Q and A, Vikas Swarup’s debut novel begins with its protagonist Ram Mohammad Thomas in jail. Reason? He has just won a billion rupees in India’s Who Will Win a Billion. Since he is a poor uneducated boy from the chawls (or slums), producers of the show reason out that he couldn’t have won on merit and instead cheated. They ask the police to “persuade” Ram to confess to cheating. He is saved from the tender ministrations of the police by a lawyer who demands to know how exactly he came to know the answers. Thus begins Ram’s Scheherazade like telling of his life, whose twists and turns fortuitously give him the answers to the various questions.
Reading the book, I could see how its plot could be taken to form the basis of a movie. And a hugely successful one too; last I heard, Slumdog Millionaire had 10 Oscar nominations and was being called the little film that could. The book though is one that could be enjoyed independently of the movie. Granted, Swarup’s plot requires a suspension of belief but it is a hugely enjoyable story nonetheless. He writes with a deft and engaging hand and the plot twists and turns make it a fast novel to read. He has given Ram a distinctive voice that carries along the tale. What Swarup has done really well with this book is to paint a portrait of modern India with all its squalor and filth but also the vibrancy and grit of its inhabitants. He has written this story with genuine humor and sympathy for those whose lot in life is most unfortunate. All the more reason to cheer for Ram’s one billion rupees. At the end of the day, don’t we all want a happy ever after?