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Subaltern

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Submitted By sshabir
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Identity is a much debated term in postcolonial literature. The historical, cultural and ideological circumstances prevalent in the alien and native societies enmesh the protagonists. They become victims of despair and loneliness as they feel the people around them asking them, Who are you? Where are you from? Why are you here? The perplexity of the protagonists caused by the binary opposition results in identity crisis.

Arvind Adiga, a contemporary Indian English novelist who poured in his novel The White Tiger, the extraordinary heartrending feelings for the downtrodden section of the Indian society delineating the two contradictory opposite sides of India: the India of underdogs and the India of elites, India of light and India of darkness. Adiga in his debut novel realistically paints on the one hand the nation as the dark, the corrupt, the wasteland, the Subaltern and the illiterate on the other hand the nation is seasoned with affluent luxury, extravagant lifestyle and as an emerging and booming India. Like Charles Dickens’s novels of the Victorian age, Adiga’s novel The White Tiger also portrays the real India, the incredible India as well as the India of “Big Bellies and the Small Bellies” (64). Arvind Adiga’s the Man Booker prize winning novel The White Tiger (2008) depicts the Balaram Hawai as a post modern hero and a subaltern protagonist who raises his voice and proves that subaltern can speak. I want to prove in this paper the dictum that the subaltern can speak. And the protagonist of the novel The White Tiger, Balaram Hawai a low caste downtrodden counterpart of the society is a real example of the subaltern who in the novel raises his voice and proves subaltern can speak. Subalternism is a postcolonial project which had been gained currency in theyear of 1982 by a coterie of postcolonial subaltern critics such as Dipesh Chakraborty, Partha Chatterjee, and Ranajit Guha and flourished through the dictum of Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak’s epoch-making Subaltern consciousness-“Can the Subaltern Speak?” Subalternism was first used by Antinio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist critic to refer any person or group of inferior rank in respect of ethnicity, race, caste, creed, religion and gender. Spivak was the first who pointed out that in the radically constrained conditions and in all instances the subaltern cannot speak or denied to access in both mimetic and political forms of representation. According to Jess Bier, even where the subaltern voices are recorded, subaltern were often in imbalance circumstances and they face hostile circumstances throughout their lives and the few references which are present in the texts or any other sources written by those who are in the position of power- not subaltern. Hence subaltern can’t represent themselves or became the ‘other’. In the recent postcolonial post modern era it is not confined within a specific subject rather used in every field of education. The novel The White Tiger opens with the story of Balaram Halwai , the protagonist of the novel, a young man was born and brought up in a remote village named Laxmangarh in Bihar who narrates his story of his life in an epistolary manner to the Chinese Prime Minister who visits India in an official job . In his letters he unlocks his heart and gives full description of his life story from childhood to adulthood and finally as a man of wealthy businessman. Like a true realistic narrator he introduced his rural village, the rural Bihar, the feudal system of the village, extreme poverty of the same village, finally the shining India. The novel is replete with the description of Zamandari system, corrupt political system, exploitation, rise of local insurgency, prostitution, degraded family structure and poor health services etc. At the outset of the novel we came to know that the epithet ‘white tiger’ was given by his school teacher to Balaram for his extraordinary merit and intellect who was a son of a rickshawpuller. But he was taken out of the school and forced to work in a teashop and afterwards who had to crush coal and clean the dirty tables of the teashop for his livelihood. As a child he is similar to the heroes of the Dickens’s novels. His ambition to be a driver and becoming a well-trained driver leads the novel to the crisis moment of his life who in the course of the time raises his voice and proves that the subaltern can / will speak. Adiga made Balaram a counterpart of the subaltern who of course speaks through the crime which he did in a way which is apparently as an act of psychological disorder. His turning point of life is when he is hired by the elite village landlord as the driver of his newly arrived son and daughter from London. Balaram wants to be rich like his master Mr.Ashok, when he sees the Delhi city after migrating into the capital of India. Being a subaltern counterpart Balaram tries to be a gentleman like his master through the filling of his great expectations who nourishes “the dream of escapes-of breaking away from the bank of mother Ganga into whose murky depths have seeped the remains of the hundred generations”(Adiga 7). In Delhi Balaram experiences two kinds of India with those who are eaten and on the other side with those who ate. Balaram wants to be a counterpart of eater, someone with a big belly and being a white tiger desires to break out the cage of the freedom. Balaram decides to kill his master to fulfil the great expectation –becoming a big bellied man. The violent decision to become a free person and the desire to metamorphose himself into so called gentleman, or as a counterpart of the capitalists is a turning point of the novel .Having witnessed of all kinds of corruption, loot and murder and the gambling of money to buy politicians by Ashok, his master, Balaram decides to steal and kill Ashok. Adiga creates an extraordinary picture of the subaltern protagonist .Here the theory of the Spivak had been applied through the character of the hero in a different way. In Spivak’s theory silence is the most important trope and the positive replica to the question “Can the subaltern speak” propounded in the novel of Adiga. According to Spivak subaltern is the counterpart of the society whose voice and the activities and other expression of power had been muted, whose voice had been snatched away and whose indomitable force had been lost