So even as Balram seems to take moral responsibility, he also continues to offload that culpability onto external factors.

Chapter 7: The Sixth Night Quotes

“We went from bank to bank, and the weight of the red bag grew. I felt its pressure increase on my lower back—as if I were taking Mr. Ashok and his bag not in a car, but the way my father would take a customer and his bag—in a rickshaw.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok, Vikram Halwai
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

Ashok prepares for an enormous bribe, so Balram must shuttle him over Delhi withdrawing money.

This passage is a characteristic example of how Balram’s imaginative thinking takes a metaphorical idea and renders it literal. Of course, the physical weight of the bag is not actually sufficient to weigh him down, but Balram feels that it is symbolically doing so. That he feels a “pressure increase” speaks to a double moral burden: one Balram feels for supporting Ashok in the first place and one for the murder he is planning to imminently commit.

And, intriguingly, this burden causes Balram to think back on his father’s parallel experience as a rickshaw driver. The memory links Balram to his familial past, as it is true that just as his father once drove people around, he is doing the same thing now. This is a reminder that he is still just as caught in the Rooster Coop as his father ever was, that he is still just as trapped in that inferior social position, and it therefore serves as a final spur to make him determined to commit the murder that will allow him to escape the Rooster Coop.

Chapter 8: The Seventh Night Quotes

“There is no end to things in India, Mr. Jiabao, as Mr. Ashok so correctly used to say. You’ll have to keep paying and paying the fuckers. But I complain about the police the way the rich complain; not the way the poor complain.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Mr. Ashok, Wen Jiabao
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram continues to explore the murky ethics of his new profession. He explains that he remains entrapped in the socially corrupt system despite his success.

Lest the reader believe that Balram’s entrepreneurial exploits have allowed him to fully transcend Indian society, our narrator assures us that corruption still predominates. That “there is no end to things in India” implies that his single success has not led to a full-fledged revolution: He cannot overthrow a complete social system but rather must continue to operate within its confines. “The fuckers” may have changed names for Balram, but the process of “paying and paying” continues. His newfound success does not change that fundamental system but only his relationship to it—complaining as “the rich complain.”

Balram’s point here also helps explain away his continued corrupt actions: the reader might expect a utopian ending in which he acts with perfect morality and without regard for the corrupt Indian government. But Balram instead justifies his behaviors by pointing out that even the white tiger is beholden to his society, and that, given that no one can escape the world, it's better to be a rich person in it than a poor person in it.

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Mr. Ashok Character Timeline in The White Tiger

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Ashok appears in The White Tiger. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The First Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Indian entrepreneur Balram Halwai (alias Ashok Sharma), the novel’s narrator and protagonist, begins composing a letter to Chinese official Wen Jiabao,... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...a slave. When he returns to the village years later with his wealthy master Mr. Ashok and his mistress Pinky Madam, he finally gets the courage to visit the fort alone.... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Second Night
Education Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...comments that he continues to feel a sense of loyalty and closeness to the murdered Ashok and his former wife, Pinky Madam. He attributes many of his best ideas to Ashok... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Balram first meets Ashok in the city of Dhanbad, where he moves after his father dies from tuberculosis in... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
...is not rewarded for this so-called “entrepreneurial” behavior until at one house he meets Mr. Ashok. Ashok is the son of the Stork of Laxmangahr, and has recently returned to India... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Ashok, the Stork, and Ashok’s older brother Mukesh Sir (also known as “the Mongoose”), question Balram... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Balram gets his first opportunity to drive Ashok and his wife in the Honda City when Ashok decides to visit Laxmangahr, their shared... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Fifth Night
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...back to the US, leaving India forever and putting an end to her marriage. Later, Ashok becomes furious with Balram for helping Pinky escape and nearly throws Balram over a railing,... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The Mongoose arrives in Delhi to help Ashok through his separation from Pinky, and also bearing a letter to Balram from Kusum Granny.... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Sixth Morning
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
...Delhi corrupted him, made him capable of murder and rebellion, only after the city corrupted Ashok. After Pinky's departure, Ashok begins going out to bars and clubs at night. As his... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
During one of Ashok’s evenings out, Balram wanders into a nearby bookshop to pass the time. He chats with... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
The following evening, Balram drives Ashok around the city to deliver bribes. One minister’s assistant joins Ashok in the car and... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Sixth Night
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Soon after Ashok’s evening with the minister’s assistant, Balram asks Vitiligo Lips to find him a golden haired... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Using the money he stole from Ashok, Balram hires a golden-haired prostitute with the help of Vitiligo Lips. To his disappointment, she... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
When Balram returns home, Ashok is waiting for him in the servants’ quarters. Ashok claims that he is tired of... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Ashok continues to bribe ministers on schedule, distributing money in a red, Italian leather bag. One... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
The following day, Balram finds an iron wrench in the parking lot outside Ashok’s apartment complex. Intending to use it as a weapon, he brings it back to his... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Shortly after Dharam’s arrival, Ashok learns that the ruling national government has lost the election to several oppositional parties, including... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
...companion discuss how they will be sure to get the correct amount of money from Ashok, and decide that it is not worth the trouble of threatening him with physical violence,... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
The following morning, Balram asks Ashok for time off so that he can take Dharam to the Delhi Zoo. Balram’s nerves... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
The following morning, Balramdrives Ashok from bank to bank to fill the red bag with money for his master’s final... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
The deed done, Balram covers his tracks as best he can and scatters Ashok’s body with stickers of the holy goddess Kali, thinking that they may help his dead... (full context)