Literary Shelf

The Complex and Amoral Biography

of an Indian Town

Aravind Adiga's "Between the Assassinations"

A revolution of the body proletariat, long suppressed, but now turning articulate, saying, We want! The artifice of Marx and Lenin was collapsing……there would soon be nothing to talk about; because Communism was dead. Dialectics had become dust. So had Gandhi; so had Nehru. (278). - Aravind Adiga

In the Postcolonial time India, like other Third World Nations, has experienced a drastic transformation and people have faced the crises of socio-cultural disintegration, political manipulations and communal discrimination on the one hand and economic disparity leading to moral vacuum and loss of values on the other. No doubt, the miserable society of this country was in the clutches of poverty and desperation in the imperial times also, but after independence the situation could not be improved up to the satisfaction as people are crumbling down under the stress of many maladies becoming monstrous day by day. This sorry state of affairs has been focused by a host of the Indian English writers. If the novelists like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, R. K. Narayan, Nayantara Sehgal, Khushwant Singh, Kamala Markandaya, and Anita Desai etc. are remarkable senior writers who portrayed the problems, hopes and aspirations of the early phase, the noted novelists of the younger generation - Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Rohinton Mistry, Gita Mehta, Shashi Tharoor and Aravind Adiga - have emerged as the master storytellers exposing the new astonishing maladies of the postmodern India.

Aravind Adiga, the Man Booker Prize winner of 2008, is undoubtedly the most relentless, deeply anguished and extraordinarily compelling novelist in this galaxy of young writers. Whereas his well acclaimed debut 'The White Tiger' makes a journey into a neglected Indian territory; the near heart of Darkness; the second novel 'Between the Assassinations', is a brilliant portrayal of the amoral biography of Kittur, a town in between Goa and Calicutsymbolizing every town of modern India in the seven years period between the assassinations of our two Prime Ministers - Mrs. Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and in 1991 respectively. This research paper is highlighting the socio-cultural complexities, existential pursuits, amoral practices and caste/communal hatred across the classes, religions, occupations and preoccupations in the nerves of people portrayed in this equally powerful novel of Adiga.

Once India had been ruled by three foreigners: England, France and Portugal. Now their place was taken by three native-born thugs: Betrayal, Bungling, and Backstabbing

The novel depicts the emerging challenges in this typical southern town in the time of extraordinary transformation in India. Technically, the plot of this novel is constructed on the parallel line of Adiga's first novel because if the story of 'The White Tiger' runs over seven nights of addresses to the Chinese Premier, the narration of 'Between the Assassinations' spreads over seven consecutive days. But whereas there is only one powerful protagonist in his debut novel, in the second one, with the cartographer's precision and the novelist's humanity, Adiga composes a colourful plot comprising a picture gallery of the town dwellers from different walks of life to picturise the dynamics of socio-economic transformation, complexities of castes and class consciousness and seriousness of the deep rooted corruption and hypocrisy in this undistinguished every-town of India.

The novel opens on the train station of Kittur where a Muslim boy, Ziauddin, works at the tea shop of Ramanna Reddy who warns him to keep away from all hanky-panky. There is a mutual hatred between the Hindu master and his Muslim servant and often they indulge in hot and insulting arguments. The Muslim boy is foolish enough in boasting of his lineage from the Pathan clan: "I'm a pathan! - he screamed. He slapped his chest. 'From the land of the Pathans, far up north, where there are mountains full of snow! I'm not a Hindu! I don't do hanky-panky!" On the other hand Ramanna is a Hindu and so leaves no chance to hurt and humiliate him for spouting this Pathan-Wathan gibberish all the time. When Zia is caught stealing samosas and Rammana scolds him for this meanness he shamelessly reacts: "I'm a Pathan! Ziauddin shouted back, as he got up to his knees. We came here and built the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort in Delhi and so don't you dare treat me like this, you son of a bald woman, you?"(9). 

Rammana Reddy turns him out and he gets the job of a cyclerickshaw puller but is again expelled out due to his habit of stealing. Ziauddin blames the Hindus of communal enmity for his sufferings and publically swears never to work for a Hindu again. He succeeds in finding work in one of the new Muslim restaurants and, inviting the customers, he shouts in Urdu and Malayalam: "Muslim men, wherever in the world you are from, Yemen or Kerala or Arabia or Bengal, come eat at a genuine Muslim shop!" (9). But even his Muslim employer slaps him on stealing and throws out on talking back rudely. Left with no option Ziauddin becomes a porter at the station but there also he picks fights and gets kicked out and so wanders aimlessly for a few days, cursing Hindus and Muslims alike.

