Aravind Adiga's debut novel, "White Tiger", won the Booker prize this year. Like many Indians who return to India after living abroad, he noticed how middle-class Indians do not notice the poor or their ramshackle slums. His explanation of what prompted him to write the book in an interview last month:
Ralph Ellison wrote The Invisible Man right after the Second World War. It's a book that suggests the metaphor of invisibility as a way of understanding the African American experience of that time where the central character feels he is invisible just because the white people around him don't see him as a human being.
When I came back to India after a long stint in the United States, I was struck by how many invisible men are around us in India. When you are in a car in New Delhi, there is invariably a chauffeur. The person who owns the car is almost never driving it. And he conducts a conversation with you in the backseat in which he can discuss all kinds of things about his private life and there is another man in the car, the servant who can understand what is being said, but he's almost not there. He's part of the machinery and there are so many invisible men in India today.
There are three writers - Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, who dealt with race and class along with racial issues, and they form a template that can be moved onto India today. Our poor are almost invisible in a way that African Americans were invisible then. And also a lot of rich Indians think of the poor as a distinct race in a sense. The poor in India tend to be darker, leaner, physically different. The difference between the haves and have nots is almost a physical, corporeal, racial difference in India.