Q & A (novel)
|Q & A|
Book cover of Black Swan edition
|Publication date||2005, 2006|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.6 22|
|LC Classification||PR9499.4.S93 Q13 2005|
Q & A is a novel by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat. Published in 2005, it was the author's first novel. Set in India, it tells the story of Ram Mohammad Thomas, a young waiter who becomes the biggest quiz show winner in history, only to be sent to jail on accusations (but with no evidence) that he cheated. In 2008, the book was adapted into the multiple Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire.
Narrated in the first person, the novel follows the life of Ram Mohammad Thomas, an orphaned, uneducated young waiter. Prior to the start of the novel, Ram has correctly answered 12 questions on the fictional game show Who Will Win a Billion? (or W3B), and has won Rs. one billion (about $22 million). However, show host Prem Kumar and the producers, who do not have the money to pay him, have had the police arrest him for cheating; they had cast Ram because they figured an uneducated street child would not be able to answer more than a few questions at most, and they find the police more than willing to believe them. Ram explains to his sympathetic lawyer, Smita Shah, (who has rescued him from being tortured), just how he managed to answer twelve random questions: they related to real events that occurred in his life, with each question prompting its own flashback. As he says, "Well, wasn't I lucky they only asked those questions to which I knew the answers?".
Ram goes on to tell her how by drawing from the experiences of his own short, yet turbulent and sometimes cruel life, he, a young, poor waiter, answered the twelve questions that led him to the jackpot. Through this device, the novel moves between Mumbai, Delhi and Agra (non-chronologically) as it highlights Ram's bizarre experiences, from his original upbringing by an English-speaking priest to his various jobs, which include working as house help for an aging Bollywood actress, in a foundry, an Australian diplomat who turns out to be in a spy ring, as a tourist guide in Agra and a waiter in a bar at Mumbai. His best friend is another young orphan named Salim, who plays a part in some of these adventures and dreams of becoming an actor, as it was foretold by a palmist at a fair. Ram was told by the same palmist that he would not live a very long life, but he doesn't believe in foretelling the future and dismisses it. Salim later becomes an actor after saving a Bollywood producer from assassination from a professional hitman. However, the key events of Ram's life come when he works as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal, which is when he meets a young prostitute named Nita. He falls in love with her and asks her pimp to let her marry him, but the pimp refuses. Meanwhile, Ram's friend Shankar is dying of rabies. He needs 400,000 rupees to buy a vaccination, and Nita's pimp demands the same amount. Shankar dies, and Ram steals the money from Shankar's uncaring mother. After learning that the pimp (who is also Nita's brother) will continue to demand even more money, he instead gives it to an English teacher whose son needs the rabies vaccine. The teacher later helps answer Ram's question about William Shakespeare when Ram uses his Friendly Tip Lifeboat.
Ram tells his lawyer that he went on the show partly in a quest to win enough money to buy Nita's freedom from her pimp, and partly in a bid to get even with the show's host, Prem Kumar, who abused and exploited Nita, resulting in her being placed under intensive care in hospital. Prem also exploited the late Neelima Kumari, a former Bollywood actress and Ram's former employer. Ram had planned to kill him when he went for a bathroom break (show rules dictate that the contestant must be followed everywhere by the host so they cannot cheat). However, Ram decides against it and, in gratitude, Kumar tells him the answer of the last question, which was the only answer he might have not have answered correctly.
The author has said that he was inspired by the Hole in the Wall project which installed a computer in a Delhi slum. Young children taught themselves about the use of computers without intervention from the experimenters.
Another inspiration for Swarup was the cheating scandal involving Major Charles Ingram after he had won the top prize on the U.K. version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? "If a British army major can be accused of cheating, then an ignorant tiffin boy from the world's biggest slum can definitely be accused of cheating," said Swarup.
To date, the book has sold translation rights in 42 languages, including French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Finnish, Slovenian, Croatian, Turkish, Icelandic, Chinese, Polish, Russian, Norwegian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Sinhala, Indonesian, Thai, Japanese and Hebrew (both as The Riddle Boy from Mumbai), Portuguese.
Ram Mohammad Thomas - The main character, who tells his life story to the lawyer. He is in love with Nita and believes firmly in destiny. He possesses a "lucky" coin that he uses when confronted with big decisions—but it is revealed that both sides are "heads." Generally, he has a very pessimistic and realistic view of life. As a result of that, he isn`t very self-cofident and hasn't the idea of becoming rich. His name stands for three different religions. This is because it is unknown which religion his parents had. He is an orphan.
Salim Ilyasi - Ram's best friend, who has dreams of becoming a Bollywood moviestar. When he was younger, a fortuneteller predicted that he would be more famous than his Bollywood idol, which spurred on his dreams. He is two years younger than Ram and very handsome, with a clear, musical voice. He also believes firmly in destiny. To sum up, his character is coined as a young, childish and naive person. Compared to Ram Mohammed Thomas, his outlook in life is positive and very idealistic.
Prem Kumar - The show host of the quiz show 'Who Will Win a Billion? (or W3B)' It is later revealed that he is the man who abused both Ram's former employer and Nita, and Ram joins the show to get revenge on him. By the end of the book, he has helped Ram win the show and commits suicide in his car, though Ram suspects the show's producers had a hand in his death.
Smita Shah - Ram's lawyer and childhood friend, she saves him from torture and listens to him tell his story. Though she is at first skeptical, she slowly comes to believe what he is telling her. It turns out that her real name is Gudiya, and she was the abused girl he mentioned in one of his stories—the one whom he saved after he pushed her father down the stairs.
Nita - A young prostitute with whom Ram falls in love. It is a tradition within her tribe to send one girl to be a prostitute, and she tells Ram bitterly not to call her beautiful because that is the reason she was chosen instead of her plain-looking sister. Her brother is her pimp, and so she implores Ram not to kill him. At the end of the book, she and Ram are married.
Shankar - A gentle friend who has a speech defect and is Swapna Devi's unacknowledged son who acquires rabies and dies. When he was very young, he caught his mother and Uncle in bed together and, as a result, his mother kicked him out. He still has the mind of a six-year old boy and cries out coherently for his "Mummy" when he is delirious from rabies. He has a blue notebook full of pictures that he has drawn for and of his mother.
Neelima Kumari- A famous actress who refused to play any other role apart from the main role and wanted to stay the same way forever. Ram spent sometime with her as a servant. She is based on Meena Kumari. Known as the "Tragedy Queen," she is abused by Prem Kumar but refuses to turn him in, saying that a true Tragedy Queen must possess real sadness in her life. She commits suicide, wanting to be remembered as young, but the police find her body a month later—after it has decomposed.