“The Brown Parrot” – Guest Post by Pankaj Saksena
This review of “The White Tiger” by Pankaj is one of the finest I have come across and would have easily made it to any quality magazine/ news-paper…except that it will not…
Please read further to find out why.
*** ”The Brown Parrot” by Pankaj Saksena ***
On 14th October 2008, the Booker Committee announced in London that Aravind Adiga will get the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, ‘The White Tiger’. The writer, Aravind Adiga claims in an interview:
“At a time, when India is going through great changes and ,with China, is likely to inherit the world from the West, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society”, he said, adding that the criticism by writers like Flaubert, Balzac & Dickens in the 19th century helped England and France become better societies.1
In a single breath, Adiga takes upon his young self, the huge responsibility of highlighting all the ‘brutal injustices’ of India, while feeling proud enough to compare himself with Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens.
One should be cautious while making self‐comparisons with great personalities. Dickens wrote about London & the English society as it was, with no ideology to guide him. Almost all of his characters from David Copperfield to Oliver Twist have an autobiographical ring.
Adiga, on the other hand, is thrice removed from the society and the events he talks about in his book. Born in a metropolitan, Chennai, educated in Australia, the UK, and the US, he has nothing in common with his protagonist, Balram, who is a ‘low‐caste’ driver from Bihar. But the un‐authenticity of narration doesn’t bother Adiga. In fact, he thinks it is quite a duty of a writer to go beyond his own experience; to take a leap beyond reality; to plunge into pure fantasy. He
believes in writing by remote‐sensing.
I don’t think a novelist should just write about his own experience. Yes, I am the son of a doctor. Yes, I had a rigorous formal education, but for me the challenge as a novelist is to write about people who aren’t anything like me.2
Dickens’ works are not a judgment on the English society. His worldview evolves in his works. If we put them one over other, chronologically, we can see the intellectual development of Dickens, an observant mind becoming mature.
What we see in Adiga is not a natural evolution, but a sudden ideological revelation. He is not trying to learn anything. He knows it all. The ideas are pre‐arranged. In the absence of cultural roots he has an ideology to guide him. Secularism. Fantasy and remote‐sensing makes up for reality. Worn‐out formula‐writing makes up for creativity. Adiga has hitched his wagon to a star. And in Indian heavens, there is only one star. Secularism. It is the Ideology.
Flaubert, the other writer Adiga compares himself with, is as distant from him as possible. Madame Bovary is a psychological drama of an individual, and not a statement about the
French society, while Salambo is a purely artistic venture of recapturing a remote event of history. If Adiga had read even a single work of Flaubert he wouldn’t have compared him with any writer with a social agenda. It appears that Adiga just threw some random names of writers while being interviewed, without probably having read them.
Balzac is a different story. Again, Adiga has nothing in common with Balzac in the style and the grasp of the subject matter. Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. So‐called progressive writers in India are fond of comparing themselves with great realistic writers like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gorky, Dickens, Flaubert, Balzac etc as they think that Indian society is in an eternal need of a Bolshevik style revolution. Taking realism as the most abject form of self‐denigration, Indian writers harp on the ‘social injustices’ of India and feel themselves to be in the proud company of great writers.
On the level of language too, Adiga falls far too short. The style of narration doesn’t match with the projected aim of the book to point out the ‘brutal injustices’ of Indian society. His style takes him nearer to the post‐modern writing, while his aim is as ambitious as of a Communist ideologue. For this purpose Adiga inserts some of the most famous secular slogans in Balram’s speeches but his style of narration being post‐modern is personal and individualistic.
Adiga betrays his ignorance of rural Indian society ‐ not that he knows urban India ‐ at many points in the novel. For instance, he asserts that many water buffalos can be bought in seven thousand rupees. Let him purchase just one!3
So according to Adiga, the salient features of India are: Every traditional Indian village has a blue‐movie (pornographic) theatre.4 No one can enter Indian malls without wearing shoes. Shoes are compulsory.5 No low‐caste man can ever enter an Indian mall. Even if he enters stealthily, he is then caught, beaten and publicly humiliated.6 In India, if an owner runs over a man with his car, his driver has to go to jail instead.7 If a servant steals anything, then his entire family, back home, is ritually lynched to death. (their women being repeatedly raped.)8 Every Indian book stall sells ‘rape magazines’.9 There are separate markets for servants.10 In Indian brothels, they take extra money from servants, called as ‘Working‐class surcharge’.11 Sadhus, are actually homosexual hookers, who get paid to be buggered by foreigners.12 A common Hindu is worse than an Islamic terrorist.13 Indian caste system is worse, or at least as bad as the secret police of a totalitarian state.14
The last claim is the central theme of the novel. The caste system of India is called the ‘Rooster Coop’. Adiga compares the caste system with the secret police of a totalitarian state. This comparison is preposterous. Communism accounted for more than twenty million deaths in USSR, sixty‐five million in China, one million in Vietnam, two million in North Korea, two million in Cambodia, one million in Eastern Europe, 1.7 million in Africa, one and a half million in Afghanistan and millions of others.15 And all this in less than seventy years! Does Indian caste system in its history of more than five thousand years, has anything even remotely comparable to equal this record?
