It did indeed help that I read Arvind Adiga's The White Tiger at this very moment. Darkly humorous, the tale reminded me of Crime and Punishment at times. The difference is the punishment bit, obviously this tale ends in the protagonist emerging as a successful entrepreneur in 21st century Bangalore. Probably indicative of the milieu, that difference, whereas 19th century Russia was grappling with moral insecurities and despair, 21st century India is relativist, pragmatic and matter-of-fact. The contrasting stories standing for two different countries, and two different times.
I normally stay away from prize-winning books, not least because they tend to be overpriced. Many a time, with many notable exceptions, these books represent a spatial, politically fashionable [at the time] view, and often, are very difficult to read. I stayed away from White Tiger expecting exactly these attributes, and I am sure the low expectations surely helped. I read non-stop and that's not something I shall usually do with a work of fiction.
My key reason for reading this in the first place is the advice, cited somewhere recently: If you read one book about India this year, read White Tiger. I must say this isn't very much off the mark - though it may be offensive to some people, this is a beautiful book about the underlife in India.
The story ends with optimism, despite its dark trail. The protagonist emerges, from darkness, to use the book's metaphor, into light, and offers a new, aspirational view of the world. The story rotates on a violent incident, but despite its gruesomeness, that violence merges into the broader tale, as the rubbish gets washed into, and washed out by, the Ganges. I may say that this is a tale of the anticipation of violence, but in the end, when it happens, it becomes almost insignificant because of its expectedness.
The key sentiment in India is indifference. Mr. Adiga, an Indian by birth but not a resident, has mastered the indifferent, always-on tone of Indian life to perfection. The two Indias of his time clashes and merges seamlessly, as Ashok/Balram emerges through the social divide - as only he can do, as he is the rarest of the animals, the White Tiger.
A must read, I shall recommend it anyone interested in India.
One last word. My takeaway - a beautiful quote from Iqbal - when you know the beautiful in this world, you cease to be a slave.