The White Tiger

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Free Press edition of The White Tiger published in 2008.
Chapter 1: The First Night Quotes

“The story of my upbringing is the story of how a half-baked fellow is produced. But pay attention, Mr. Premier! Fully formed fellows, after twelve years of school and three years of university, wear nice suits, join companies, and take orders from other men for he rest of their lives. Entrepreneurs are made from half-baked clay.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:

As Balram begins to recount his personal narrative, he notes that he did not receive a formal education. He defends this experience by pointing out that it actually served him advantageously.

This passage marks the first point during which Balram seeks to recast his undesirable social position as instead a superior one. The term “half-baked” will reappear throughout the novel: Here it first might seem to be a negative descriptor, for it refers to someone who is only partially educated and thus not fully formed. Balram, however, asks the reader to ignore those preconceptions with the exhortation to Mr. Premier to “pay attention”: to read more closely the specific narrative instead of approaching it with assumptions about what makes someone successful.

The unexpected advantages of a “half-baked fellow” stem, for Balram, from adaptability and lack of conformity. He sees those who are "fully formed" as being monotonous and incapable of critical thought, because they have been conditioned from their schooling to “take orders” and thus to exist within the hierarchy. Balram’s rhetorical move is to equate “half-baked” with “entrepreneur,” thus taking qualities that most would consider to be a fault and cast them as the very qualities that have allowed him to succeed. The novel becomes, then, not only the story of Balram's life but also an attempt to redeem a class and type of person.


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“You, young man, are an intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow in this crowd of thugs and idiots. In any jungle, what is the rarest of animals—the creature that comes along only once in a generation?”
“The white tiger.”
“That’s what you are, in this jungle.”

Related Characters: The Inspector (speaker), Balram Halwai
Related Symbols: The White Tiger
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

While describing his flawed education, Balram recounts a pivotal moment in which he is promised a scholarship. His teacher called him a "white tiger," an image that he will adopt throughout the novel.

The white tiger stands, here, for both Balram’s faculties and his moral integrity. Between the descriptors of “intelligent” and “vivacious”—which speak only to talent—the teacher uses the most pivotal one: “honest.” Myriad references are made to the unscrupulous natures of other characters throughout the novel—the “thugs and idiots”—and thus Balram’s character is particularly unique because he maintains a moral compass. Indeed, the teacher argues that this is such a unique behavior that it “comes along only once in a generation.” This singularly ethical nature in Balram gives him grounds to receive the scholarship from the teacher and seems to set him apart from society.

Although this memory might seem very promising for Balram, the text’s use of animal imagery foreshadows how the protagonist will continue to be entrapped by social forces. The teacher may affirm that Balram is a white tiger, but he qualifies it with the phrase “in this jungle,” drawing attention to the wild and brutal environment in which Balram finds himself. Indeed, the promise of a scholarship will end unfulfilled due to the cruelty of the "animal" crime lords (The Stork, etc) who control his town. Thus even as the white tiger image marks Balram for his singularity of purpose and integrity, it also confirms that he must navigate and fight his way through a cruel, antagonistic environment in order to succeed.

“They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world.”

Related Symbols: The Black Fort
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

While describing the Black Fort, Balram observes that he has a unique capacity to see what is beautiful in the world. He believes that this quality sets him apart from others.

This passage shows that Balram’s model of the world divides people into two types: Certain people are “slaves” and trapped in their narrow position, while others are emancipated entrepreneurs like Balram. We might expect these differences to be based on social or economic status, but Balram sees them to be a matter of mental emancipation: more specifically, he believes it is the ability to “see what is beautiful” that allows him to think critically and creatively. Though the outcomes of this type of thinking are not yet evident, Balram will come to use this concept – aestheticism, or the ability to see beauty – as a way to categorize and make sense of his other experiences and talents. To see the Black Fort as beautiful signifies, then, not just the ability to regard something as aesthetic from a distance—but to more broadly find significance in the world. It is this earnest belief in the meaning of the world that will motivate Balram to pursue his goals.