The only place where he innovates is, in hurting the Hindu religious sentiment. Thus, the polytheism of Hindus is mocked as:
How quickly do you think you could kiss 36,000,004 arses?16
Balram is called as the ‘sidekick’ of Krishna.17 The hero goes on to murder his employers, who are earlier called as Ram & Sita! Lord Krishna is called as a ‘chauffeur’.18 About, Kali, the Hindu goddess:
…I looked at the magnetic stickers of goddess Kali with her skulls and her long red tongue – I stuck my tongue out at the old witch. I yawned.19
Hanuman is called as the slave god of Hindus, an imposition which still makes the low‐caste slaves of the upper‐caste.
Do you know about Hanuman, sir? He was the faithful servant of the god Rama, and we worship him in our temples because he is a shining example of how to serve your masters with absolute fidelity, love and devotion…. These are the kinds of gods they have foisted on us, Mr. Jiabao. Understand, now, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in India. 20
In 1994 Christian missionary, father Augustine Kanjamala of Pune wrote an article in Deccan Chronicle titled, ‘Replies to Arun Shourie’. In the article he wrote, “Harijans worship deities of lower rank, while caste Hindus worship deities of higher rank. For instance, Hanuman is worshipped by Harijans and Rama is worshipped by upper caste in the same village…. Hanuman was the servant of Rama; Harijans are servants of higher caste Hindus. A close affinity between their hierarchy of gods and the hierarchy of society.”21
Later, indefatigable Arun Shourie had a face‐to‐face debate with father Kanjamal at Hyderabad. Arun Shourie said, “This is insinuation, it is deliberate distortion…. I can assure you that Hanuman Ji is as dear to high caste Hindus, as to low caste Hindu. If after two hundred years of Christianity in India… this is your understanding of India, much needs to be done…. But there is a question… Does the servant and master relationship, high caste and low caste relationship also apply to other Hindu gods? If not, then, how does your thesis stand? Nandi is ridden by the Shiva. Is it that the low caste people are asked to worship Nandi? And high caste should not worship Nandi? What you have written in your article is a foolish thing to write.”22
So in 1994, Arun Shourie systematically showed during the face‐to‐face debate that this insinuation ‘is a foolish thing to write’. But in 2008, we had another fool repeating the same missionary propaganda, of course recycled as literature this time.
Aravind Adiga is in the line of a new breed of writers like Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai who being Christian or having sympathy with Christianity, share a hatred of Hinduism and Hindu society. It is not a coincidence but a deliberate act of the Booker committee to award all the three. They have ignored really good novels from Pakistan. Why? Because by awarding Pakistani writers, like Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid, the Left will gain nothing in the bargain. You may call it the Booker Scandal. This is how the alliance of Marxists and the missionaries works against the Hindu society.
Writing a novel in India is neither an intellectual nor a spontaneous venture. It is organized on the lines of the formula set by the demands of secularism, seeded during the period of Independence struggle and developed and codified during the Nehruvian era.
The literary establishment in India expects from a writer: a complete submission to the Ideology, cramming all its popular slogans and clichés; choosing a story and then fit all the ‘facts’ in it; invent facts to patch up the gaping holes; and put in as many features of the formula as possible.
A writer is expected to follow the secular formula, which is to show how Hinduism is inferior to other religions; how superstitious and stupid Hindus are; how evil caste‐system is; how vile Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are and how suppressed Shudras are. Show how violent Hindu mythology is, while the very word of Islam means peace. Show that just like Islam and Christianity, Hinduism is also an import in India, having no original claim. Make Hindu history in India as short as possible. At the same time, extend the Christian and Islamic claims on Indian soil as long back in history as possible.23 Throw in some exotic stories of widow burning, caste discrimination, infanticide etc. to pepper this secular curry.