But the worst happens to him when he falls in the clutches of a foreign Muslim terrorist who visits Kittur to spread communal violence and hatred. Ziauddin's soul shines with pride on finding another Pathan who readily pays him for spying for the Muslim terrorist faction spreading from South India to Kashmir. The foreigner Pathan poses as if he is the real benefactor of all the Muslims and speaks fanatic words to provoke this vulnerable poor boy:

"There are fifty thousand Muslims in this town……..Every one of them seethes. Everyone is ready for action. I was only offering this job to you out of pity. Because I see what the kaffirs have done to you. Otherwise I would have offered the job to any of these other fifty thousand fellows" (20).

It is queer that these words hurt the ego of this raw Muslim so deeply that he suddenly breaks all the tempting offers and reacts,

"Then get one of those fifty thousand fellows to do it"(21),

and he runs away. Later on he is once again seen at the railway station involved in whimsical quarrels with people.

The chapter entitled 'Day Two' opens at Bunder, the Kittur's port area where residents are now mostly Muslims. Adiga describes the violent nature of this locality as:

"The Bunder has the highest crime rate in Kittur, and is the scene of frequent stabbings, police raids and arrests. In 1987, riots broke out near the Dargah between Hindus and Muslims, and the Bunder was shut down for six days. The Hindus have since been moving out to Bajpe and Salt Market Village." (24).

Adiga's main theme of widespread corruption and the exploitation of the poor servants by the shrewd and powerful employers comes to forefront in this novel also. Here we meet the factory owners who are insensitive manipulators and exploit the workers irrespective of their caste or religion so as to get all the benefits by hook or by crook. Abbasi, a factory owner pleases an official from the State Electricity Board by serving him Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky and the conversation between the two exposes the irony of characters as the corrupt official asks for bribe and simultaneously curses the Government for all the deterioration in the country. The novelist exposes this as:

"The official twirled his glass around, and then stared at the Air India logo with one eye, as if that some small part of him were embarrassed by what he was doing. He jabbed his fingers at his mouth: ' A man has to eat these days , Mr. Abbasi. And prices are rising so fast. Ever since Mrs. Gandhi died, this country has begun falling apart." (26).

Abbasi is a typical entrepreneur of modern India and knows very well the tricks to get his works done because almost all the officials are easily purchased here. He offers a wad of notes and a gorgeous shirt with golden dragon design and the matter of electricity is immediately finalized.

The novelist expresses his anguish against this rotten and corrupt system as:

"Corruption. There is no end to it in this country. In the past four months, since he had decided to reopen his shirt factory, he had had to pay off: The electricity man; the water board man; half the income tax department of Kittur; half the excise department of Kittur; six different officials of the telephone board; a land tax official of the Kittur City Corporation; a sanitary inspector of the Karnataka State Health Board; a health inspector of the Karnataka State Sanitation Board; a delegation of the All India Small factory Workers' Union; delegations of the Kittur Congress Party, the Kittur BJP, the Kittur Communist Party, the Kittur Muslim League." (29).

But Abassi is also a corrupt exploiter, rather more disgusting one, because the women workers in his factory are in miserable plight and their eyes have got damaged by doing the embroidery work on shirts. Abassi thinks that he has to answer to Allah for this heinous crime but greed for money suppresses his conscience. The novelist defines him in a sarcastic tone:

"Another of these Muslims who drink whisky and quote Allah in every other sentence"(27).

Moreover, that very night after drinking in the club Abbasi drives to the port to meets his community fellows, Mehmood, Kalam and Saif who deal in the black market, smuggling, drug trafficking and criminal activities there. All these Muslims feel a sense of brotherhood and share a deep rooted hatred for the people of other communities in Kittur. The novelist writes as:

" In any case, the sense of solidarity among the Muslims at the port had deepened since the riots."(32).

Next we meet a Dalit bookseller Ramakrishna, humorously nicknamed as 'Xerox', handcuffed and moving towards the Lighthouse Hill police station with his head held up and a look of insolent boredom on his face. He is a habitual offender and this time he is in trouble with the police for selling a copy of a banned book 'The Satanic Verses' in violation of the laws of the Republic of India. The novelist writes about this stubborn untouchable who does not bother any punishment:

"In the past nine years, the man known as 'Xerox' Ramakrishna has been arrested twenty-one times for the sale, at discounted rates, of illegally photocopied or printed books on the granite pavement in front of Deshpremi Hemchandra Rao Park to the students of St. Alfonso College (44).