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.

“Stories of rottenness and corruption are always the best stories, aren’t they?”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram recounts bringing his father to a hospital across the river from Laxmangahr at which there are no doctors. When a patient explains that the lack stems from the hospital’s corruption, Balram observes the way other people nearby are are interested to listen in to this despicable story.

This passage points out here the odd paradox in which negative, rather than positive, stories compel an audience. One might expect that these hospital-goers are looking for compassion or hope but instead they are drawn to a tale of “corruption” that only further explains the reasons for their lack of hope. Balram makes this comment even during the emotionally awful moment of his father’s death, an occasion that presumably should cause him to be upset and to find the story despicable. But instead, with his entrepreneurial observational skills, he zooms out to watch his own and others’ actions. Balram finds an abstract significance in this scene—and he learns that these awful tales are actually more attractive to an audience.

Once more, Balram returns to the importance of aesthetics: Just as he said that his ability to notice the beauty of Black Fort signaled his lack of enslavement, Balram believes that the aesthetic quality of “the best stories” redeems their “rottenness and corruption.” After all, the events being recounted by Balram should, by all accounts, be morally despicable to both protagonist and reader—and yet they are deeply enjoyable to both recount and read. The novel thus theorizes its own process of storytelling, in which the reader’s moral compass is seduced and shifted based on the appeal of Balram's narrative.

“That’s the one good thing I’ll say for myself. I’ve always been a big believer in education—especially my own.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram begins working for a teashop in Dhanbad and recalls his earlier work at a similar locale in Laxmanghar. He would rarely pay attention to his tasks but rather focus on listening to the conversations—a process he believes aided him with his education.

This passage clarifies the type of education that Balram finds important for an entrepreneur. Instead of succeeding in a formal schooling environment, he assimilates a broad swath of information from various customers at the tea shop. As a result, following instructions in his workplace is deemed unnecessary just as with any type of formal education. Once more, Balram here bucks socially-accepted notions of success in order to defend his unconventional behavior.

That Balram sees his belief in education as “the one good thing I’ll say for myself” indicates that he thinks of himself as a morally culpable person, as someone who has made unscrupulous decisions and therefore one for whom not much could be said. That he is a “believer in education” seems to mark him as more ethical, as this is a laudable perspective to hold; yet when he qualifies this point with “especially my own,” Balram reaffirms his more selfish nature. His interest is ultimately not in the abstract principle of education but rather in how education serves as a means to achieve his own ends.

“See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo... the day the British left—the cages had been let open; and the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

When Balram petitions a driving instructor for lessons, his request is received with skepticism due to his low social caste. This event moves him to describe the shifting social structures in India before and after the British empire.

Once more, Balram uses an extended animal metaphor in order to explain the way that people interact. In this analogy, the older India was a “zoo” because it was rigorously structured by the caste system: Each person (i.e. animal) was allotted a certain position based on his birth—and had little to no hope of ever changing that position. Yet after the British departed, Balram contends, the zoo transformed into a jungle. That is to say, extreme mobility was suddenly possible (as was the "animals" eating each other). In this way, the transformation to jungle law allows a white tiger like Balram to, regardless of caste position, rise to success.

Yet while this passage might present the shift from zoo to jungle as largely positive, Balram’s precise position on the matter remains unclear. “Jungle law” undergirds his ability to be an entrepreneur, but it is also deeply violent, as evidenced by his description of “attacked and ripped each other apart.” Similarly, the quick reference to India’s “days of greatness” implies that the country was more successful when it was more like a zoo—stricter and more beholden to caste. Balram thus holds an ambivalent perspective on the changing nature of Indian society—seeing both desirable mobility and undesirable unrest in the changes.

“To sum up—in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies. And only two destinies: eat—or get eaten up.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram continues to describe the changing caste system before and after British rule. He specifies that it has become far simpler: split into a binary division between the ambitious and unambitious instead of a multi-faceted caste system.

