Soon after Ashok’s evening with the minister’s assistant, Balram asks Vitiligo Lips to find him a golden haired prostitute. He also asks the older driver for advice on how to cheat his master. Balram begins selling petrol from the Honda City’s tank, visiting corrupt mechanics that overcharge for repairs, and using the car as a freelance taxi. He finds that each time he cheats Ashok, he doesn’t feel guilt but rage. Balram claims that he was “growing a belly” at last.
Balram used to see Ashok as being better than him. As he ceases to be idealistic about Ashok, he starts to want what Ashok has—prostitutes, money—to believe that he deserves these things just as much as Ashok does. And the more Balram steals, the more he realizes how much less he still has than his master. He understands the size of the inequality between them, and rage drives him to want everything .
Using the money he stole from Ashok, Balram hires a golden-haired prostitute with the help of Vitiligo Lips. To his disappointment, she is not nearly as attractive as Ashok’s Ukrainian girl. He learns that her name means, “Girl” just his former name, “Munna,” means “Boy” in Hindi. Balram discovers quickly that the girl’s hair is not naturally blonde but dyed, and gets into a brawl with the manager. He is thrown out of the hotel without having had sex at all.
This episode only fuels Balram’s growing frustration with the inequality between rich and poor. Even when he attempts to buy himself a pleasure that his wealthy master enjoys, the quality of the experience falls short. On the one hand, he is taken advantage of because of his low social standing. On the other, the lesson he can take from this is that the reason his “golden-haired prostitute” isn’t as good as Ashok’s is simply a matter of money. He could have what Ashok wants if he only had enough money.
When Balram returns home, Ashok is waiting for him in the servants’ quarters. Ashok claims that he is tired of living the comfortable yet soulless life of a rich Indian man. He says that he constantly allows himself to be exploited, and yet doesn’t have the courage to change his ways. He asks Balram to bring him to a teashop where he can eat like a “simple man.” At the teashop Balram orders Ashok enough food to feed a family, and watches resentfully as Ashok eats it all.
As Balram is starting to see himself as deserving of the things Ashok has, Ashok is starting to see the things he has as worthless. However, though Ashok’s complaints describe an authentic feeling he is having and his willingness to say them indicate a real closeness to Balram, the complaints about his aimless and empty life nonetheless only serve to reveal the great distance between master and servant. Ashok wants to experience how the “simple man” lives, but in doing so displays a willful ignorance about poverty in India by ordering and eating enough food to feed a family (and offering none of it to Balram).
Ashok continues to bribe ministers on schedule, distributing money in a red, Italian leather bag. One morning, Balram brings the red bag down to the car while Ashok finishes getting ready. He opens the bag and, dazzled by the enormous quantity of money inside, can’t rid himself of the thought of stealing it. He thinks to himself that taking the money wouldn’t in fact be stealing, but recovering what is rightfully owed him. Ashok planned to distribute the money to avoid paying income tax, which—had it been paid—would have gone to helping poor people like Balram.
Balram’s reasoning about stealing the money again highlights how the tremendous inequality between rich and poor in India complicates traditional notions of morality. Acts normally classified as immoral, such as stealing, seem justified when the target of the robbery belongs to a cruel and corrupt ruling class. Balram’s logic here mirrors that of Robin Hood, with the exception that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, while Balram is thinking about stealing from the rich and keeping everything.
Balram mulls over the possibility of stealing the money as he roams Delhi’s streets, seeing everywhere symbols of his own oppression and looking for a sign as to what he should do next. He stops at a book market where a Muslim bookseller reads him a poem: “You were looking for the key for years/ But the door was always open!” He asks the man if poetry can make a man “vanish,” then flees the bookseller’s suspicious gaze. He visits the butchers’ quarter in Old Delhi, where he sees a buffalo pulling a cart loaded with the heads of dead buffalos, the faces of which seem to resemble the faces of his own family.
On the one hand, the Muslim poet’s words seem to encourage Balram in moving forward with his plans to steal Ashok’s money, as if his struggles, his anger, and frustration are products only of his lack of understanding that he could change it at any time, that he could take what he wants by just taking this decisive step. On the other hand, the buffalo carting its terrible load reminds him of the fates that will fall upon his family members should he actually proceed to act.
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 room where –to his great surprise—he finds his young cousin Dharam. Balram then learns that Kusum sent Dharam to Delhi for Balram to mentor, along with a letter threatening to arrange a marriage for Balram in his absence. She also threatens to tell the Stork’s family that Balram hasn’t sent back any money in months. The new responsibility of caring for Dharam saves Balram “from the edge of the precipice,” and forces him to admit to himself that he has been plotting murder.
