India’s Aravind Adiga wins Booker for debut novel (Roundup)

October 15th, 2008 - 8:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi/London/Sydney, Oct 15 (IANS) India’s Aravind Adiga was the toast of the literary world Wednesday after he won the prestigious Man Booker Prize at a glittering ceremony in London for his debut novel “The White Tiger”, set against the backdrop of India’s growing wealth gap. 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 and the fifth Indian-origin author to win the prize.

His book - which judges felt “shocked and entertained in equal measure” - is the story of Balram Halwai, a village boy who becomes an entrepreneur through villainous means.

Adiga’s novel, aimed to highlight the needs of India’s poor, was described by one reviewer as an “unadorned portrait” of India seen “from the bottom of the heap”.

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 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”.

Born in Chennai and raised partly in Australia, Adiga, who always wanted to be a novelist since he was a boy, studied at Columbia and Oxford Universities and was a former correspondent for TIME magazine in India based out of Delhi.

Adiga, who beat off competition from five other authors, including fellow Indian Amitav Ghosh, nominated for his “Sea of Poppies”, 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.

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).

Indian origin authors to win the Booker Prize before him are V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai.

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