The inspector Ramesh abuses him a lot:

"Don't you know, the book is banned, you son-of-a-bald-woman? You think you are going to start a riot among the Muslims? And me and every other policeman here transferred to Salt Market Village?"(47).

It is a mockery of the law that after drinking heavily with the bookseller's lawyer the police inspector enters the lock up and smashes the legs of 'Xerox' in presence of a lawyer and both do laugh. But no punishment can change this violator of law as he declares in front of the inspector never to stop selling such books.

Another episode highlights another gruesome malady of caste-complexes deep rooted in the society of this country for ages. Here, a rich, spoiled, half-caste student is so enraged by the humiliation due to his low-caste mother that he turns an anarchist, rather a nihilist and explodes a bomb in his college. Actually this half-Brahmin half Hoyka boy is everywhere insulted for his lower caste on his mother's side and even his teachers like Mr. Lasrado, the Chemistry professor, have meted out him a disgusting treatment. His humiliation due to low caste has turned him into a rebel and anti-social nihilist and he wishes to take his revenge by destroying the whole system. In his college he joins the company of the spoiled rich hooligans and the group is a nuisance for all. Adiga writes about these rich ruffians as:

"They were distinguishable from the others by the pleated trousers that they wore, with brand-name labels visible on the rear-pockets or on the side, and by their general air of cockiness. They were Shabbir Ali, whose father owned the only video rental store in town; the Bakht twins Irfan and Rizvan, children of the blackmarketeer; Shankara P.Kinni, whose father was a plastic surgeon in the Gulf; and Pinto, the scion of a coffee estate family." (53)

Each of them has been subjected to multiple periods of suspension from classes for bad behavior and has been threatened with expulsion for insubordination. So far as Shankara is concerned, the rude and brutal insult has tainted his psyche as the novelist says:

"For so many years this educational institution had spoken to him, spoken rudely: teachers had caned him, headmasters had suspended and threatened to expel him. And, he suspected and is right too that it all happened to mock him for being a Hoyka, lower caste"(55).

After bomb blast when professor Lasrado is extremely perturbed Shankara gets a sort of sadistic pleasure and viciously smiles. On his way back from college Shankara sits by the foot of a statue of Jesus and wishes to convert to Christianity because among the Christians there are no castes. But he is reminded of being once beaten by Jesuit priest in full view of the entire school and so drops this idea for ever. He further thinks that if the police ask him for a statement, his answer would be this:

"I have burst a bomb to end the 5,000-year-old caste system that still operates in our country. I have burst a bomb to show that a man should not be judged, as I have been merely by the accident of his birth" (59). He even writes a pamphlet 'The Manifesto of a Wronged Hoyka. Why the Bomb was Burst Today!' (60).

The bitterness has developed in him a hatred for his low caste mother and he prefers to avoid her. Adiga writes in this regard as:

"But he also knew that she was in awe of her half-Brahmin son; she also felt beneath him, because she was a full- blooded Hoyka"(61).

His mother feels wretched in the presence of her husband's Brahmin relatives since,

"Her sole claim to acceptance, to respectability, was the production of a male child, an heir - and if he wasn't in the house, then she had nothing to show. She was just a Hoyka trespassing into a Brahmni's household"(61).

Even Shankara himself is not fully acceptable to the Brahmins and they see him as the product of a buccaneering adventure on the part of his father and

"they associated him (he was sure) with a range of corruptions. Mix one part premarital sex and one part caste violation in a black pot and what do you get? This cute little satan - Shankara"(62). 

It is irony of his fate that among his Hoyka relatives Shankara is treated as someone special because he is half-Brahmin and hence so much higher than them in the caste scale; or because he is so rich, and hence so much higher than them in the class scale. But he hates this inferiority complex and their grovelling to him, because of his half- Brahminness. It becomes intolerable to Shankara when he comes to know of his Brahmin father's treachery that he has kept another Hoyka girl as his mistress in other part of the town. It is equally painful that Shankara's father has neither come to see him for six years, nor has he even written or called him on phone. He is burning in the fire of self-hatred as he realizes that his caste seems to be the knowledge of people who have no business knowing it. One day, when he goes to play cricket at Nehru Maidan, an old Brahmin examines his body from top to bottom and makes a very sarcastic comment:

"I knew what the consequence would be; you would be a bastard. Neither a Brahmin nor a Hoyka. I told your father this. He did not listen………… You too belong to a caste, said the old fellow.'The Brahmo-Hoykas, in between the two" (68). 

