Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The White TIger on Caste

"I should explain a thing or two about caste. Even Indians get confused about this world, especially educated Indians in the cities. They'll make a mess of explaining it to you. But it's simple, really.

Let me start with me.

See: Halwai, my name means 'sweet-maker'.

That's my caste, my destiny. Everyone in the Darkness who knows that name knows all about me at once. That's why Kishan and I kept getting jobs at sweet shops wherever we went. The owner thought, Ah, they're Halwais, making sweets and tea is in their blood.

But if we were Halwais, then why was my father not making sweets but pulling a rickshaw? Why did I grow up breaking coals and wiping tables, instead of eating gulab jamuns and sweet pastries when and where I chose to. Why was I lean and dark and cunning, and not fat and creamy-skinned and smiling, like a boy raised on sweets would be?

See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo. A clean, well-kept orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy. Goldsmiths here. Cowherds here. Landlords there. The man called Halwai made sweets. The man called cowherd tended cows. The untouchable cleaned faeces. Landlords were kind to their serfs. Women covered their heads with a veil and turned their eyes to the ground when talking to strange men.

And then, thanks to all those politicians in Delhi, on the fifteenth of August 1947 -- the day the British left -- the cages had been let open; the animals had attacked and ripped each other apart and jungle law replaced zoo law. Those that were the most vicious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else up, and grown big bellies. That was all that counted now, the size of your belly. It didn't matter whether you were a woman, a Muslim, an untouchable: anyone with a belly could rise up.

My father's father must have been a real Halwai, a sweet-maker, but when he inherited the shop, a member of some other caste must have stolen it from him with the help of the police. My father had not had the belly to fight back. That's why he had fallen all the way to the mud, to the level of the rickshaw puller. That's why I was cheated of my destiny to be fat, and creamy-skinned, and smiling.

To sum up -- in the olden days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies.

And only two destinies: eat -- or get eaten up."

The White Tiger
Aravind Adiga

Man Booker Prize winner 2008

1 comment:

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