Literary Shelf

Emerging Narrative Techniques

in Indian English Fiction Since 1990

The title Indian English fiction grabs our attention to a kind of fiction proffering something distinct from English fiction itself. Indian English fiction has been struggling for its clear conception since its time of inception. No doubt, today it is assimilated in the rubric of Post Colonial Literature. Post colonialism recounts the experience of the people of the third world. It is a genre taking in its wide sweep the literature of all the former colonies of Britain. This is about the people whom Gayatri Spivak addressed as subalterns. She challenged the racial bias of the Western academics asking ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ The expression of the subalterns may always carry the tints of containment and inhibition, the upshot of hegemonic discourse lying under their own speech. It was quite paradoxical for the Indian writers who chose language of their colonizers to express their innate sensibilities, cultural experiences and thoughts. But Indian novelists adopted, nurtured and made English language their own. As Prof. K.R.S. Iyengar observes: “English has become ours: it is not less ours for being primarily the Englishman’s or the American’s; and Indo-Anglian literature too is our literature, the literature, which, with all its limitations, still taught us to be a new nation and a new people.”(Iyengar 1959)

English fiction in 1990 was chiefly influenced by the wave of Postmodernism which brought radical changes in the English fiction. Indian English fiction writers cannot deny the same effect on their writings. Postmodernism was a continuation of modernism, a revolt against authority and signification. J.F.Lyotard defines postmodernism, “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences: but that progress in turn presupposes it. To the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably, the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it. The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements--narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on [...] Where, after the metanarratives, can legitimacy reside?” (Lyotard: 1979)

Literally speaking, Narrative is a story and it can be conveyed through pictures, songs, poetry, speech, fiction and non-fiction as well. When in the writing mode, its telling is relegated to a special person; it becomes a technique used by that person. This person who is consigned the duty of narration is the narrator and his perspective serves as a prism through which ideas are transmitted to the readers. Narrative technique is vastly an aesthetic enterprise. It is binding vine of the narrative. A narrator detains the past, holds present and prepares the reader for future. There has been much aggrandizement in the narrative techniques since 1938 when Raja Rao’s Kanthapura was published. It was perhaps the first most successful and influential novel by an Indian writer in English. Traditionally, narrative techniques are explained through point of view in novel. There are three points of view to present a narrative: first person point of view when the narrator is one of the characters: he participates in the action and also comments on the events, third person point of view when the narrator narrates the story in an objective manner and omniscient point of view where the narrator is God like and can also make his presence felt with authorial intrusions.  (Narrative Techniques in Khushwant Singh's Novels)

Narrative technique distinguishes between story and discourse. Story is the sequence of events and discourse employs an order in presenting these events. In recent times so much research has been done in the field of narratology that it has become quite difficult to arrive at certain synthesis or basic points of agreement. The works of Russian Formalists: Propp and Schlovsky, American tradition, modern contribution of Booth and Chatman (1978) have been particularly concerned with the problems of narrative. Chatman with his semiotic model of communication introduced his double conceptions of author and reader: real author, implied author, implied reader and real reader. The implied author, an unwavering, unswerving individual differs from the narrator.

A narrator has plethora of options to narrate events. He can base his narrative on temporality and causality or he can narrate through focalization. Focalization changes the course of narrative as the reader receives images of character through the impression of the narrator. Focalization employs three dimensional strategies: the voice of one who narrates, one who sees and his understanding of events. In the emerging narrative techniques a discernible reader can easily notice the double consciousness of the narrator. Since 1990 the narrators in Indian English Fiction speak in the language tinged with a deep anguish for the motherland. There is deep rooted awareness of the belonging to the periphery. (Narrative Techniques in Khushwant Singh's Novels)

The novel I have taken up for analysis is The White Tiger (2008) by Aravind Adiga, which bagged Booker Prize for 2008. It tells the story of a simple rustic Balram Halwai and the way he adopts to become an entrepreneur.

