The Books Interview: Aravind Adiga
In both your Booker-winning debut, The White Tiger, and new book, Last Man in Tower, you analyse the depredations of India's dash for growth. Is that how you see it?
I don't see myself as criticising what is happening in India. India and China, both ancient civilisations, are becoming new kinds of nation state. This is happening through processes that a columnist might write about - global trade, civil society, law and order. And it's also happening through the release of tremendous amounts of amoral energy, that of new kinds of entrepreneurial figure. My position is chronicling this as a writer, and it's perhaps different from the kinds of fiction in English we've had from India before. I find some of that a bit sentimental.
Does it frustrate you when your novels are treated as artefacts of social criticism rather than as fiction?
To some extent, yes. I didn't intend with this new book for there to be an obvious message, or any obvious resolution to the problems. I'm in two minds about what's happening.
I grew up in a very different India. My life then was very much structured around shame and guilt; it was a very conservative society. But that India has gone.
You said there's no obvious hero in this book. Doesn't Masterji count as one?
This figure of the man who says "no" - I never meant for him to be the hero. I hope I've written it well enough for the reader to wonder if he's saying no out of idealism, or even a kind of nihilism. The hero, if there is one, is the city of Mumbai.
How long have you lived in Mumbai now?
I came here in late 2006. But I've spent some time away, in Bangalore. I've never had a job in this city, so I'm free all day. If you have a job, you tend to see less and less of the city.
You say it has changed even in the relatively short period you've been there.
The interesting thing is that Mumbai is growing more slowly than many other cities in India. There's a very palpable anxiety that Mumbai has been misgoverned for many, many years. It takes for ever here to build roads and bridges. The city is not the centre of India's technology industry - that's Bangalore. And New Delhi has much better infrastructure and people see it as the great Indian city of the future. So while Mumbai has changed, it perhaps hasn't changed fast enough. And that's the kind of anxiety that's present in the book - that it will take people like Mr Shah to get things done.
Another anxiety concerns China.
It's a dangerous comparison, because you can't go about crushing individual rights in a quest to grow faster than China. I would like things to get done faster, but I worry what price some people in this country will have to pay. There's a danger that the process of industrialisation and growth can ignore the rights of many weaker sections of society.
Have English writers like Martin Amis had any influence on you?
I wish I could write like Amis. He strikes me as the most Dickensian writer around, in terms of style. He's astonishingly good [in his] native command of sentence structure. On the other hand, he often forgets that he has to tell a story.
You suggested earlier that much Indian fiction written in English strikes you as sentimental. What did you mean by that?
There's a new dynamism and energy in this country and I think the novel should reflect that . . . The idea of Indians being victims doesn't strike me as being true on any level now - there are very rich Indians, and a very large and self-confident Indian middle class.
What will your next book be like?
I would like to stay in contemporary India, because there's so much happening here. It would be simpler to step back into the past. The past - the 1970s, for example - is a land of no debate; you won't upset anyone if you write about it. I'd like to tell other stories set here and in the present,
but in a different kind of way. I think one of the things I need to do if I'm to survive as a writer is to become smaller: I have to write books that are more difficult, that won't reach such a large audience. l
Aravind Adiga's "Last Man in Tower" is published by Atlantic Books (£17.99)
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