I thought The White Tiger packed a punch, it was in your face, fast-paced None of these characteristics are present in this book. This book has more of a slow, trickling effect. It kind of creeps up on you and then leaves you devastated, which is how I felt a couple of minutes after I finished it. Whereas the previous book was from the point of view of a poor person in India, this one examines a group of people who would probably fall into the middle class, or the lower middle class. It follows a similar pattern, in that it looks at how far people are willing to go to make money or, more accurately, move themselves up into a better situation.
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A close reading of the novel raises disturbing questions about contemporary ideas of national development and identifies survival strategies adopted by citizens in a morally ambivalent India.
The most patriotic thing a creative artist can do is challenge people to see their country as it is. Amid the glitter of smart cities, ultramodern corporate hubs, and vast industrial zones, some stories remain to be told—those of the native colonizers who appropriate common national resources, of farmers and tribals mercilessly plucked out of their lands, of the injustices heaped upon the middle classes, of the destruction of vital ecosystems to satiate capitalist greed.
Adiga seems to conclude that Indians today live in a scary spiritual void wherein painful absurdity has become the price of progress. Last Man in Tower Last Man in Tower can be summed up as the stubborn fight of one man against his times. It is set in the maximum city of Mumbai, where the future is defined by big businessmen and progress is measured in terms of skyscrapers.
The protagonist, Yogesh A. Even as all his neighbors gladly embrace the incredible offer of the ruthless builder Dharmen Shah to transform their ancient housing society into a glitzy township of skyscrapers, Masterji finds himself in the unenviable role of the sole rebel who refuses to sell his flat, the only obstruction to the demolition of the old Vishram society and the ushering in of a new era of prosperity and luxury for so many.
Vishramites symbolize the golden mean of Indian society—neither filthy rich nor abjectly poor, a hard-working people who have preserved their identity and dignity amid the buffeting winds of change.
But this is an era and a species becoming fast extinct. With the end of these small certainties of life begins an era of confusion. The first two books of the novel indicate the gradual takeover of Indian society by spiritual emptiness.
Though he begins by pitting the villainous builder Dharmen Shah against the innocent lower middle class of Vishram Society, Adiga springs a surprise as the novel progresses. As he unravels life after life, the ambivalence deepens, for Shah is not as bad as he seems and the Vishramites are not as pure as they appear to be! Before he was twenty he was smuggling goods from Dubai and Pakistan. With all his immorality, Shah loves getting into the heat and dust and working alongside manual laborers on the construction sites and offering them tips.
On the other hand, when Shah extends his splendid offer to the people of Vishram, the characters of the Vishramites start to unravel. Further, Adiga tries to interconnect and investigate the class, value, gender, and environmental conflicts. When Dharmen Shah enthralls people with his plush constructions, Masterji visualizes the brewing ecological catastrophe. What makes contemporary Indians go against the well-being of their neighbors and turn a blind eye to the decimation of the very nature that sustains them?
Who is going too far—the Vishramites ready for any battle to build a better home for their kids or Masterji willing to block the progress of all for the comfort offered by old memories? Who is right, the champions of idealism or the practical developers of glittering cities that promise to take India out of centuries of backwardness?
There are no easy answers to these questions. As The National puts it, Who is right, the champions of idealism or the practical developers of glittering cities that promise to take India out of centuries of backwardness? Is he any less selfish than Shah? And what of those suddenly persecuting him? Greedy hypocrites willing to betray long-standing companionship for money or vulnerable human beings simply trying to do the best for their families? This is where the distinction between Adiga and a Victorian novelist is laid bare.
Dickens, in spite of his genius and undoubtedly with half an eye on his popularity, would often submit to this whim. In the first face-off between Masterji and Shah, Adiga proves that amid all the ambiguity, India still has people who would not compromise their values for all the riches or terrors of this world.
On the other hand stands Shah, the ambassador of a new India that moves on unbridled ambition and is fueled by limitless human greed: What do you want? In the continuous market that runs right through southern Mumbai.