Do not, in any case, criticize Islam! Try to extol its virtues, and if not possible just keep mum about its atrocities. Show how they are extremely discriminated in every field such as education and employment. Also, do not criticize Christianity and their violent conversion activities.
Shift the focus of readers from primary problems like the Islamic destruction of India to secondary problems like corruption, poverty, population, unemployment etc.
This is the formula which guides every new book and every new writer in India. There is no new voice, no new question, nothing new under the sky. All has been discovered. Every question has been asked, every answer has been given by the Formula, and every problem has been solved by it. What remains to be done is to repeat the secular slogans again and again. For this no tigers are required. Parrots are more than enough for the job.
This formula has a history, which is very well portrayed by Dr. Ravi Shanker Kapoor in his book More Equal than Others: A Study of the Indian Left, 2000.24 The literary establishment of India is guided by the leftist intellectuals. All over the world, the Communists have always infiltrated the institutions in order to influence the public opinion. Giving these institutions a neutral veneer, they sell Communist propaganda without letting the masses know the truth behind it. They also fool some intellectuals in furthering their propaganda. So Bengal Friends of the Soviet Union (BFOTSU) was created by the blessings of Rabindranath Tagore.25
Most importantly the leftists have infiltrated all the literary, arts and fine arts institutions in India. Thus pro‐communist All India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) was formed in which eminent people like Mulk Raj Anand, Munshi Premchand, Sarojini Naidu, Kirshan Chander, KA Abbas, Shivdan Singh Chauhan, Ramananda Chatterjee and Ram Bilas Sharma participated.26 In the field of theater too, the influence of the leftists was predominant. The Indian People’s Theater Association (IPTA) is still very influential in India and continues to shape the world‐view of the youth.27
Novels in India, just like the Bollywood movies are produced according to the guidelines dictated by the establishment. If a new writer follows the secular formula, then his books will be bought by all the schools, colleges, universities and most importantly, all the libraries across the country. For a year or two he will be interviewed by the media, invited to speak on the ‘problems’ of India and their ‘solutions’. The ‘intellectual circles’ of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata will throw some parties for them where these writers will fume and fret about the evils of Indian society. Pretty secure career.
Dr. Ravi Shanker Kapoor elaborates in another of his book How India’s Intellectuals Spread Lies, (2007) 28 that the motive of all this effort is to drill guilt into the hearts and minds of the Hindu majority. So all the ills of Indian society are blamed on Hindus. Adiga too indulges in guiltmongering against Hindus. The Leftists have been largely successful in their endeavors. Hindus have been defensive.
The guilt pervades further, permeating the public debate, infecting the body‐politic, dominating the minds and hearts of those who matter… 29 In India, more than half a century of guilt‐mongering and other Leftist tricks have created a climate of opinion in which Marxist lies pass of as gospel truth.30
This is what Nobel Laureate, V S Naipaul resents when he comments about Indian writing.
Commenting on Nirad Chaudhari’s intellectual incompetence, Naipaul says:
Sixty years after Independence that problem is still there. India has no autonomous intellectual life.31
His words ring quite true in the context of Indian writers in general and Adiga in particular. There is no autonomous intellectual life in India. The literary concepts are dictated by the secular establishment.
… no national literature has been created like this at such a remove, where the books are published by people outside, judged by people outside, and read to a large extent by people outside.32
Yes! No national literature has ever been created in a foreign language. In spite of tall claims and revolutionary agenda, the paradox of Indian English writing remains. The paradox of a literature divorced from its native language. Indian writers rarely speak and never read or write in any of the Indian languages.
Most of the Indian writers who have won awards like Booker, no longer live in India or have no connections with the rural India which they claim to write about. They are rootless and hence their works lack authenticity. More the rootlessness, more the arrogance. Thus Arundhati Roy writes about the sexual attraction between zygotic brother and sister; Kiran Desai talks about non‐existent ‘Garwhali Terrorism’, but not about the existent Islamic or Naxalite terrorism; and Adiga is worried about the pornographic theatre in Indian villages.
Comparing Indian literature with Russian, Naipaul comments:
In the nineteenth century, Dostoyevsky and Turgenev and Gogol and Herzen lived for some time outside their native Russia; but they wrote in Russian for Russian readers and (for all of them except Herzen) Russia was where they were published and had their readers. Russia was where their ideas fermented.