This passage partially obscures Balram’s precise perspective on the changing nature of Indian society until you think through it more carefully. Though the variegated nature of the “old days” might seem desirable due to the way it encompassed a range of lives and destinies, this old system would also have locked each person into the destiny in which they were born. Balram might describe the “two castes” of contemporary India with a certain bluntness, but the reader must remember that it is this exact reduction that will allow him to succeed in his endeavors. By reducing the system to just those with “Big Bellies” and “Small Bellies,” Balram makes ambition and wealth the only socially-meaningful factors. As a result, all animals can enter into the metaphorical jungle battle and can potentially rise to the top of society. Indeed, destiny is no longer a pre-assigned specified life but rather dependent on one’s individual ability to “eat—or get eaten up.” Simplicity, in this case, actually affords Balram greater entrepreneurial capacity, for he is bounded just by this one rule.

“I absorbed everything—that’s the amazing thing about entrepreneurs. We are like sponges—we absorb and grow.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Now a driver for the Stork’s family, Balram often finds himself in situations in which he can eavesdrop on political discussions. For instance while massaging the Stork, Balram observes that he can assimilate information and expand his entrepreneurial talents.

This passage reiterates the importance of listening to Balram’s model of the entrepreneur. His education here, as in the tea shop, is not a matter of acquiring formal knowledge but rather of engaging with the content available to him at all times. Seeing the entrepreneurs as a class of “sponges” reiterates that they need not be brilliant innovators or actively ferocious, but rather cautious and patient—taking advantage of all the nutrients surrounding them. That this will cause Balram to “grow” implies that it is part of his transformation from a small-bellied into a large-bellied man, for he expands by assimilating the ideas of those who have already succeeded.

Balram also uses this image to cast moments that would otherwise seem negative or subservient as instead quite positive. Though giving a foot massage would normally be a demeaning act, this activity is presented by Balram as quite desirable for him—because, by patiently performing this labor he is able to learn much more and better himself in ways than he otherwise could. Thus not only does the entrepreneurial mindset allow Balram to gain knowledge; it also lets him define his life in more favorable terms, to see present indignity as part of the hard work that will pay off in the end.

“The Devil, according to the Muslims, was once God’s sidekick, until he fought with Him and went freelance.”


Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Furious with his family, Balram spits on Laxmangahr to renounce his upbringing and place in the world. He connects the action to the way that the Devil rejected God.

By likening himself to the Devil, Balram firmly denies the social and ethical systems that restrict his entrepreneurial exploits. He believes, more than ever, that he should not be restricted by India's caste-based system; and he equates God with the socially-entrapping forces that he experiences by having been placed into his own particular "caste destiny." Balram's use of casual language like “sidekick” and “freelance” trivializes the theological event of Lucifer's rebellion against God, casting the devil not as an angel who rebelled against a defined celestial order but rather as a business underling who struck out on his own—implying that Balram could change his own destiny just as easily as one might go “freelance.”

Yet while Balram may casually equate business and religion, the symbolism of the Devil and God should not be taken lightly. While Balram may often be anachronistic and violent, he also often reveals a more spiritual and respectful personality. Likening himself to the devil, then, is a a moral choice with which he will struggle throughout the novel. Balram thus shows himself to be caught between ethical poles: On the one hand, he wants to maintain a respectful, moral, and spiritual nature—while at the same time doing so would force him to abandon his quest to achieve wealth and social ascendence.

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.

“We were like two separate cities—inside and outside the dark egg. I knew I was in the right city. But my father, if he were alive, would be sitting on that pavement... So I was in some way out of the car too, even while I was driving it.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Vikram Halwai
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram describes the experiences of driving Ashkok around Delhi and observing those outside of the car. He notes that he has more power than those on the street but also that his actual social position is hardly any better.