Only a man must want something; for everyone who lives here knows that islands will shake, and the mortar of the city will dissolve, and Bombay will turn again into seven small stones glistening in the Arabian Sea, if it ever forgets to ask the question: What do you want?
First, the old India of Masterji has a spiritual freedom that new India, irredeemably tied to materialism, can never have.
Whenever Masterji remembers his wife, love and great strength fill him. He is chronically sick from lung damage, thanks to the pollution in the construction industry, and his illness is as much moral as physical.
Second, the great survivor myth is busted and faith in humanity is sorely shaken. Wars, emergencies, elections. Third, there is this vast communication gap between Old India and New India. I have seen every kind of negotiation tactic. Until now he had only been conscious of fighting against someone: that builder.
Now he sensed he was fighting for someone. In the dark dirty valley under the concrete overpass half-naked labourers pushed and slogged, with such little hope that things might improve for them. Yet they pushed: they fought. Masterji gazed at the light behind the dirty buildings. It looked like another Bombay waiting to be born. Each one of the solitary, lost, broken men around him had a place in it.
But for now their common duty was to fight. Forcible usurpation of and forcible eviction from land and property is a burning issue in India. To quote from the Handbook on Forced Evictions in India,.
In his last moments, he is filled not with fear or sorrow but a sense of liberation that numbs all the pain. Ironically, his enemies now appreciate his courage. Even the heartless Shah is shocked. Most of them are preoccupied with assuaging their guilt. The novel has universal implications.
It was published soon after the Beijing Olympic Games, which resulted in the displacement of nearly 1. Similar incidents of displacement of the less privileged were reported from London and other cities that had hosted such major events.
Set amid the massive slums of Mumbai filled with abject poverty and squalor and built on land allegedly acquired forcibly from weak players and orphanage trusts at much less than the market price, it invited a lot criticism. In Indian culture, the banyan tree is a symbol of resilience, liberation, growth, compassion, and the wisdom of selfless giving. A gold medalist in English from Andhra University, her doctoral thesis was on the Indian English novel.
She has presented twenty papers at national and international seminars and published over thirty articles in reputed literary journals and anthologies.
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The set-up is impressively simple. Shah and his "left-hand man", the sinuous Shanmugham, ride into town offering each resident a vast sum of money to quit their property: while a touch of resistance might produce a "sweetener", too much might result in a mysterious "accident". Tower B, filled with young executives, falls into line immediately, while Tower A proves a slightly tougher nut to crack. Its residents have their unofficial "parliament", but they also have complicated individual histories and sensibilities that Shah and his henchman must negotiate. Masterji is the eponymous last man, entrenched in his commitment to resistance, secure in his belief in the power of cooperative living, impervious to bribes and threats alike. But if his secret and apparently inviolable weapon is a lack of material desire that means he cannot be bought, it also comes to seem like a weakness, indicating an inability to empathise with his fellow residents.
Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga – review
At the heart of this novel are two equally compelling men, poised for a showdown. Real estate developer Dharmen Shah rose from nothing to create an empire and hopes to seal his legacy with a luxury building named the Shanghai. Larger-than-life Shah is a dangerous man to refuse. But he meets his match in retired schoolteacher Masterji. Except, that is, for Masterji, who refuses to abandon the building he has long called home.
Last Man in Tower
Share via Email The food chain, as seen in a fish market in Mumbai. An India where temples arrange express-entry lines for paying customers, and money trickles from the glassed shards of the finance centres into the slums "like butter on a hotplate… enriching some and scorching others". The eponymous White Tiger, Balram Halwai, was at home here. Poor but ambitious, Halwai saw himself as an entrepreneur, a man made "from half-baked clay". That way you go up in life. This skilfully directed ensemble cast gives Adiga access to a range of voices and experiences, from the blind woman who navigates the old building by touch, to the destitute cleaning girl who fears for her job, to the mercenary secretary who just wants a little baksheesh.