or swept away because in respect of the power of voice, representation and above all the question of identity play a vital part in their survival. Silence, pain and oppression are the fundamental parts of the subaltern classes who always try to fight for their survival but their voicelessness became obstacle for their survival from the daily to daily life. Hence they cannot represent themselves in the society. This can be stated in the following lines- Since the marginalized have known only the language which has been handed down to them by their exploiters, they should, as Fanon would have probably suggested, use the language of violence at their disposal to give at back and at the same time to continue to deconstruct it from within (Randhawa 33). Balaram is a typical figure who kills his master in order to get a life which is full of gentlemanliness, to get back his long cherished desire be a part of the glamorised world. Poverty is a curse which he tries to soothe by negating the Spivak’s concept subaltern cannot speak. He findswealth to him is the occasional invitee and the world is too much with him as everything which we called so called politeness is nothing but a vacuum. The marginalized people like him don’t understand the true beauty of life which beset the whole world. But he is the eyewitness of the rampant corruption of the life of his master Ashok who possesses a degraded moral quality. But in respect of justice he cannot break all the boundaries of cruelty, injustice and humiliation. His dwelling place is like a dustbin which is infected with mosquitoes and other insects. The condition can be stated as like- “In the middle of the night…noises woke me up. The wall was covered with cockroaches…I could see their dark bodies…they kept landing on the net and getting crushed” (Adiga-131). Again if he walks into the mall someone would say “Hey, That man is a paid driver! What ‘s he doing in here?” Everywhere Balaram is the victim of the utter humiliation and exploitation. Balaram does not want to be a ‘rooster’ in a ‘coop’, he does not want to be ‘eaten’ rather desperately wait to be part ‘eaters’. Balaram gradually loses the sense of patience, justice and humanity and chooses the beaten tract just to gain materialistic prosperity. He is lured by the way of crime to farewell the abject condition of his life and his consciousness leads him towards the external glamorised world. He experiences all the political, social, official and moreover all controlling power are under the control of money. The administrative system, police system and the system of bureaucracy had been gripped by the businessmen or so called rich, elite and political leaders. Balarm Halwai, a postcolonial subaltern is victim of class, caste and gender who in Delhi feels the great gap between the poor and rich and all these disparities between the two classes create in him a motive of revenge, revolt, resistance. His father’s cherished plan to get out himself from the trap of the marginalized territorial condition haunts him always and regenerates in him a dream to become a rich person. Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak propounded the theory that Subaltern can’t speak. But her seminal essay is on another prospect of demonstration that if the subaltern is able to speak he /she is not the subaltern. Spivak on the conclusion of her essay states that subaltern who does speak is not a subaltern. Balaram Halwai was born in Laxmangarh is typical example of darkness of India where the society is divided into two sections –the upper class and the lower class and the lower class is always exploited by the upper class. The scenario is everywhere, even in Delhi. So Balaram takes the way of murdering his master Ashok and proves that subaltern can speak. Arvind Adiga in his novel shows creating Balaram, the protagonist of his novel The White Tiger subaltern can speak through crime. Murder obviously a heinous act in the eyes of the law and no civilized society tolerates this kind of vulnerable act. The law and order always maintain the peaceful and orderly atmosphere in the society. But in delineating the character of Balaram and later on Ashok Sharma a Bangalore based successful entrepreneur, Adiga shows us that the same person who was a rustic, a marginalized, oppressed and moreover a subaltern –unable to speak becomes a successful businessman, a rich, a entrepreneur, an elite and an aristocratic part of the so-called civilised society. Balaram’s life from Laxmangarh to Dhanbad then to Delhi and Bangalore is a metamorphosing process of his life from innocence to experience and then a rootless person becomes a rooted and finally from a subaltern to a elite businessman. His changing can be summarised in the following lines:- “ All these changes happened in me because they happened first in Mr. Ashok. He returned from America an innocent man, but life in Delhi corrupted him – and once the master of the Honda city becomes corrupted, how can the driver stay innocent?”(Adiga 197). Balaram’s murder is the outburst of silence and the silence gets a way to express it out. He proves through this murder that the subaltern can speak and the murdering is like the purgation of the cathartic feeling. The bitter experiences as a driver through which Balaram undergoes which narrates like that: “You have hours to yourself while waiting for your employer. You can spend this time chit-chatting and scratching your groin. You can read murder and rape magazines. You can develop the chauffeur’s habit- it’s a kind of yoga, really- of putting a finger in your nose and letting your mind go blank for hours (they call it ‘bored driver’s asana). You can sneak a bottle of Indian liquor into the car – boredom makes drunks of so many honest drivers.(Adiga149).” Balaram knows all types of crime which his master has committed. But never confesses that crime to others because he is the servant or a slave of his master. The servants are the part of the subaltern classes and hence subaltern cannot speak. Balaram is disgusted with that kind of the slavery and bondage who always feels guilty of his rootlessness dumb condition . He decides to murder his master and after committing the murder he never feels guilty of that kind of heinous work. His committing the murder is like the breaking the silence of the subaltern. Balaram wants to feel the masterly act “just for a day, just for an hour, just for a minute, what it means not to be a servant” (Adiga 321). So he speaks and rejoices through the murdering of his master.

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