To explain how separate his existence is from those on the street, Balram uses the image of two cities. This metaphor implies that there are two overlapping cities in the same physical space—thus pointing to how varied of an experience two populations can have in it. The “dark egg” of the car divides the two, presenting Ashok and Balram’s city as womb-like and protected, while that of the street represents a far harsher reality. This image emphasizes, then, the scale of the social divide in Delhi, in particular as it pertains to who has access to transportation.

At the same time, the comment is deeply personal: Balram notes that his place is not fully in the car and that he metaphorically straddles the two cities. In particular, the reference to his father shows the continued effect that family heritage has on his psyche: Though he has previously renounced his family, Balram evidently believes that their place outside the dark egg causes him to be “in some way out of the car too.” Balram is thus tasked tasked with navigating these two simultaneous cities—a burden that will also serve as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

Chapter 5: The Fifth Night Quotes

“The greatest thing to come out of this country... is the Rooster Coop. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers...They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with human beings in this country.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram explains why he was blamed for his master’s crime by introducing the image of the Rooster Coop. He uses this metaphor repeatedly throughout the novel to describe the way that lower classes are trapped by those in power.

The Rooster Coop, Balram explains, is not just a normal means of social entrapment. It functions not only by containing its prisoners, but also by inspiring a paralyzing fear in them. Transparency allows still-alive roosters to “smell the blood” and “see the organs”; they are presented with stories and images of other roosters being punished. Therefore, the roosters are left feeling deeply scared and unwilling to resist, for they do not want to be similarly punished.

The way that Balram introduces the Rooster Coop is worth examining. That the Rooster Coop is “the greatest thing to come out of this country” presents the image ironically, as a successful cultural product. This sardonic language emphasizes first its potency—it is the “greatest” because it is effective—and second the way Balram sees his country to be deeply disappointing. The Coop, we should note, stands for the opposite of Balram’s entrepreneurial ideals: It discourages risk and maintains the status quo. It is a creation that prevents other creation.

“... 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.

“The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Wen Jiabao, Vitiligo-Lips
Related Symbols: The Rooster Coop
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Kusum Granny sends Balram a letter encouraging him to marry. While he is tempted, Balram eventually decides this choice will entrap him: He sees his family as a set of obstacles that are part of the Rooster Coop.

This passage adds an additional facet to the entrapping-mechanism of the Coop: the way roosters in the Coop prevent others from escaping. Previously Balram has described the way other servants from Ashok’s family have sought to halt his goals. Here it is not only unknown servants but also family members that play this role—for Balram repeatedly finds himself torn between pursuing his entrepreneurial exploits and following the wishes of Kusum Granny. Balram thus justifies his rejection of his family and of any affiliation with other servants based on the idea that they will keep him within the Coop.

Though this dynamic might imply that the roosters fight each other in order to escape the cage, Balram’s language explicitly resists that interpretation. His use of the passive voice in the phrases “Rooster Coop was doing”and “is guarded” indicates that these actions are not actively chosen by the roosters but rather stem from the entrapping social system. Indeed, the servants are not battling for a select few spots as “innovators, experiments, or entrepreneurs” but simply preventing anyone from gaining that power. They thus function as a self-encasing guard cohort that has adopted the logic of the cage owners.

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

“The city knew my secret... Even the road—the smooth, polished road of Delhi that is the finest in all of India—knew my secret.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

Having begun to fantasize about stealing the red bag of money, Balram becomes increasingly paranoid. He thinks that others on the street know of his intentions.

This passage shows how Balram has begun to think of himself in increasingly judgmental terms. He no longer considers himself to be superior to the others in the city and instead fixates on his “secret.” Indeed, he projects this guilty conscience on those around him, imagining that others see him as equally culpable. Anthropomorphizing the road only serves to reiterate the extent of this paranoia—for it assumes that the physical infrastructure of the city itself is tracking Balram’s every move and thought. This passage, then, speaks less to the actual conditions of Delhi and more to the manic psychological state in which Balram has found himself: ambivalent and already guilty about the crime he is about to commit.

