If you were to search for me in this crowded maze, where would you look? You would probably try to find me among the dozens of children stretched out on the smooth concrete floor in various stages of rest and slumber. You might even imagine me as an adolescent hawker, peddling plastic bottles containing tap water from the station's toilet as pure Himalayan aqua minerale. You could visualize me as one of the sweepers in dirty shirt and torn pants shuffling across the platform, with a long swishing broom transferring dirt from the pavement on to the track.
This is the original book behind the award-winning blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire. But if, like me, you thought that the movie probably resembles or follows the basic plotline of the novel, you will realize that you are wrong not long after you start reading. For once, the novel and the movie are so different that I don't think anyone can go around complaining about how the movie left out this-and-that, or that the novel did not receive the credit or treatment that it should have. With the exception of the basic setting and themes, almost everything is different: the names, the places, the relationships, the questions on the quiz show, the stories that are told... The novel and movie are pretty much incomparable.
Q and A begins with a poor waiter, Ram Mohammad Thomas, who has just answered 12 questions correctly in the quiz show Who Will Win a Billion? It is suspected that he has cheated and his lawyer begins to question him about how he could possibly know the answers to all the questions. Ram relates the story of his life in non-chronological anecdotes, from being abandoned in a rubbish bin by his mother, to being brought up by a priest, Father Timothy. Among other things, he becomes a servant to an Australian colonel and his family, stays with an ageing Bollywood actress, takes on the job of a tourist guide at Taj Mahal in Agra and listens to drunken men complain about their lives in a Mumbai bar.
Ram's story is a story of survival, of coincidental meetings between people from the different walks of life - from gay priests to contract killers, from incestuous fathers to foreign spies, from prostitutes to autistic children. The story also takes him, quite literally, from rags to riches. The baddies get what they deserve and the goodies win. Yes, this is a kind of fairytale. Magical and colourful, but very unrealistic.
Vikas Swarup: Q and A. Doubleday. 2005.
The Guardian interview with author Vikas Swarup
Wikipedia: Q and A
Wikipedia: Vikas Swarup