Tag-Archive for ◊ autonomy ◊

Author:
• Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras, now Chennai, India. He grew up in Mangalore where he went to Canara High School. In1990 he graduated from St. Aloysius High School in Andhra Pradesh. He emigrated in the 90s with his family to Sydney Australia and continued his studies in St. James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, followed by English literature at Columbia College, Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1997. He also studied at Magdalen College, Oxford. Starting his career he worked as a journalist for the Financial Times and Time Magazine.

Aravind Adiga lives in Mumbai, India and has written three novels to date:
Last Man In Tower, published in 2011.
Between The Assassinations (short stories/essays) published in 2009.
The White Tiger, his début novel, published in 2008, has sold many copies in several countries – won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction and will be made into a film.

The story of The White Tiger is narrated during the course of seven nights as a series of letters addressed to the Chinese Prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who was visiting India at the time. The narrator is the novel’s main protagonist, the astute, determined, hard working, Balram Halwai. The Chinese premier wants “to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips.”

Balram writes the letter to Wen Jiabao from his 150-square-foot office, which is the only one in Bangalore“with its own chandelier”. The letter is about Indian entrepreneurship and explains that, despite the servitude, destitution and corruption prevailing socially and politically in present-day India, there is still some integrity to be found and some hope for mankind.

Balram Halwai writes about how, according to his school teacher, despite being gifted with an intelligence as rare as the white tiger, he couldn’t pursue his studies. He is born into an impoverished family and has to do menial work in the village tea shop. Nevertheless, he aspires to a better future than his father, the rickshaw puller, who died of tuberculosis in extreme poverty.

The highly ambitious Balram tries to improve his status by becoming a driver/servant to a rich landlord from his village as a first step to climbing the ladder to a better life. He wants to prove that he is indeed a rare feline species, an atypical Indian who refuses to perpetuate or be part of the “Rooster Coop” establishment, as he calls it metaphorically. His aim is to break the Indian ingrained class boundaries taken for granted by society from top to bottom and find a way out of this ambit to freedom.

Throughout the narrative the story changes rapidly, especially after Balram travels with his employer to New Delhi. The big capital becomes more of an eye-opener for the countryman that he is and makes him firmer in his beliefs, while kindling his desire for a brighter life. He becomes a “Thinking Man”, a sort of a philosopher, a thief and a murderer, before ending up as an amoral, successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.

He fulfils his ambition by becoming the proud owner of a taxi service through his auspicious Machiavellian plan of killing his master and stealing his money to finance his long coveted project – the White Tiger by now knows the law of the jungle. Balram watches his employers and proves to be a fast learner and a good observer, he becomes aware that in a corrupt society bribes are the only means to a successful business.

There are two phases in the novel, two different worlds: the rural dreary “Darkness”, the name given to a grim and rustic small village where Balram spent his young years in poverty before moving with Ashok, the young son of his employer, to the stimulating “Light” of the vibrant capital, New Delhi. In New Delhi he finds to his amazement the same constrained opportunities in the conventional, “Rooster Coop”. The wide breach he left behind, impersonated in the masters and chauffeurs/servants, is whirling around him. Even in this big city there is no escaping from class hierarchies and injustice.

The author is describing the current India and the considerable differences between the poor, backward rural areas and the advanced big cities. Through his writing the reader can detect his indignation, exasperation and concern about this important problem which might lead to an explosion one day if it is not addressed soon.

Aravind Adiga, tackles an array of subjects about Indian society. There is the caste system, the multiple religions and sects, the family ties and duties, democracy, corruption and advanced technology.

Balram Halwai, the main character, is interesting, witty and captivating, despite cool-bloodedly murdering his employer who treated him well. Nevertheless, in spite of his grim future in an unjust society maintained by the conservative mentality of people, is his act justified or even excusable? Couldn’t he find another way to attain his bid for autonomy without resorting to drastic measures? Knowing that reprisals will be swift on his family who will be killed because of his deed, as is customary in his village, are we to look upon him as a utopian, a rebel, a visionary or a common ruthless rogue, a social Machiavellian climber?

