The White Tiger is a story about how education, formal and otherwise, shapes individuals. Balram first receives his nickname –The White Tiger—in a classroom setting. Though over the course of the novel he attempts to embody his name by cultivating a ruthless, cunning streak and competing in Indian society, he originally earned the description for academic promise and integrity.
After being pulled out of school at an early age, Balram is left with only bits and pieces of a formal education. This leads him to refer to himself as a “half-baked” or “half-cooked” Indian. He sees his “half-cooked” education not as a weakness, but rather as one of the preconditions for an entrepreneurial spirit. He believes that having to take responsibility for one’s own education requires and builds an inventive, resourceful mind, and responds to the abrupt end of his schooling by learning what he can on the job. He claims he is not an original thinker, but rather an original listener, and pieces together an understanding of India by eavesdropping at work, transforming dead-end, menial jobs into learning opportunities.
As an adult, Balram respects traditional learning to a degree. He enjoys the proximity and physical presence of books, but also sneers at the musty, “foul taste” they leave in his mouth. Balram claims to learn more from “the road and the pavement”—from studying the constant changes of Indian society to cultivate the flexibility and adaptability he believes a self-made man should possess. In general, Balram emphasizes the importance of being attuned to one’s surroundings. As a child, he alone out of all the villagers becomes fascinated with the Black Fort: a beautiful old building in his town constructed by a foreign power years ago. He claims that the other villagers “remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world,” and that by contrast, his innate ability to find interest and beauty in his environment marked him early on as deserving of a better life.
Education Quotes in The White Tiger
“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.”
“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.”
“They remain slaves because they can’t see what is beautiful in this world.”
“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.)”
“That’s the one good thing I’ll say for myself. I’ve always been a big believer in education—especially my own.”
“I absorbed everything—that’s the amazing thing about entrepreneurs. We are like sponges—we absorb and grow.”
“You were looking for the key for years/ But the door was always open!”
“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.”
“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.”