Background: I work with, and occasionally travel to, India for my job. Now, I’ve done some international traveling in my 28 years, but India is totally different than any other place I’ve been. I find myself culture-shocking every time I go. I love it, but it’s crazy. And, since I usually only go for 2-3 weeks at a time, it usually turns out that by the time I do adjust to the culture-shockiness (and the time difference), it’s time to come home.
I’ve decided that anything I can read that helps me to understand Indian culture, therefore, is a sort of “professional development.” And I really did feel like this book helped me to understand modern Indian culture through the story of one (fictional) individual.
Balram (our main guy) had me hooked from the very beginning as he explained the “real India” in a series of letters (emails?) to a visiting dignitary. He spoke of his time in “The Darkness” (rural, village India): the politics and pressures of the complex family, the poor excuse for a government “school,” the realities of having to cut your education short to begin working to pay of the debts of a family that is under the oppressive and overpowering influence of the village landlord.
It seemed like the culture of “the Darkness” keeps anyone from ever being able to leave it, but Balram’s entrepreneurial spirit landed him a job as a driver for a wealthy family in Delhi...the city...”The Light.” Despite all the apparent opportunities in “The Light,” however, Balram found that his choices in life were still very limited. In the end, he evaluated his limited choices, and he chose his freedom. And it wasn’t pretty.
I did appreciate Balram’s story, even though it was dark. I feel like the book makes an important statement about the injustice and corruption that still exists in a relatively newly-independent India...
These days, the powerful of India would like you to believe that India is an up-and-coming, industrializing, developing (if not “developed’) nation. (They are the ones that freaked out and got all defensive when ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was released.) And...it’s true. That is a story that needs to be told. India is developing. Good things are happening. GREAT things are happening. (I would be happy to tell you about them sometime.)
There are millions of people, however, who don’t have the opportunity to participate in that development...they don’t have the “choices” that wealth and privilege offer. Their stories need to be told too. Hopefully, if those stories are told and heard, attention can be brought to the injustices that take away those choices. Then, eventually...hopefully...
Okay, that’s the end of my preachy rant. Thanks, Aravind Adiga, for telling Balram’s (fictional) story. I appreciated it.
Now...I want to read Salman Rushdie. ;)