Top positive review
Subaltern biography of an Indian town
18 March 2015
Kittur, sitting on the western coast of India 'between Goa and Calicut' is Aravind Adiga's Malgudi whose host of characters bring out the preoccupations of little town India with its plethora of caste, religious and moral conflicts. Purportedly a collection of short stories set in the seven- year period between the assassinations of prime minister Gandhi and her son however the stories translate easily to contemporary times as the issues involved are still very much alive.
Mangalore is the clear inspiration for Kittur not just in terms of geographical locale but also for its mix of religions , languages and castes. As with any collection of short stories some of the stories are sublime and others ordinary however the sublime ones clearly triumph and they live on in your mind.
Although not as biting as 'The White Tiger' Adiga still retains his feel for the pulse of subaltern India. Many of the themes and characters remind one of his most famous novel and it is a delight to see how they incubated in the author's mind and seeped into the novel which he wrote a few years later.
The effecting moments are many. For instance in the first story where a muslim boy in a desperate need of dignity develops a surrogate pride in Muslim achievements in far away north India only to be jolted back to reality when he finds himself tempted by an Islamic terrorist. The shuddering inferiority complex of a low caste mother in front of her Brahmin son and the conflicts wrecked on the boy himself as he tries to locate his true being holds a mirror to the continued prominence of caste in modern India.
Or the arresting story of a honest journalist who after realizing perchance the untruth of whatever he has written thus far seeks redemption by writing one true story at last. Or the sigh of a cart puller who laments the injustice in the world when he sees an elephant with almost no load striding in front of him even as he pulls a humongous load.
Or the touching story of a quack sexologist who sells fake sugar filled tablets to credulous youth finds himself assisting a young man to find a cure for an ailment that could be AIDS as he questions the justice in it all with the youth getting this terrible disease on 'his very first time'. Or the disillusioned communist who after a lifetime of keeping the faith rues that 'Americans had somehow won' and 'Marx had become mute'.
The white tiger showed a man who rose from the underclass with all it's attached miseries to break the glass ceiling and secure a good life. However the characters in this book barely attempt to break the mold and instead wallow in their travails with little hope in sight. However in the process they give us a glimpse into the lives of subaltern India.