“You were looking for the key for years/ But the door was always open!”

Related Characters: Muslim Bookseller (speaker), Balram Halwai
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram wanders through Delhi with the bribe money from Ashok. While doing so, he hears these lines from a poem spoken by a Muslim bookseller.

These unexpected phrases help provide Balram with the confidence he requires in order to commit the pivotal crime of the novel. He interprets them to mean that the “door” to personal and social improvement need not be opened with a mystical key—which would stand for a singular entrepreneurial idea—but simply requires him to have the courage to access the already-available options. The striking pertinence of this comment to Balram’s current situation presents the events-to-come as fated. But we could also interpret the connection as further evidence of his paranoid mindset: one that links even anecdotal and unrelated comments to his own life.

The line of poetry also offers a very different model of Indian society than that put forward previously by Balram. Whereas earlier descriptions of the Coop have repeatedly stressed the restrictive nature of Indian society, this passage does just the opposite: it implies that there are in fact no restrictions and that anyone is free to move between doors with complete ease. Once more, Balram presents his success as less the result of a genius idea and more from his ability to observe and act on social patterns.

“Let animals live like animals; let humans live like humans. That’s my whole philosophy in a sentence.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

While at the zoo, Balram returns to contemplate his metaphorical connection between humans and animals. Here he revises his earlier beliefs and pronounces his essential worldview.

Whereas before Balram would constantly equate humans and animals, here he sharply differentiates between the two. Animals that are in the zoo thus should be treated with certain restrictions, whereas humans should be entirely free. Balram implies that each species has a natural way of living that should be manifested correctly; and when social forces prevent that from happening, then something is at odds with his philosophy. Though this seems to be a fairly self-evident proposition, it bears recalling just how prevalent animal and cage imagery has been in the text. This sentence is therefore far more than a simple comment that humans should be treated well. It is also a rejection of the very symbolism Balram has spent the novel up to this point developing: his new philosophy implies that what he was doing before was incorrect—for it implicitly linked humans to animals in an ultimately demeaning and restrictive way. Of course, this new philosophy also gives Balram license to be free in the sense of doing whatever he wants without restriction, including murdering Ashok to take the bribe money for himself.

“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

“Now, despite my amazing success story, I don’t want to lose contact with the place where I got my real education in life. The road and the pavement.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

After murdering Ashok and absconding with the bribe money, Balram moves to Bangalore and uses the money to become a successful business entrepreneur. But he reminds the reader that he stays connected to average people and patterns in the city.

This passage preempts a judgement that many readers would make of Balram’s character: that once he has succeeded in his endeavors, he would abandon the lower social caste of his past and assimilate fully into the lives of the large-bellied men. Instead, Balram explains, he continues to adhere to the unconventional “real education” that allowed him to succeed in the first place: the “original listening” to the ideas of others on the street. Indeed, it was both the metaphorical and literal pavement that gave Balram the idea for his business, ultimately affirming the success of his technique. If earlier Balram sought to turn the drawback of being “half-baked” into a desirable quality, here he reconfirms those benefits—by expressing a continued adherence even once he has succeeded.

At the same time, Balram's concern that the reader might judge him for whether or not he would abandon the streets, when he has just described how he achieved business success through murder and theft, seems more than a little misplaced! Through the dissonance of what Balram thinks would concern us as readers and what more likely does offers, Adiga, the novelist, space to critique the Indian society that has produced Balram. As portrayed by Adiga, it is a place so focused on success and its achievement that little things like murder don't even really fit into Balram's moral calculus. Balram remains irrepressible and attractive as a character to the end of the novel. But the India that created Balram is, at the same time, witheringly critiqued by the novel. 

The city has its share of thugs and politicians. It’s just that here, if a man wants to be good, he can be good. In Laxmangarh, he doesn’t even have this choice. This is the difference between this India and that India; the choice.”

