Sunday, January 4, 2009

Q & A by Vikas Swarup; Slumdog Millionaire

Title: Q & A
Author: Vikas Swarup
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 361
Edition: Paperback
Movie: Slumdog Millionaire

My bookshelf is teeming with books of literature, fiction, and non-fiction all neatly stacked waiting to be read. Quite often, I pick one up run my fingers down the spine, weigh the book in one hand, flip through the pages, catch a phrase or two in the process wondering if it should be my next book. Some books get picked up again and again. Some books just gather dust over time. Q & A falls in the second category. I believe I have had it on my shelf for over a year lying untouched. I never thought about it much until one day I ran into a friend who bragged about a movie called "Slumdog millionaire" and how its based on the book "Q & A". It sure did ring a bell. I dashed back home, headed straight to my bookshelf and dusted off my copy of Q & A. With a little over 350 pages, what I once thought would be a boring book turned out to be just the opposite.

Ram Mohammad Thomas, an eighteen-year-old boy hailing from a slum in Mumbai wins a whopping one billion rupees in a quiz show "Who Wants to Win a Billion?". Before he could bask in the glory of winning the most coveted prize, he was accused of cheating and arrested. He pleads his innocence, to no avail. A lawyer comes to his rescue and what he recounts with her forms the compelling story of Q & A.

The book has 12 chapters one for each question from the show. In every chapter, Ram narrates an event from his past and ends with a question from the show. By the time you finish a chapter, you would realize that the question is a no-brainer for Ram. In quiz shows like this, the questions increase in complexity as you plow your way through. And since each chapter spins a tale around the question, the events don't follow a chronological pattern..or any pattern at all. This makes it a much more difficult read. I was trying to puzzle several pieces together the whole time, as Ram (the protagonist) goes back and forth in time. The author does seem to realize this predicament, yet the challenge remains.

He touches several topics like Ram's upbringing in a christian home, his experiences from doing odd jobs, his love with a prostitute and such. Some stories are well written. A few rather seem to be forced. But, it was a great effort overall. What I found to be profoundly moving was the day-to-day life of people in Dharavi (a renowned slum in Mumbai). I have seen slums whenever I used to travel by train or bus. But, never up close. Now I begin to understand what life would be like for those people who live on the brink of extreme penury.. what it would be like to line up in queues for everything from water to public spend endless nights without an pilfer food from trash toil everyday for pennies.. to live under appalling conditions. Thanks to Vikas for reminding me how grateful I should feel for the happy and privileged life I lead everyday.
My Rating: 4/5

Now, a little bit about the movie "Slumdog Millionaire". Directed by Danny Boyle, the movie has earned 4 Golden Globe nominations already including the best motion picture - drama. The trailer looks very appealing and hopefully I would watch it someday.


Unknown said...

Great review! You captured the essence of the novel very well. I could not put the book down after reading a few pages. Very impressed with Vikas's writing style...looking forward to reading more of his books


Happy Reader said...

@papu ~ Thanks for leaving a comment! You may want to try his other book "Six Suspects" - a crime novel released in July 08. It goes down on my reading list as well.

tanabata said...

The movie does look good. I didn't know it was based on a book! Thanks for the review and posting the trailer.

Radha said...

I'm so keen on either watching this movie or reading this book; but just havent been able to get around to it!

Happy Reader said...

@tanabata, @Radha ~ my DH read the book as well as he watched the movie. He says that the book is better.. Anyway, I would love to know your thoughts on the movie, if you choose to watch it!