November 
2008

Vol 8-No. 5


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Aravind Adiga Wins Prestigious Booker Prize



Indian novelist 33-year-old Aravind Adiga’s book “The White Tiger”,
set against the backdrop of India's growing wealth gap, was on Oct 15 declared the winner of the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction for 2008. 

The award, which honors the best fiction written in English by an author from the U.K., Ireland or the Commonwealth nations, was handed out at the Guildhall in London.

The other shortlisted authors were Amitav Ghosh ("Sea of Poppies"), Steve Toltz of Australia ("A Fraction of the Whole"), Sebastian Barry of Ireland ("The Secret Scripture"), and British writers Linda Grant and Philip Hensher ("The Clothes on Their Backs" and "The Northern Clemency" respectively).

Michael Portillo, chairman of the judges, said: “In many ways it was the perfect novel.”

“The judges found the decision difficult because the shortlist contained such strong candidates. In the end, The White Tiger prevailed because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure.

“The novel undertakes the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader’s sympathy for a thorough going villain. The book gains from dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with astonishing humor.”

Portillo went on to explain that the novel had won overall because of “its originality”. He said that “The White Tiger” presented “a different aspect of India” and was a novel with “enormous literary merit.”

The 33-year-old former journalist, who defied odds and beat hot favourite Sebastian Barry, took home the 50,000-pound ($47,000) prize -- becoming the third debutant to win the award in its 40-year-history. 

Adiga’s book “The White Tiger”, a tale of two Indias, tells the story of Balram, the son of a rickshaw puller in the heartlands, one of the “faceless” poor left behind by the country’s recent economic boom. It charts his journey from working in a teashop to entrepreneurial success.

Adiga's novel, aimed to highlight the needs of India's poor, was described as a “compelling, angry and darkly humorous” novel about a man’s journey from Indian village life to entrepreneurial success. Another reviewer described as an "unadorned portrait" of India seen "from the bottom of the heap". 

His book is the ninth winning novel to take its inspiration from India or Indian identity.

As accolades poured in thick and fast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too congratulated Adiga: "I join the people of this country in celebrating this international recognition of your literary accomplishment."

The Mumbai-based author beat predictions by bookies and others. He had been given odds of 7/1 before the ceremony by bookmakers William Hill. Irish writer Barry had been tipped to take the prize at 7/4. The bookmakers' favourite has not won since Yann Martel in 2002 for "Life of Pi".

Adiga was born on Oct 23, 1974 in Madras (now known as Chennai) and was raised partly in Australia. He studied at Columbia and Oxford Universities and is a former correspondent for TIME magazine in India. His articles have appeared in publications such as the Financial Times, Independent and Sunday Times.

Adiga dedicated the prize to New Delhi where he has lived for many years. "It's a city that I love and a city that's going to determine India's future and the future of a large part of the world. It's a book about Delhi, so I dedicate it to the people that made it happen," he said.

"It is a fact that for most of the poor people in India there are only two ways to go up - either through crime or through politics, which can be a variant of crime," Adiga told the BBC.

"These people at the bottom have the same aspirations as the middle class - to make it in life, to become businessmen, to create business empires. They need to be given their legitimate needs - the schooling, the education, the health care - to achieve those dreams. If not, as I said, there are only two ways up: crime or politics."

Back home, his alma mater St. Aloysius High School in Karnataka's coastal city of Mangalore, where he was a top-ranking student, invited him on Oct 18.

"We are extremely happy. We congratulated him Wednesday morning as soon we learnt he has been chosen for the award. We hope he will make it to the Oct 18 meeting so that we can honour him," Fr. Denzil Lobo, a former Aloysian who now teaches there, told IANS on telephone from Mangalore.

"He was a quiet student. Well disciplined and among the best in his class," recalled Sambu Shetty, who was assistant head master of the school when Adiga was a high school student in the late 1980s.

Students and teachers at the James Ruse Agricultural High in north-west Sydney, Adiga's other alma mater, also celebrated. 

"We are very proud of Adiga's wonderful achievement. It is amazing for someone so young at 34 to receive one of the highest awards in literature. It reinforces the view of our school as a wonderful place of learning," James Ruse principal Larissa Treskin said.

Adiga joined James Ruse school in 1992 half way through Class 10 and topped the New South Wales (NSW) state in the Class 12 ancient history exam. Lipika Bhushan, marketing manager of Harper Collins Publishers, said there would be a grand welcome for Adiga in Delhi.

"He will be going to the Frankfurt book fair and then come back to Delhi," she said.

Adiga becomes the fifth Indian author to win the prize, joining V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai who won the prize in 1971, 1981, 1997 and 2006 respectively. 

“The White Tiger” has been published by Atlantic Books and has already won rave reviews.                                  

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