First of all, I need to ask forgiveness to the handful of readers that this blog might have, for my prolonged absence. For one reason or another, I’ve been reading books that I don’t want to read, but must read. As a friend pointed out, it’s a little ironic that I read to study and I read for fun. The joy, however, of reading a book for the pure, headonic pleasure of reading is indescribable. So although, Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies was first on my reading agenda, its higher level of prose tired my already weary brain, and I just had to squeeze a pulp-fiction-ish work in between. That’s how I came about reading Vikas Swarup’s Q & A.
I had heard about the book first in terms of its movie version, Slumdog Millionaire, which sounded pretty interesting. Naturally, I had to precede the movie with the reading of the book. I didn’t go in with too many expectations and that helped in the reading of the book. The story was attractive – a poor, boy-of-the-streets hits the jackpot when he is able to answer all twelve questions in a Who Wants to be a Millionnaire? type program. But how does he do it? Is he an undiscovered genius? Has he managed to cheat? Surprisingly, no. Ram Mohammad Thomas, the protagonist and winner of a billion bucks, is just plain lucky. In a series of twelve chapters, we come to know that the twelve questions that lead Thomas to his win had an uncanny relation to twelve incidents of his life that helped him know the answers to strange questions like “Who invented the revolver?” or “In which play by Shakespeare do we find the character of Costard?”
I must reiterate that conceptually the story seems fascinating. However, one can suspend disbelief to only a certain extent, and as the narrative goes on, it gets harder and harder to link the questions to Thomas’s life. The stories by themselves are nice to read and have touches of the writer’s flair; but when you read them in the context of the quiz show, it all becomes a little too far-fetched. Also, it did not help a person like me, who is a staunch believer in either hard work or intellectual capabilities, that Thomas was just so lucky as to have at least 11 of the 12 questions directly related to what he has learned from life. Luck shmuck aside, Thomas must have the memory of an elephant to remember those specific incidents and answer the questions.
I don’t want to be too hard on the book, because as I said earlier, it’s a fun story to read and you’re rooting for Thomas throughout the book. The characters are likeable and there are some really well-written, funny incidents. On the other hand, I must nit-pick on the fact that the writer often flails between writing in the past tense and present tense when he is relating an incident of the past. That really got on my nerves, but I had to ignore it. It’s probably not even the writer’s fault but just shoddy editing.
If you find the movie interesting, I’d suggest you read the book first. Although it seems like I’m saying the contrary, it’s not such a bad book.