Aravind Adiga wrote these stories before his 2008 Booker-winning novel The White Tiger, and they contain in miniature those themes which are his forte: corruption and injustice; the gulf between the rich and the poor; and portraiture of a cross-section of society. They are set in the fictional town of Kittur, a microcosm of India, between two key historical events: the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and her son Rajiv in 1991.
"He cannot read English, but he knows that English words have power, and that English books have an aura" – so believes Xerox, the subject of one of Adiga's vignettes, after a lifetime spent selling illegally photocopied or printed books. He has been arrested 21 times and regales the police with "a smutty tale" and the narrative of his father, whose job was to take the excrement from the houses of rich landlords – the traditional occupation of his caste. He knows this story will make people laugh, but Adiga is adept at siphoning the tragedy from every ostensible comedy.
It is these untold stories from the streets, and the process of story-telling itself, its virtues and vices, which are the heart of this collection.