The White Tiger

Balram Halwai Character Analysis

Born only with the name “Munna” – Boy – and by the end of the novel known as “Ashok Sharma,” Balram is the novel’s narrator and protagonist. The White Tiger is the story of his life as a self-declared “self-made entrepreneur”: a rickshaw driver’s son who climbs India’s social ladder to become a chauffer and later a successful businessman. He recounts his life story in a letter to visiting Chinese official Premier Jiabao, with the goal of educating the premier about entrepreneurship in India. He describes his journey, from growing up poor in the rural village of Laxmangahr to living the life of a successful businessman in Bangalore, with dry and cynical humor. He proudly admits to the corrupt and sometimes murderous schemes and behavior that helped him climb to the top of Indian Society. In order to survive in modern India, he has chosen to live on his own terms, founded on his sense of himself as a “white tiger”: a rare creature with superior intelligence subject, because of his specialness, to an alternative moral code that justifies any action that helps him get ahead.

Balram Halwai Quotes in The White Tiger

The The White Tiger quotes below are all either spoken by Balram Halwai or refer to Balram Halwai. 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 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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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“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:

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“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:

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“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:

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“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:

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

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

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Chapter 4: The Fourth Night Quotes

“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:

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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:

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“... 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:

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“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:

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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:

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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:

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“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:

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“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:

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“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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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“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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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“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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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“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:

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Balram Halwai Character Timeline in The White Tiger

The timeline below shows where the character Balram Halwai 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... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
To set the scene for Jiabao, Balram describes the luxurious Bangalore office from which he writes, and explains that he will stay... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Balram refers to himself as a “half-baked Indian” because he was prevented from completing his formal... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
To describe his physical appearance and basic biographical details, Balram references a police poster that was issued for his arrest three years ago after an... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram goes on to describe his native village of Laxmangahr, in the poor, rural “India of... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
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Throughout his youth Balram is surrounded by poverty, disease, and malnutrition. His destitute family lives at the mercy of... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram’s father Vikram Halwai scrapes together a living as a rickshaw driver. His one ambition is... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
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Balram’s school, though underfunded and run by a corrupt teacher who steals funds because he himself... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
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Balram ends this first installment of his story with a memory of the Black Fort: the... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Second Night
Education Theme Icon
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Balram comments that he continues to feel a sense of loyalty and closeness to the murdered... (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... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
After Balram’s father’s death, Kusum arranges Kishan’s marriage to a local girl in exchange for a large... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram’s “original listening” pays off. After hearing a miner discuss the high salaries earned by private... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Unfortunately, Balram’s instructor can’t help him find a job, and so Balram strikes out to search for... (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 about his caste and family background. Balram explains that his future masters ask these questions... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
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Balram convinces the Stork’s family of his trustworthiness and they take him on as a driver.... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
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Balram describes his relationship with Ram Persad, the family’s “number one” servant. (Balram is “number two.”)... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Balram gets his first opportunity to drive Ashok and his wife in the Honda City when... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Up near the fort, Balram looks down over Laxmangahr and spits. He compares this gesture to a poem by the... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Fourth Morning
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Balram resumes his letter to Premier Jiabao with a critique of Indian democracy, and warns him... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
...party dominated politics in the Darkness at the time of the first election in which Balram could vote. While the Great Socialist presents himself as a populist leader favoring the poor,... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
Balram recounts how on one election day, a rickshaw puller “went mad” and approached the polls,... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
After this brief history of Indian democracy as he knows it, Balram returns to describing the present elections. A few days after the trip to Laxmangahr, Vijay... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
The Nepali tells Balram about the couple’s move to Delhi, and that he will help him go in exchange... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Fifth Night
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Morality and Indian Society Theme Icon
...explain how and why his masters feel justified in framing him for the hit-and-run accident, Balram introduces the metaphor of the Rooster Coop. As he sees it, India’s poor are like... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Having signed away his life in taking responsibility for killing the child, Balram sits in his room terrified and alone until the Stork, recently arrived in Delhi, summons... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
A few days later, Pinky Madam wakes Balram early in the morning and has him drive her to the airport. She leaves Balram... (full context)
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...Delhi to help Ashok through his separation from Pinky, and also bearing a letter to Balram from Kusum Granny. Ashok and the Mongoose read aloud the letter, in which Kusum urges... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Sixth Morning
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Balram claims that Delhi corrupted him, made him capable of murder and rebellion, only after the... (full context)
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Education Theme Icon
During one of Ashok’s evenings out, Balram wanders into a nearby bookshop to pass the time. He chats with the bookseller and... (full context)
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The following evening, Balram drives Ashok around the city to deliver bribes. One minister’s assistant joins Ashok in the... (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 prostitute. He also asks the older... (full context)
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When Balram returns home, Ashok is waiting for him in the servants’ quarters. Ashok claims that he... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Balram mulls over the possibility of stealing the money as he roams Delhi’s streets, seeing everywhere... (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... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
Social Breakdown, Self-Interest, and Corruption Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Self-Made Man Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
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The following morning, Balram asks Ashok for time off so that he can take Dharam to the Delhi Zoo.... (full context)
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The following morning, Balramdrives Ashok from bank to bank to fill the red bag with money for his master’s... (full context)
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The deed done, Balram covers his tracks as best he can and scatters Ashok’s body with stickers of the... (full context)