Balram – The Criminal Entrepreneur


Book Review

Title: The White Tiger

Author: Aravind Adiga

Reviewer: Joy Isi Bewaji


It is a mystery how these things happen. A heedless messenger gets certain documents misplaced from the office of the Premier of China- and it makes its way to some obscure country called Nigeria. Before you know it the press gets a whiff of it and the story of an Indian murderer-cum-entrepreneur gets everyone talking.

The scarce-to-fortune tale is one that has been told in many colours. Here, we have Ogas killed by their maiguards for paltry sums – monies that can not buy them a house!

But your venture is quite impressive – 26 Toyota Qualises? You have done well. Your grand-mother would have been proud if she were alive; but of course you know her head must have been severed by now with a rusted blunt knife to pacify the bereaved family of your ex-boss. Kishan would have loved the chandelier right? But he must have been burnt with a douse of petrol since your “impressive” act. You know the stories better than I do. Here in my country, we do not end a generation for the sins of one villain. We show mercy to the guiltless.

Poverty has a way of turning an unpretentious mind into a brewing pit for monstrosity. I have seen it many times. Here, a couple of hooligans exhume dead bodies and gouge their eyes out; a few bundles of naira notes are exchanged for it. Some others go right ahead and blow the brains out of a victim in his apartment in a bid to obtain a portmanteau full of US dollars. They are armed robbers really; but you – you are an entrepreneur, aren’t you? There’s a deep meaning to your crime – the need to survive the Rooster Coop that ties you down to unbelievable penury. I understand. It’s funny how your act of bravery isn’t carried out regularly by dispirited servants all over India. Maybe they are strained with a conscience. But you, Balram, are a brave one. It takes a great amount of bravery after all, to stab a master severally with the serrated remainder of a Johnny Walker. And to think you remain unflinching; bravery indeed, laced with vindictiveness.

Your years in Laxmarghan must have been hell, or close to it like you described. We’ve got our hell holes here too. If you come to Nigeria, I could take you round the slums. We’ve got places where people live right on top shit water; the stink infects their children,. and one by one they die like flies. The children who manage to survive the contagion live “half-baked” lives, just like your life once was. They do a number of things – sell rat poison on the streets; cower at bus stops, like beaten dogs begging for money; become evil-eyed thugs demanding loose change from commercial vehicles; or get into the eye-gouging, tongue­ slashing, private part-slicing trade.

It is a shame you didn’t get to go on that scholarship offered casually by the school inspector. You were a smart child after all. He called you a “white tiger”, the rarest of animals that come along once in every generation. You would have ended up well as a lawyer or an engineer, or some fancy Indian professor in a UK university teaching “economics”. But you turned out an entrepreneur – a Johnny Walker-smashing, boss-killing entrepreneur.

You were dragged out of school and put to work at a tea shop to pay for the “groom price” for one of your sisters. The whole groom-price thingy always leaves me perplex; how does a woman pay to marry a man? It’s the other way round here. We suck the men dry and shove their wives to them. They start their first fight the night after when the excitement and the alcohol is gone. He pounces on her and vents his first shock of anger.

I agree Mr. Ashok was a weak ass for a man. He was a big baby with that mobile phone he punched every second (and by the way, who fed you that trash about mobile phones destroying the libido of a man-drying up his sperm? Ha!). But really, what was his offence? You were upset he called you “family” while you drove him around filling his glass of whiskey with one hand and driving through busy roads with another (I must say your roads are really good; you wouldn’t try that here, ghastly postholes line up like pit toilets waiting to consume you); massage his father’s feet’ and get to serve tea to his brother and wife? Is that his crime?

Is that not the life of a servant? To clean after the greasy, cheesy mess of his boss? His brother, the Mongoose was right  after all, you were not to be trusted. Oh, Ashok was indeed cowardly, because seconds before his death he sensed ­somewhere in his guts­ that you were about to do some despicable; kill him and steal his money. He was your prey, a convenient one. And now the past is gone with its stench of poverty. You, Balram, are the new face of entrepreneurship in your town. Family ties in India is persuasive; it’s the same here you know; parents play a big role in what a grown man’s career and family should look like; children are indebted to their parents for life! It is a good thing when the man has some money to build his parents and siblings a big house in the village, with borehole and a standby generator; but for a poor man who is maddened . by the requests of his family to the extent that he thinks of selling one of his children off, it is a bad thing.

Nigerians, too, are quite familiar with fraudulent politics. I am talking about dizzying amounts, millions of naira, exchanging hands everyday from one politician to the other; one camp to another. We are siblings on that account

Now that you have found your wealth. and the need to hobnob with Wen Jiabao, Premier of China, has your beak (you know what I mean) grown an inch longer? What has changed except that you sit below your much-loved chandelier and reward policemen for their treachery to the larger society.

Indeed, like you say, “1’m tomorrow”. You are the “tomorrow” of gluttonous adolescence seeking ungainly riches that swells the conscience to the depths of despair.

I wonder why you pick the Premier of China for this confession. He will be baffled, I’m sure, and may learn a thing or two from you looking over his shoulder to see what his butler is up to!

I sense you are looking for answers, even amidst your less than unrepentant utterances. The answers you will see tomorrow.

I do hope you are aware that your killer resides with you; not your conscience, that has been smeared  beyond redemption. Your killer is Dharam, your brother. You know he’ll grow bigger, get out of school and scheme your death. Be ready. I hope he uses something less hurting, like a gun, straight in the head – for your own good.

I’m sure Mr. Ashok is waiting for you, (heaven? Come on, he was on a mission to corrupt some politicians, remember?).

He’ll welcome you at the gates of hell and ask, “What was that ever for?”


Bewaji, the author of Eko Dialogues, lives in Lagos


Joy Isi Bewaji