After making him aware of his status as a bastard, this shabby Brahmin boards a bus and begins to jostle with a young man for seat. Shankara feels sorry for this poor old Brahmin and gets some consolation in thinking that though the old man is of a higher caste, he is poor and so more wretched. He himself has never to catch a bus in his life; there is always the chauffeur. To avoid the police searching for the culprit of the bomb blast Shankara goes to the Hoyka locality. There he attends a political rally "The Hoyka Pride and Self-Expression Day Rally" held to ask retribution for the five thousand years of injustice done to them.

The chief guest is Kittur's three times Member of Parliament and also a junior member of the Cabinet of Rajiv Gandhi; he is also a Hoyka by caste - not exactly a Hoyka, rather a Kollaba, the top of the seven sub-castes in Hoykas, however, the pride of the entire community. In his firebrand speech he shouts right away:

'Low-caste! Go back! But these days, do the Brahmins dare do that to us? Do they dare call us "low-caste"? We are 90 per cent of this town! We are the majority! If they hit us, we will hit them back! If they shame us, we will?' (71).

But all this is merely to exploit the Hoyka community for election because after the speech the M.P. enters into the small tent and relishes his drinks. When someone introduces Shankara to him he cunningly reckons the richness of this young man and so immediately takes his hand with an eagerness to exploit his situation for the coming election. There Shankara observes thousands of Hoyka men in lines to get bottles of rum being distributed on behalf of this leader and he watches all this with disapproval. Moreover, he is hurt on knowing that Kollabas have always been millionaires and so have been exploiting the other six Hoykas castes for years. He ponders on some possible remedy to get rid of this repulsive disease of caste system from the Indian society. One of the solutions that strike him is nihilist ideology of the Naxalites attempting a complete destruction to recreate a fresh system having equality for all and sundry. Shankara is excited at this idea:

"I too think we should start from scratch, sir. I think we should destroy the caste system and start from scratch" (74).

His introspection about his anarchic behavior shows his guilty consciousness as well as inferiority complex as:

"I have the worst of both the castes in my blood, Shankara thought, lying in bed. I have the anxiety and fear of the Brahmin, and I have the propensity to act without thinking of the Hoyka. In me the worst of the two has mixed and produced the monstrosity, which is my personality."(76).

Then, out of communal hatred, he plans to blame his old Muslim friend Shabbir for this blast. For a moment he wishes to call the police just to report for this crime.

"Shabbir is a Muslim,' he would say. 'He wanted to do this to punish India for Kashmir….. That Muslim bastard!" (81).

Actually Shankara is a very impulsive and unpredictable character and even he does not know what he will do the very next moment. When the Christian professor briefs to the press that the youth of India is directionless and so the blast is only an example of anarchic tendency of the spoiled youth, Shankara is internally shattered. He is surprisingly overtaken by remorse, love and sympathy for Professor Lasrado, his worst enemy, and even confesses his crime as :

"I wish I had not humiliated him, as so many have humiliated me, and my mother. 'I did it, sir.,……he said.' Now stop bothering these other boys and punish me."(82)

This confession comes so unexpected that neither Lasrado nor Shankara's friends could believe his sincerity and all think that he is still mocking.

Chapter five is framed around a discussion between two teachers of a school at Kittur and the central point is the speedily increasing corruption and violence in India. They are of the opinion that India is still suffering due to the defective policies, violent feuds and criminalization of the politics. Their arguments go on thus:

"The only mix up, Mr. Bhatt,' said the assistant headmaster, 'was made on 15 August 1947, when we thought this country could be run by a people's democracy instead of a military dictatorship.'

The young teacher nodded his head. 'Yes, yes, how true. What about the Emergency, sir? wasn't that a good thing?

'We threw that chance, away,' Mr. D' Mello said. 'And now they've shot dead Indira Gandhi - the only politician we ever had who knew how to give this country the medicine it needed.' (90).

He further explains that ever since Sardar Patel died this country has gone down the drain and one can't fight the widespread corruption. The teacher speaks about the unending misfortune of this nation as:

"Once India had been ruled by three foreigners: England, France and Portugal. Now their place was taken by three native-born thugs: Betrayal, Bungling, and Backstabbing. 'The problem is here?' he tapped his ribs. 'There is a beast inside us'. (104)  



More by :  Rishi Pal Singh

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