Adiga is a journalist and has travelled a lot. The idea of writing The White Tiger came to his mind when he visited Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. He discovered a new India there, migration of labour was changing their life style, traditional values and old ties of these people. His purpose is to introduce a new India to the readers, new aspects of master-servant relationship, class system and disproportion of income. The novel hints the restlessness in the servant class which might erupt in violence. He is not continuing the traditional image of an ideal servant in his hero Balram rather his narrator is an anti-hero. Adiga himself says, “My novel attempts to look at what kind of man would be prepared to break the structure. You can in essence say it is a warning story, a fable of things that might be ahead for India.”(

Though the message conveyed by his book is sombre yet the narrative technique is not the same. The employment of main character as a narrator makes the narrative quibble. The narrator’s impression of the world around him, his prejudice, his simmering feeling of violence juxtapose with that of the character himself. His keen observation of world belonging to the rich only is the sum total of Balram’s sufferings in life. The novel deals with the binaries of Indian culture: Light Vs Darkness, Big bellies Vs small bellies. Adiga shows that the only way left for the underdog is violence. His novel is a pointer to future of India. He says,

“As to what lies in India's future that’s one of the hardest questions in the world to answer.”(

The narrative is developed in the form of seven letters written by Balram to Mr. Wen Jiabao in Beijing. The latter is coming to visit India and Balram takes up his duty to introduce him to the new India. The narrative progresses in the first person and we see Balram in action through his own eyes. The narrative involves analepsis and Balram is there to tell the secret of his being a successful entrepreneur. He is The White Tiger. He is given this title by an inspector who comes to visit his school. White tiger stands for different features of Balram: intelligent, honest, vivacious fellow, the best among the rust. The promise of a successful youth hinted by the inspector sows the seed of Balram’s better future. But that proves to be fictitious. He calls his story ‘The Autobiography of a Half-Baked Indian’ (Adiga: 10).

The narrative commences with the analysis of a pamphlet pasted by the police in search of Balram, the culprit. Three dimensions of narrator’s self appear: a denizen of darkness, a shrewd entrepreneur and a criminal. He makes amendments in the pamphlet as he wants it to be precisely addressed to himself. His idea of self superiority can be glanced. The shift from singular to plural in the first person is so quick that the reader stands with the narrator. Here, the plural sound denotes the subordinate class in society, their troubles, weaknesses and deprivations as the narrator says,

“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 story of a poor man is written on his body, in a sharp pen” (Adiga: 26-27).

Though the technique of using letter forms had not been new in English Literature yet the treatment given to this technique makes it interesting. The narrative unravels itself further with the each letter written by Balram. The technique creates a number of doubts in the mind of the reader as the narrative advances. Firstly, the image of a criminal Balram is formed then it takes one back to his roots, portraying his struggle with depravity and his wish to leave the place of his birth. Flashback technique is used as an answer to the questions coming to the mind of reader regarding behaviour of Balram. The narrative progresses with traces of the past in mind and in some manner, it maintains the uncanny feeling of the avowed murder. The reader scrutinizes behaviour of each rich character mentioned by the narrator to guess the victim.

The psychological make up of Balram is made explicit through the method of plunging deeply into his motives and desires. There is cringing of this peripheral character to come to the centre. Adiga has applied the methodology of confession for Balram. The narrative takes the form of metanarrative: Balram’s story is a story about migrant workers, including and explaining other stories within the totalizing scheme. This is highly post modernist technique where the reader is caught in the eclecticism employed by the author. The feeling of suspense keeps on mounting till the final moment of peripety when the victim is none other than his own beloved master Ashok. It comes as a thrash to one’s idea of probability or necessity. The narrator had been giving a quite favorable image of the victim. But his cruel murder makes the narrator appear as a cold blooded one.

Thus The White Tiger, assimilates the multiple narrative voices in one discourse. It is a significant document of Postmodern Indian English Fiction.

Iyengar, K.R.S. “Introduction”, Indian writing in English, p.8.
The introduction is the text of a lecture delivered at the University of Leeds on January 19, 1959.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois.
Introduction: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge," 1979: xxiv-xxv.
Narrative Techniques in Khushwant Singh's Novels
Adiga, Aravind  
Adiga, Aravind, The White Tiger, 2008. Harper Collins Publishers. India


More by :  Supriya Bhandari

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Views: 3589      Comments: 2

Comment This is a correction, I guess. The victim of the murder in White Tiger is explicitly mentioned in the first chapter. It isn't a suspense.

25-Mar-2014 08:05 AM

Comment very very useful if ure writting a commentary on the book
.thankss a ton

26-Oct-2012 03:32 AM

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