|Image: My own|
From the book cover: A former tiffinboy from Mumbai, Ram Mohammad Thomas, has just got twelve questions correct on a TV quiz show to win a cool one billion rupees. But he is brutally slung in a prison cell on suspicion of cheating. Because how can a kid from the slums know who Shakespeare was, unless he has been pulling a fast one?
In the order of the questions on the show, Ram tells us which amazing adventures in his street-kid life taught him the answers. From orphanages to brothels, gangsters to beggar-masters, and into the homes of Bollywood's rich and famous, Slumdog Millionaire is brimming with the chaotic comedy, heart-stopping tragedy, and tear-inducing joyfulness of modern India.
My thoughts: I'm a firm believer in not judging a book by its movie. In this case, I had seen the movie some years back and felt disappointed. There was a lot of hype surrounding it and the movie just didn't do it for me. So, when I saw the book at my bookstore, based on which the movie was taken, I picked it up immediately.
Moreover, I have read most of the author's previous works and remember enjoying it immensely. Swarup writes in a a way that I can connect with as a reader. And more importantly, he does not shy away from writing characters that are far from perfect. He always does a wonderful job in portraying 'grey' characters, that makes you like them for their flaws.
So last evening, I picked up this book with an intent of covering just a few chapters. But I was so caught up in the novel that I finished it in one go, over few hours. I must confess that I stayed up till almost one last night reading this. It is so captivating that you get sucked right into the story along with the protagonist, Thomas.
The book is narrated in the first person by Ram Mohammad Thomas(there is a story behind the name as well). He is an orphan and he recounts his entire life story to his advocate, Smita (and to us). There are twelve chapters in total corresponding to the twelve questions that Thomas gets encountered with. In fact he gets asked a total of thirteen questions, but the last question is a plot twist as we come to know in the last chapter.
Each chapter begins with a flashback as to how Thomas learns the answer to the corresponding question which is told in a series of flashbacks, and brings us back to the present, at the end of each chapter. The life of an orphan who thrives on the chawls and slums of Mumbai, Agra and Delhi are portrayed very realistically without being patronizing.
Thomas is portrayed neither as a simpleton nor as a victim. He has his strengths and flaws. He is shrewd, quick to learn, adapts to his surroundings and street smart. There are so many other characters that I loved besides the protagonist. Whether it was his best friend Salim from the orphanage, Neelima Kumari the famous actress or the 'tragedy queen' as she is referred to by the media, that Thomas worked for, Gudiya, a helpless girl from the slum that hr grows fond of, or Nita the prostitute with whom he eventually falls in love with.
These are characters etched out in a lot of depth. For instance, Neelima Kumari and her fixation with being youthful and the ironical climax of her story. I'm not going in detail, but please do read this one if you haven't. There are only a handful of Indian authors that I like and enjoy and Swarup is one of the few on the list. I highly recommend Slumdog Millionaire. Read it not to just get a feel of the underbelly of India, but to embark on a thrilling journey that will keep you on the edge of your seats right till the last line.
* The book was previously published as Q&A.