Arvind Adiga wins Booker Prize with ’shocking tale’ of Indian poverty (Lead)

October 15th, 2008 - 9:53 am ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 15 (IANS) Indian writer Aravind Adiga has won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, for “The White Tiger” - his debut novel set against the backdrop of India’s growing wealth gap.Adiga took the 50,000-pound ($87,000-dollar) prize for a book described by the chairman of the judges as revealing “the dark side of India” at a glittering ceremony Tuesday night in London’s Guildhall attended by the literary who’s who of the British capital.

The 33-year-old former journalist said his book - the story of Balram Halwai, a village boy who becomes an entrepreneur through villainous means - aimed to highlight the needs of India’s poor.

“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, the fifth Indian-origin writer to win the prize, 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.”

But Adiga said that although India has “an extreme divide between the rich and the poor” his book wasn’t a social commentary.

“It’s an attempt to dramatise this and get it into literature. It’s meant to be a fun book and to engage its readers,” said Adiga, who beat off competition from five other authors, including fellow Indian Amitav Ghosh, nominated for his “Sea of Poppies”.

Chairman of the judges Michael Portillo said Adiga - only the third debutant to win the award in its 40-year-history - won because judges felt that his book “shocked and entertained in equal measure.”

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

The other shortlisted authors were 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).

Chennai-born Adiga is the third debut writer to win the award - after DBC Pierre in 2003 for his “Vernon God Little” and Arundhati Roy in 1997 for “The God of Small Things”.

He is the fifth Indian-origin author to win, joining V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai.

Adiga, asked about winning the prize in the midst of a financial crisis, said: “India and China have come into their own and the fiction that comes from these countries should reflect the fact.

“What that means is writers from those countries need to be more critical in looking at those countries because they no longer need protection. As they step out into the world stage and potentially rule the world, it is even more important.”

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.

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