Throughout the novel, family loyalty and love often appear as weaknesses that keep an individual from being able to advance. Dharam’s arrival fits into this pattern: for better or for worse, it forces Balram to temporarily halt his plans to murder Ashok just when he had made up his mind to act, and postpones his taking a step to radically alter his future.
Shortly after Dharam’s arrival, Ashok learns that the ruling national government has lost the election to several oppositional parties, including the Great Socialist’s party. The Stork’s family had anticipated that the government would win by a landslide, and is frantic because they neglected to bribe the winning parties. Ashok hurries to fix the mess. Balram drives him to meet with two of the Great Socialist’s representatives and, after agreeing to pay a large sum of money, Ashok loans them the use of his car. Balram is shocked to discover that one of the men he is driving is his childhood hero Vijay, who has “changed uniforms again” for the suit and tie of an Indian businessman.
Vijay reappears in Balram’s life having now perfectly positioned himself within the ranks of the winning political party. Though Vijay’s success must have taken a great deal of work and strategy, Balram is particularly impressed by Vijay’s suit and tie. Balram’s admiration for Vijay’s new uniform implies that his idea of identity is flexible and surface-level: it largely has to do with observing and adopting outward appearances, and accumulating visible signs of wealth and power.
Over glasses of Johnny Walker Black whiskey, Vijay and his 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, as he doesn’t have the courage or cunning to avoid paying up. They move on to discuss the election, and in particular the good fortune that their party has a foothold in Bangalore, the city they believe holds the future of Indian business. After they exit the car, Balram takes the bottle of whiskey they left behind and smashes it on the pavement, creating a sharp-edged weapon.
The conversation of Vijay and the other man further indicates Ashok’s weakness and vulnerability to Balram. Balram used to idealize Ashok. These men seem to have only contempt for him. Note also how Balram’s “original listening” and general resourcefulness give him the murder weapon he needs and the idea of where to flee after committing the act: to Bangalore.
The following morning, Balram asks Ashok for time off so that he can take Dharam to the Delhi Zoo. Balram’s nerves are on edge all morning with the knowledge of the crime he plans to commit. When he and Dharam come upon a white tiger pacing back and forth in his cage, Balram locks eyes with the animal and faints. Back at the apartment, Balram dictates a letter for Dharam to write down. The letter is written as if from Dharam’s point of view, and ends with Dharam witnessing Balram regain consciousness from his faint, and Balram crying out that an apology to his Kusum Granny, but that he cannot keep living in a cage all his life. He orders Dharam to mail the letter to Kusum Granny as soon as he, Balram, leaves in the car with Ashok the next day.
Balram’s encounter with his namesake, the White Tiger, fortifies him in his decision to kill Ashok. It is as though seeing the tiger reminds him of his own inborn potential, of the special intelligence that has always set him apart from others, and that entitles him to act above certain moral and legal restrictions. He also confronts the future he faces should he decide not to take action: life as a caged animal, serving the rich. The apology he dictates in his letter to his grandmother reflects his knowledge that when he kills Ashok, he will also be sentencing the rest of his family members to death from Ashok’s family.
The following morning, Balramdrives Ashok from bank to bank to fill the red bag with money for his master’s final bribe. As they drive towards the Sheraton Hotel to deliver the complete sum, Balram pretends that there is a problem with one of the car’s wheels and pulls over. He convinces Ashok to exit the car, kneel down and examine the wheel. As Ashok does so, Balram brings the broken bottle of Johnny Walker Black down on Ashok’s head from behind, then turns him around and stabs him in the throat. (He remarks that this is how Muslims kill their chickens.) Balram explains that he killed Ashok rather than stunning him because he knows that Ashok’s family will brutally murder his own family once they discover Balram’s guilt: he is simply “getting his revenge in advance.”
Balram’s remark that he slit Ashok’s throat the way Muslims kill chickens situates his murder directly in the context of the Rooster Coop. He has escaped its logic by turning the tables on his master. However, Balram’s decision to kill Ashok as a form of “revenge in advance,” anticipating that Ashok’s family will take their revenge out on his own family, indicates that the Rooster Coop is still firmly in place, and nothing has changed. Though Balram has escaped, his family will be victims of the Coop’s cruel logic.
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 master’s soul reach heaven. He drives to the train station to make his escape, but is tortured with indecision about whether or not to rescue Dharam. He goes back to get his cousin in Gurgaon despite the risk of getting caught, and the two flee to Bangalore together.
After murdering his master in cold-blood, Balram spends valuable time trying to send Ashok’s soul to heaven, once again hinting at Balram’s continued instinct toward religious belief. He also rescues Dharam, the only family member he has the power to save. His contradictory behavior shows that he feels moral responsibility for his actions on some level: his sense of attachment and responsibility towards Ashok and his family is genuine, even though he has sentenced all of them to death.