Related Characters: Muslim Bookseller (speaker), Balram Halwai
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

After one of his drivers kills a young boy, Balram visits the family to offer his condolences and financial compensation. He extrapolates this moment to offer a broader comment on different sub-societies in India.

The difference between Laxmangarh and Bangalore, for Balram, is that the first forestalls individual agency and social mobility. As such, one “doesn’t even have this choice” to act morally or not. This distinction speaks both to Balram’s entrepreneurial success as well as to the shifting social conditions in Indian society—which are slowly loosening the strictness of the Rooster Coop that previously dominated “that India.” A man “can be good” in Bangalore precisely because so many restrictions have been eased, because he has the freedom to also choose not to be good. (Remeber that earlier in the novel Balram compared himself to the devil who rebelled against God, who, Balram might say, chose free will rather than enforced goodness.)

This passage also helps to clarify the reason that Balram sees himself to be a relatively ethical person. Although the average reader might consider his actions to be no less corrupt than those of the previous animal overlords, Balram contends that there is a clear shift. That shift does not stem so much from the way he does business—he continues to bribe officials and avoid guilt—but from the awareness he holds of the flawed nature of his actions. 

“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.

“Yet...even if they throw me in jail...Ill say it was all worthwhile to know, just for a day, just for an hours, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant. I think I am ready to have children, Mr. Premier.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker), Wen Jiabao
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel comes to a close, Balram considers the fact that he may be caught for his murder. He continues to defend his choice, observing that even if he were punished, his moment of freedom would alone justify the punishment.

That living freely “just for a minute” would make worthwhile being thrown in jail speaks to the high value that Balram attributes to his freedom. Intriguingly, the value he attributes to freedom derives less from the experience of being free and rather from the knowledge that he is free: the mere awareness of what it feels like “not to be a servant.” Balram thus raises his individual liberty above all other values and experiences, defining it to be his singular and central goal in life.

The reference to having children is far less straightforward. Recall that Balram was previously attracted to marriage and to family life but believed that it would distract him from his goals. Similarly, we have seen that the family is a critical component of the Rooster Coop, which obstructs social mobility. Thus Balram’s feeling that he is “ready” for children might indicate that his success has sufficiently guarded him from those threats: He can have children because he has already emancipated himself (and his future children) from familial entrapment. At the same time, that Balram would see himself as ready for children only after achieving business success founded on murder and theft serves once more as a condemnation of the Indian society in which he lives, that much make such a sentiment logical.

“People in this country are still waiting for the war of their freedom to come from somewhere else...That will never happen. Every man must make his own Benaras. The book of your revolution sits in the pit of your belly, young Indian. Crap it out, and read.”

Related Characters: Balram Halwai (speaker)
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

Balram’s final statements return to a broad condemnation of Indian society. He challenges others to be less passive and to recognize that they are capable of revolutionary activity if they simply take an active stand.

This passage references and rejects a common Marxist rhetoric of revolution. In particular, Balram calls on common people to rise up against their oppressors instead of passively accepting their lot in life. His issue with “people in this country” is that they believe someone else will induce a massive society shift when in fact such a change will only ever arise from individual action. Consider, after all, the derision Balram directed toward the Great Socialist’s party, which offers a false form of that exact revolution.

Balram also here references actual spiritual and political movements, but only to undermine them and to argue that such institutions will fail to bring about real change. “Benares” is another name for Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India and the site of many pilgrimages. A single “book of your revolution” recalls a text like the Communist Manifest from Marx. But Balram believes that the redemption one seeks in Varanasi is created internally and that a revolution’s manifest “sits in the pit of your belly”: it is a result of individual ambition—even avarice—and it is deeply personal. Thus Balram closes the novel by extrapolating his own anecdotal story to offer a model of how others in Indian society could succeed: Not by following a singular or ideological model but by crafting (crapping) their own individual revolutions.

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