Nineteenth‐century Russian writing created an idea of the Russian character and the Russian soul. There is no equivalent creation, or the beginning of one, in Indian writing. India remains hidden. Indian writers, to speak generally, seem to know only about their own families, and their places of work. It is the Indian way of living and consequently the Indian way of seeing. The rest of the country is taken for granted, and seen superficially, as it was even by the young Nehru…33
So true and so fitting on a writer like Adiga. The establishment prefers imitation which is safe over innovation which can be dangerous, ideology over reality, slogans and clichés over facts and truth. An ideological world‐view makes up for the ignorance of history. A concern for the ‘brutal injustices’ of India, makes up for the lack of creative writing. Of course the ‘brutal injustices’ exclude Islamic terrorism and missionary activities.
No writer is recognized by the secular establishment if he doesn’t confirm fully to the Formula. The mechanism which keeps the writer on track can be best described by Adiga’s own metaphor for the caste‐system, the ‘Rooster Coop’. This Rooster Coop is maintained by the Formula, manned by their faithful ‘intellectuals’. The Coop is full of parrots who endlessly repeat the secular slogans. Once in a while if a parrot takes courage to break out of the coop and sing a different tune, he is immediately silenced by the intellectual community, Indian media and academia. His name is tarnished, his reputation destroyed, his positions in the Coop, lost. He is made to feel the fault of his heretic ways and finally he is brought back to the fold. Almost all of those who contribute to this mechanism are themselves the captives of the Coop. But as Adiga would have it, the Coop has a mechanism of its own.
The parrots imprisoned by this Coop help the Coop to remain intact. If one of their fellow parrot ever tries to do some unparroty acts, then his legs are pulled back by his own mates. Thus no one is ever allowed to
leave this Rooster Coop of Secularism. The system goes on. The Coop remains intact. There are ever new parrots in the Coop, but all of them keep parroting the old tune. Adiga is no different.
Poverty and corruption are made a fetish in Indian writing, as if they are not secondary problem having some primary cause, but the basic instinct of the Indian civilization. If a writer tries to probe the primary problems then he is immediately labeled as anti‐poor, fascist and Hindu fundamentalist. The Coop is so strong that no insider is able to see the truth. Only an outsider like Naipaul is able to perceive the reality and express it courageously. Recognizing India as a wounded civilization he goes back to medieval times to search for the primary problems of India:
There is a new kind of coming and going in the world these days. Arabia, lucky again, has spread beyond its deserts. And India is again at the periphery of this new Arabian world, as much as it had been in the eight century, when the new religion of Islam spread in all directions and the Arabs – led, it is said, by a seventeen year‐old boy – overran the Indian kingdom of Sind. That was only an episode, the historians say. But Sind is not a part of India today; India has shrunk since that Arab incursion. No civilization was so little equipped to cope with the outside world; no country was so easily raided and plundered, and learned so little from its disasters.34
Naipaul goes beyond the immediate and the superficial. He goes beyond poverty, unemployment and other clichés and finds the root of the present Indian misery in its Islamic defeat during the middle ages.
… its [India’s] independence has meant more than the going away of the British; that the India to which Independence came was a land of far older defeat; that the purely Indian past died a long time ago.35
He thinks it is necessary to go beyond these secondary causes:
An inquiry about India, even an inquiry about the Emergency has quickly to go beyond the political. It has to be an inquiry about Indian attitudes: it has to be an inquiry about the civilization itself, as it is.36
But these are untouchable subjects in the Rooster Coop of India. With every new addition in the Secular Indian tradition, the writers become even more confident of their worn‐out formula. Not surprisingly, Naipaul has this to say about Indian writers:
The education of the new Indian writers – and nowadays some of them have even been to writing schools – also gets in the way. It seems to them they have the most enormous choice when, in imitation of the successful people who have gone before, they settle down to do their own book. They are not bursting with a wish to say anything. Nothing is going to force itself out in its own way; they are guided in the main by imitation…. This is where India begins to get lost…37
Imitation is the hallmark of Indian formula‐writing. Adiga is an imitation of his predecessors like
Arundhati Roy, who were an imitation of writers like Mulk Raj Anand & Nirad Chaudhary, who in turn were an imitation of yet others… a tradition of imitation going back to the times of Lord Macaulay. In fact, he inaugurated this tradition in India in his famous note to Lord Bentinck, the then Governor‐General of India ‐ Minute of Education on India in February 1835:
We must at present do our best to form a class who maybe interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; the class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.38
This defines Adiga’s intellectual ancestry. In many ways, Adiga’s book is not different from ‘Untouchable’ of Mulk Raj Anand, as artificial, as superficial, as far from reality, as incapable of asking questions, as faithful in following the intellectually bankrupt tradition of Secularism.
