Even though I enjoyed this story, there were some disjointed scenarios that made me question the intentions of the author. Did this book make a case for or against the poor? The main character of Balram Halwai is able to overcome the odds of abject poverty and becomes a self-professed entrepreneur; does this not objectify poverty as a lifestyle choice? Isn’t this the very stance of plutocratic culture which propagates that destitution is a result of choices an individual makes and is not rooted in prevailing systems of, namely, Capitalism and Consumerism?
A selection of my favourite passages from the book
The Diseased Nation
- And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs.
- These are the three main diseases of this country, sir: typhoid, cholera, and election fever.
- The Great Socialist’s enemies would try and steal the election from us, the poor, and take the power away from us, the poor, and put those shackles back on our hands that he, the Great Socialist, had so lovingly taken off our hands. Did we understand?
- There you have it. That was the positive side of the Great Socialist. He humiliated all our masters—that’s why we kept voting him back in.
- Of course, a billion servants are secretly fantasizing about strangling their bosses—and that’s why the government of India publishes this magazine and sells it on the streets for just four and a half rupees so that even the poor can buy it.
- A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent—as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way—to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key of his emancipation in a man’s hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse.
- Every big market in Delhi is two markets in one—there is always a smaller, grimier mirror image of the real market, tucked somewhere into a by-lane.
On the Rich & the Privileged
- The Indian entrepreneur has to be straight and crooked, mocking and believing, sly and sincere, at the same time.
- Those that were the most ferocious, the hungriest, had eaten everyone else up, and grown big bellies. That was all that counted now, the size of your belly.
- The police searched for me in darkness: but I hid myself in light.
The Perennial Struggle of the Poor
- No boy remembers his schooling like one who was taken out of school
- A rich man’s body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank. Ours are different. My father’s spine was a knotted rope, the kind that women use in villages to pull water from wells; the clavicle curved around his neck in high relief, like a dog’s collar; cuts and nicks and scars, like little whip marks in his flesh, ran down his chest and waist, reaching down below his hip bones into his buttocks. The story of a poor man’s life is written on his body, in a sharp pen.
- Don’t test your chauffeur with a rupee coin or two—he may well steal that much. But leave a million dollars in front of a servant and he won’t touch a penny.
- We are made mysteries to ourselves by the Rooster Coop we are locked in.
- The Rooster Coop was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs.
- When you retain semen in your lower body, it leads to evil movements in the fluids of your upper body. In the Darkness we know this to be a fact.
- He was hypnotizing himself by walking like this—that was the only way he could tolerate this cage.
- You see, poor people in the north of this country drink tea, and poor people in the south drink coffee. Who decided that things should be like this, I don’t know, but it’s like this.
- Maybe once in a hundred years there is a revolution that frees the poor.
Beautifully Constructed Sentences
- And when I grin, is it true—as you no doubt imagine by now—that my lips widen into a devil’s rictus?
- The road is a jungle, get it? A good driver must roar to get ahead on it.
- and transferred that money into a bank account in a small, beautiful country in Europe full of white people and black money.
- Coal was taught to make ice, starting the next morning at six. Three hundred rupees, plus a bonus, will do that. We practiced in a taxi.
- Only three nations have never let themselves be ruled by foreigners: China, Afghanistan, and Abyssinia. These are the only three nations I admire.
- When headlights hit them, the shards glow, and the wall turns into a Technicolored, glass-spined monster.
- Iqbal, that great poet, was so right. The moment you recognize what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave.
- All I wanted was the chance to be a man—and for that, one murder was enough.