NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning tale of the son of a rickshaw puller who dreams of escaping poverty rings true in India, where 800 million of its billion-plus population live on about 50 U.S. cents a day.
But for young, urban Indians, perhaps even more compelling is his real-life story of trying to find an apartment in Mumbai, notorious for its high rentals and finicky landlords who detest pets, meat-eaters and, in particular, says Adiga, single men.
In a widely-read column in the Guardian newspaper recently, Adiga, 33, who won the Man Booker Prize Tuesday for his debut novel “The White Tiger,” wrote of the travails of a bachelor in Mumbai, or one who did not work for a big multinational or had a wife in some distant city to lend him a veneer of respect.
“Making things worse is that I describe myself as a “writer,” a category that doesn’t mean anything to the landlords of Mumbai,” wrote Adiga, who found an apartment in a neighborhood that he did not particularly like after two weeks of hunting.
Adiga, who was born in the southern city of Chennai and grew up there and in the southwestern city of Mangalore before he emigrated with his family to Sydney, will now be able to afford a fancier pad with the 50,000-pound ($87,000) check he received Tuesday.
“This will transform his life,” said Karthika V.K., chief editor of Harper Collins, which published the novel in India, speaking by phone from the book fair in Frankfurt.
It is a “powerful story of the darker side of contemporary India,” Karthika said, describing Adiga as “quiet, reclusive,” someone who shunned elaborate launches and public readings for the book, opting instead to do just a few interviews by e-mail.
“It was all about the book,” Karthika said.
“The White Tiger” is the story of Balram Halwai, the son of a rickshaw puller, whose dream of escaping the poverty of his village takes him to the bright lights of Delhi and Bangalore.
“I felt a jolt of recognition when it arrived as a manuscript ... it spoke directly to me,” Karthika said.
“And the writing is also the sort that walks off the page.”
The hardcover book had already sold about 20,000 copies in India, she said, making it a best-seller in a country where sales of English-language books are still miniscule.
“Now there will be no stopping it,” she said.
Adiga, a former Time magazine correspondent, was the bookmakers’ favorite to win the prize, whose shortlist also included India’s Amitav Ghosh for “Sea of Poppies.”
Adiga, who wanted to be a novelist since he was little, graduated in English Literature from Columbia University and then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, on a scholarship for an M.Phil. in English literature.
He began his career as a journalist with the Financial Times, working in Washington D.C. and New York, returning to India in 2003 as a correspondent for Time. He then turned freelance.
It was only the third time in the Booker’s 40-year history that a debut novel had won the award; India’s Arundhati Roy had won in 1997 for her “God of Small Things.
Adiga is also one of the youngest winners of the prize for the best novel each year by a writer from Britain, Ireland or a Commonwealth country, and may open the door further for aspiring writers in India, where English is still regarded as the preserve of the middle and upper classes.
“There is a certain parity now between writing from India and writing from elsewhere,” Karthika said.
“It’s no longer regarded as exotic, and that’s a recognition of the range and the depth of writing from India now.”
Reporting by Rina Chandran; Editing by Simon Denyer