Looking at the ruins of the Hindu kingdom Vijaynagar, at the hands of Muslims, Naipaul reflects over the origin of the current intellectual bankruptcy of India:
…I began to wonder about the intellectual depletion that must have come to India with the invasions and conquests of the last thousand years. What happened in Vijaynagar happened, in varying degrees, in other parts of the country. In the north, ruin lies on ruin: Moslem ruin on Hindu ruin… In the history books, in the accounts of wars and conquests and plunder, the intellectual depletion passes unnoticed… India absorbs and outlasts its conquerors, Indians say. But at Vijaynagar, among the pilgrims, I wondered whether intellectually for a thousand years India hadn’t always retreated before its conquerors and whether, in its periods of apparent revival, Indian hadn’t only been making itself archaic again, intellectually smaller, always vulnerable.
The crisis of India is not only political or economic. The larger crisis is of a wounded old civilization that has at last become aware of its inadequacies and is without the intellectual means to move ahead.39
The imitation has seeped into the sub‐conscious of Indian psyche, and Indians are no longer aware of it. Thus Adiga thinks of himself as pioneer in bringing out the problems of India, but he is just parroting the secular slogans:
The middle classes think of themselves still as victims of colonial rule. But there is no point anymore in someone like me thinking of myself as a victim of a colonial oppressor.40
Commenting on India’s inability to judge, Naipaul says:
India has no means of judging. India is hard and materialist. What it knows best about Indian writers and books are their advances and their prizes. There is little discussion about the substance of a book or its literary quality or the point of view of the writer. Much keeps on being said in the Indian press about Indian writing as an aspect of the larger modern Indian success, but literary criticism is still hardly known as an art. The most important judgments of an Indian book continue to be imported.41
Nothing else can be more representative of the intellectual bankruptcy of rootless Indian writers, than the fact that they do not even realize it. India is full of parrots, green, red, white, black, brown… but none of them are conscious that they are actually parrots. Some even think that they are tigers…even white tigers!
1 http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/oct/16adiga.htm October 16, 2008
3 Adiga, Aravid. 2008. The White Tiger, Harper Collins India, New Delhi, p.236
4 Ibid. p.23
5 Ibid. p.148
6 Ibid. p.152
7 Ibid. p.309
8 Ibid. p.176‐177
9 Ibid. p.149
10 Ibid. p.204
11 Ibid. p.232
12 Ibid. p.275
13 Ibid. p.293‐294, 311
14 Ibid. p.175
15 Courtois, Stephane. The Black Book of Communism, Harvard University Press, 1999, p.4
16 Adiga, Aravid. 2008. The White Tiger, Harper Collins India, New Delhi, p.9
17 Ibid. p.14
18 Ibid. p.187
19 Ibid. p.156‐157
20 Ibid. p.19
21 Arun Shourie and his Christian Critics, 1995, Voice of India, New Delhi, p.45‐46
22 Arun Shourie and his Christian Critics, 1995, Voice of India, New Delhi, p.61‐62
23 Adiga, Aravid. 2008. The White Tiger, Harper Collins India, New Delhi, p.272. The theory used here is Aryan Invasion Theory, a tool used by the British against Indians to keep them divided and to justify their presence on the Indian soil, as the theory claims that Aryans or the North Indians are also foreigners and came from Central Asia to India around 1500 BC.
24 Kapoor, Ravi Shanker More Equal than Others: A Study of the Indian Left, Vision Books, New Delhi, 2000
25 Ibid. p. 20
26 Ibid. p. 21
27 Ibid. p. 22
28 Kapoor, Ravi Shanker How India’s Intellectuals Spread Lies, Vision Books, New Delhi, 2007
29 Ibid. p. 158
30 Ibid. p. 159
31 Naipaul V S, A Writer’s People, Picador India, 2007, p. 191
32 Ibid. p. 192
33 Ibid. p. 192‐193
34 Naipaul V S, India: A Wounded Civilization, Penguin India, 1979, p. 7
35 Ibid. p. 8
36 Ibid. p. 9
37 Naipaul V S, A Writer’s People, Picador India, 2007, p. 193
38 Macaulay, T B Minute of Education on India 2nd February 1835
39 Naipaul V S, India: A Wounded Civilization, Penguin India, 1979, p. 17‐18
40 http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/oct/16adiga.htm October 16, 2008
41 Naipaul V S, A Writer’s People, Picador India, 2007, p. 193‐194
*** End ***