Anyone for a take-away?: Aravind Adiga’s ‘The White Tiger’

My favourite bookshop in England is Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland (http://www.barterbooks.co.uk/). It is a magical emporium of second hand books, which are stashed in every nook and cranny of a converted railway station. My love for this shop may have something to do with the copy of Louis MacNeice’s poem, ‘Posterity’, emblazoned on one of the walls (!!!) and the lines from T.S. Eliot which snake their way around the tops of the wooden bookcases. Amongst the more typical titles found in any second hand book shop (including The Da Vinci Code, which I recently heard that certain charity shops are asking people not to donate) the dedicated bibliophile can find untold literary gems.

On a whim, this particular bibliophile (having sent her husband to the train-carriage-themed coffee shop for an hour or two) purchased a copy of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. Born in India, journalist and novelist Adiga migrated to Australia and studied in the USA and in England. The White Tiger was his first novel and won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

It’s a risky thing to give away the ending of a novel at its beginning, but Adiga takes this plunge – and so I’m not worried about any spoilers here! Written in the form of letters from a Bangalore-based entrepreneur to the Chinese Premier, this novel tells a narrative of modern India moving from ‘the darkness into the light’. The (probably unreliable) narrator – Balram – doesn’t balk at describing the seediness and deception he experiences and participates in as he makes his way from a life as the son of a rickshaw-puller to that of an international businessman. ‘I am tomorrow’, Balram declares in the opening pages (p.6).

Pizza

And tomorrow, according to this novel, has a lot to do with America. In food terms, pizza replaces curry in Balram’s culinary preferences. For most of the novel, Balram describes his life as a chauffeur to a rich Indian businessman, who has lived in America and has recently returned to Delhi with his American wife. Both of them love pizza. But the first mention of pizza in the novel caught me unawares. Balram explains how he had to serve his employers ‘some of that stinking stuff that comes in cardboard boxes’. It was only later in the chapter when Ashok and Pinky Madam tease their servant for his pronunciation of ‘pizza’ (‘It’s not piJJa. It’s pizza. Say it properly.’) that I realised what they were eating (p.155). To become the international entrepreneur he wants to be, Balram has to embrace this imported foodstuff, as well as the new language that comes with it. Adiga shows us that, having once been colonised by Britain, this suburb of Delhi is now being culturally colonised by the USA.

Although he never quite gets the hang of pronouncing ‘pizza’ with a double ‘z’, Balram tells us of his adopted son’s success in this – ‘He can say “pizza” the way Mr Ashok said it. And doesn’t he love eating pizza – that nasty stuff?’ (p.316).  The next generation completes the transition from ‘a nice hot curry with juicy chunks of dark meat’ (p.158) to pizza; from ‘darkness to light’; from independent India to Americanised India. There is a mixture of pride and repulsion in Balram’s tone as he describes his adopted son, a product of his own desires and manipulation.

Today’s recipe is, of course, for pizza. This recipe is not for the take-away style meal Balram both desires and hates – but it was taught to me by an American! Enjoy!

Recipe

Ingredients: makes 2 medium pizzas
500g strong white bread flour (or 250g strong white bread flour and 250g strong wholemeal bread flour)
1 tsp yeast
300 ml water
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oil
Tomato puree
4 tomatoes
1 onion
Choose your own toppings – I used a yellow pepper and mushrooms
Grated cheese – again, use your favourite. I used cheddar.
Herbs and seasoning to taste – I used oregano, chives, pepper, salt
Method
1.       Mix the ingredients for the base in a large bowl until they come together into a claggy dough.
2.       Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes. Or pop the dough in a mixer with a dough hook for 5 minutes.
3.       Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a damp teatowel. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
4.       Knead the dough for 5 minutes and then shape on 2 greased metal trays. Cover and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
5.       In the meantime, prepare the topping. Fry the onion and then add the rest of the veg and tomato puree.
6.       Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.
7.       When the dough is risen, add the topping to the pizza and scatter with grated cheese.
8.       Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes.

 

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