Through his main, cynical protagonist, the author is addressing the imperative future adjustments that have to be made in India, between the haves and the have nots. The well-being of citizens needs to be part of the economic prosperity of a country, as Balram says very succinctly to Wen Jiabao: “Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many”.

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Author:
• Sunday, January 31st, 2010

Monica Ali was born in 1967 to a Bangladeshi father and an English mother in Dhaka, which was at the time part of East Pakistan. Her parents moved to Bolton in England when she was three years old. Her father became a teacher at the Open University and her mother a counsellor.

Monica Ali attended Bolton Girls’ School, followed by Wadham College in Oxford, where she read Economics, Philosophy and Politics. Currently she lives in South London with her husband and two children.

Monica Ali was short-listed in 2003 for the Man Booker Prize for fiction, for the Guardian First Book Award and for the British Book Awards, Literary Fiction Award, for her first novel Brick Lane, published in June of the same year.

Brick Lane was followed by Alentejo Blue, set in Portugal and published in June 2006, followed by In The Kitchen, published in April 2009. Brick Lane was made into a film, which won a British drama film award in 2007.

The novel and the film created a controversy among the Bangladeshi community living in England because they didn’t recognise themselves in Monica Ali’s negative portrayal of the community as being uneducated, backward and rough, which was considered an insult. They claimed that the novel encouraged “pro-racist, anti-social stereotypes”.

Brick Lane is the story of the Bangladeshi Muslim community living post 9/11 in the East End of London but in particular, the story of Nazneen, her husband Chanu and Hasina, Nazneen’s good looking sister, who lives in Bangladesh and who was disowned by her family for eloping at the age of sixteen with her lover and marrying him. Hasina reveals her chaotic day to day life in Dhaka through a series of regular sweet, naïve and sometimes unintentionally funny, sometimes terribly sad letters sent to her sister in London in pidgin English.

Nazneen often goes back to her childhood in her little village in the countryside of Bangladesh, reminiscing about her happy, innocent and carefree childhood with her younger sister Hasina, which now contrasts with her miserable life in her council flat in a tall block in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

Nazneen arrives in London at the age of eighteen, after an arranged marriage with Chanu, who is already established in London and who is unattractive and twice her age. She can’t speak English and has to adapt to her new life in a foreign country with a husband who, although basically kind-hearted, is frustrated for not being able to fulfil his dreams and carry his plans to fruition. He believes to be above most of the Bangladeshi community who are uneducated and lacking a great deal of culture.

Chanu resents the attitude of his superiors who fail to recognise his talent and ingenuity. He considers himself to be a gem in the rough and has a high opinion of himself which makes him a pompous, funny character despite his lucidity and his awareness of the conflict between the first and second generation immigrants, which, to his horror, was portrayed by his eldest daughter Shahana and which made him decide to repatriate his whole family back to Bangladesh.

The strong element of fate which is overwhelming in the novel is challenged, first by rebellious Hasina, who took her fate into her own hands by eloping with the man she loved and then by the submissive Nazneen who goes through different emotional conflicts: the never ending quest for fate and free will, her religious up-bringing and the cultural differences she faces by being a Muslim living in a secular big city.

She carried out small rebellious acts at the beginning of her marriage but her aspiration for autonomy started with her attraction to the handsome, young political enthusiast, Karim, which evolved into a physical and pecuniary independence and the discovery of her freedom of choice in a male dominated community.

The eighteen-year old, once subdued and obedient wife, matures into a forthright independent woman. She discovers her own force and will power, something she was unaware of. She will not be controlled by fate, she will take her own decisions, like not following her husband by going back home. She will remain in London, she will work and look after herself and her two daughters.

Nazneen believes in herself now and knows that she is capable of taking charge of her own destiny.

Brick Lane is a contemporary, and humane story, the characters are shown with all their complexities and are described realistically and in detail whether it’s Mrs Islam, the hypochondriac, evil and manipulative usurer, or Razia the friendly and strong will-powered neighbour, or Shahana, the refractory, provocative and westernised teenage-daughter, or the sweet second daughter, little Bibi who is even tempered, quiet and hard working.

Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is a post-colonial novel written with a great deal of compassion and optimistic hope.

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