Aravind Adiga: You Ask The Questions

The Man Booker prizewinning novelist answers your questions, such as 'Should India put a man on the moon?' and 'How would you advise Obama?'

Monday 10 November 2008 01:00 GMT
(Will Wintercross)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


How do you feel about the US election result? David Moore, London

Like most people around the world, I'm happy that Obama won. How nice to see the last of George W Bush and his stupid financial, economic, and military policies; how nice that we have the prospect, at least, of change in America. Whether Obama will deliver on his promise, I don't know. If he fails to change America, though, he's done enough to change the world just by winning.

What can British and Indian politicians learn from Barack Obama? Ellen Mowbray, LONDON

The cynical answer would be: they could learn to raise money like him! No one should forget that Obama is a seasoned politician – he's no saint. But he is articulate, intelligent, and has a way of reassuring common voters that he can identify with their problems without dumbing himself down. He also seems to get the seriousness of the environmental problems facing the world. These are qualities I wish other politicians had. That said, I'm sure Obama could learn something from Gordon Brown – who has done such a fine job in dealing with the banking crisis – and also from the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who helped steer India through a terrible financial crisis in 1991.

What do you say to those who say it's a form of racism to describe Barack Obama as black when his mother is white? Philip Newey, Norwich

I don't think it's racism, given that in America, for so many decades, a person with even a drop of black blood was considered black. Until recently, many white Americans, especially in the southern states, repudiated anyone of mixed race. Those born of white and black parents didn't fit in anywhere particularly well, but the only real acceptance they found was among black Americans—and they became "black". I'm happy to see that Obama has never repudiated any aspect of lineage, and has been eager to acknowledge all his relatives – white, black, and Asian. Many in the USA do consider him their first "mixed-race" president.

Does the "special relationship" mean anything any more? Should Britain have a "special relationship" with India? Or does it already have one? JP Singh, Birmingham

Britain's "special relationship" with America has been a liability for it since George W Bush became president – at least that's how we see it from outside. With its cultural clout in America, Britain could have been a restraining influence on the White House; instead, it became, inexplicably, a willing sidekick to an arrogant superpower. Now that the USA is in palpable decline, Britain should consider highlighting other "special" relationships – such as the one with India. Indians seem to love visiting (or studying in) England, while large numbers of British tourists come here each year, and they are the most educated and India-friendly of all our visitors. There is a new relationship forming between the countries, one that has little to do with their shared colonial history, but is built on mutual understanding and affection, and it would be good for both if they acknowledged it and developed it.

If you were Mr Obama's adviser for a day what advice would you offer? Barbara Poole, Ashford

I would tell him what an American friend told me: that a more modest America is better for the world – and better for Americans.

India is suffering a spate of internal unrest and outbreaks of terrorism at the moment. How do you think these problems can be resolved? Mary Gordon, London

These problems have been brewing for a long time. The causes are complex, but one common theme I find is the heightened tension within the country that's caused by the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The flare-ups can often take the form of ethnic or regional protests, but the underlying grievances are often economic: "those people who live over there are doing much better than we are." Fixing the economic disparities has to be part of any attempt to address India's growing unrest. The country's intelligence and police agencies need to be reformed and modernised; right now they seem way behind the terrorists. In particular, the police have to make an effort to reach out to Indians of all religions – right now, many religious minorities are intensely suspicious of the police (and with good cause).

Do you feel that the world ignores India's poor? Carol Davies, Cambridge

The truth is, India doesn't need the world's help in fixing its poverty. The money is present right here, the social workers are right here. The basic steps needed to lift the 400 million Indians who live in extreme poverty are known to everyone – a massive increase in government investment in primary schools, hospitals, and farming (most of the poor live in villages). What is lacking in India is the political will to make these investments – and to fight the pervasive corruption that erodes the effectiveness of the meager anti-poverty programmes currently in place.

What do you think is a greater threat to India: terrorism or corruption? Julian Bolton, Worcester

The two are linked. A corrupt system that fails to provide justice or to reduce poverty is one of the causes of terrorism. Terrorists in India are often middle-class, but one of the things that gets them worked up and angry is a sense that many others of their religion or community are forced into poverty by a corrupt system. Reducing corruption, and increasing the trust that citizens have in the country's political and judicial systems, will strike at the very root of terrorism.

You studied under Simon Schama in the US. Did he offer you any memorable advice about writing? Stephen Parkinson, Basingstoke

Schama was a terrific teacher. He made us read several authors whom I've never forgotten: Jules Michelet and Roberto Calasso, for instance. But the best advice I got about writing came not from him but from a friend (who claimed that he got it from the American author Richard Ford): If you want to make a living as a writer, young man, remember to marry well. (I haven't followed it, alas.)

Arundhati Roy was a compatriot of yours who like you won the Booker with her debut novel, and she has not written another in over 10 years. Could the same thing happen to you? Tim Blake, Brighton

A book of short stories that I wrote before The White Tiger – called Between the Assassinations – has just been published in India, and will come out in the United Kingdom next year. I'm working on another manuscript as well. The odds are good that you'll be asking the next Indian-born Booker winner, "Will you keep bombarding us like the last chap, or leave us in peace for a while?"

Do you prefer David Cameron or Gordon Brown? Anne Knowles, London

Prime Minister Brown sent a letter congratulating me on winning the Booker, and David Cameron didn't, so I'm biased.

Are you a cricket fan? What do you make of the Indian Cricket League and Premier League? Does it threaten the future of Test cricket? Simon West, Cardiff

What the Indian Premier League really threatens is the future of my writing career, as I watch far too much of it.

What do you think of India's plans to put a man on the moon? Ben Drury, Manchester

Anything that increases the interest in science in a country still trapped by religion and superstition can only be a good thing. I don't think the moon mission is going to happen, but unlike some others I don't think India's space programme is a waste of money. India doesn't lack the money to fix its poverty. The problems are corruption, bad public policy, and backwardness. A greater respect for science can help fight these problems, and all this talk of a moon mission, however silly the idea may be, does just that.

How do you see the future of India-Pakistan relations? Dilip Choudry, LEEDS

One of the great surprises of going to Pakistan as a reporter was to find out how much warmth there is towards Indians in that country. (The only place in south Asia where I've found widespread dislike of Indians is in Nepal – and with good cause, considering how economic migrants from that country are treated in India.) Relations between the countries have improved dramatically in the past five years, and the new Pakistani Prime Minister Zardari seems committed to peace, at least so far. However, the two big problems – the future of Kashmir and India's claim that Pakistan supports terrorism within India – are still unsolved. I'm hopeful, but I fear that instability within Pakistan may force its leaders to support terrorism in India – in which case relations will deteriorate again.

Aravind Adiga's novel 'The White Tiger' is published by Atlantic Books

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