Q&A- A Novel by Vikas Swarup- An Inspiration of Slumdog Millionaire Movie

It was year 2009 when I saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire and I was amazed with the twists and turns of the story. The inspiration of the story of Slumdog Millionaire movie is the book entitled Q&A written by Vikas Swarup. I just got the chance to read the book. There are some alterations in the movie version (as usual) but the book version is full of intense, action, drama and mind boggling scenes. I will never get tired reading this novel again because you will learn about the culture of India and the trick of survival.

At the back of the book, there are 14 discussion questions about the novel. For the sake of arguments, I will post my answers to these questions here.

1. Why does  Vikas Swarup choose the name “Ram Mohammad Thomas” for his protagonist?

I think the reason why the author selected this name is because he wants to invite international readers. He wants to emphasize that eventhough the settings, the characters and the concept of of the novel is all about India, everybody can still relate to the story. No matter what race you are, as long as you can read, you can relate to this novel. So a combination of a Christian, Indian and Muslim name is a good idea.

2. Ram has a recurring dream of a tall woman with black hair that obscures her face. At what moments does he have this dream, and why? What does this woman represent? Is he his biological mother? A symbol of hope? Abandonment?

The dream about that woman recurs when Ram is in a situation of compassion. This happened when he became a brother to Gudiya and to Shankar. The common denominator between Gudiya and Shankar is, they are both helpless. Ram himself is a helpless boy, but he still extends help to other helpless kids like him. This help comes in a form of support or compassion or protection, other than that, he could offer no more. When he is in this kind of situation, the woman appears in her dream which for me is a symbol of hope. It’s ironic because the dream will recur when he is in a helpless situation. The woman is just like giving him the hope to go on  because the figure resembles to her mother.

3. In telling Gudiya’s story, Ram asks, “But what was Gudiya’s crime? Simply that she was born a girl and Shantaram was her father? Are there other women in this novel who are treated poorly simply because of their sex? Do any female characters not need Ram’s protection? How would you describe his relationship with other women?

Ram so far helped 4 helpless women in this novel. First is Gudiya, Ram’s neighbour who was maltreated and abused by her own father. Second is Neelima Kumari, an actress where Ram works as a servant, she was deliberately abused by her boyfriend and the society. Third is Meenakshi, a passenger in the train molested by a robber. And the last woman he helped was Nita, a prostitute girl and the love of his life. All these women, if not abused sexually, have been abused physically. However, some women like that of the Haiti girl and the mother of Shankar are wicked. They possess strong personality and power to become predator instead of prey. They are both antagonists in Ram’s eye.

4. Several characters, especially Ram and Salim, are big movie fans. Are movies simply a form of escapism or do they carry a more significant role in the culture?

Movie actually played a vital role in this novel. Aside from Salim and Ram’s obsession over movies, several characters like Neelima and Armaan Ali showed to us the scenes behind the camera. While Salim and Ram agreed that watching movie is a scapegoat of reality, the actors and actresses who played the role in the movie struggle to cover the reality. People expect them to act this way, to look like this, to react like that and to possess something. But they could not keep the show forever. As much as they keep as entertained by diverting our attentions from harsh reality, they too have their own issues in life. If we can escape from reality by watching movies, how can the people behind the movie escape their own realities?

5. What are Ram’s ambitions in life? Why does he tell Prem Kumar he doesn’t know how he’s going to spend the billion rupees?

Seeing that he is working as a waiter in a lowly bar, Ram has a simple ambition in life- that is to marry the love of her life and live a simple life. He was not able to answer Kumar’s question because he is not after the money in the first place. He was there to take revenge for Nita. If you will be asked of something you are not after or not interested with, you too will react the same as in Ram’s reaction in this story.

6. Why does Ram turn in Colonel Taylor? Is this the retribution for the colonel’s spying, his derogatory comments about Indians, or for the way he treats his family? Or does Ram just want to collect his wages before returning to Mumbai.

I may say, ALL OF THE ABOVE. The Colonel has been so good to him, and in return Ram showed loyalty to his master for several years. He worked hard for the Colonel because he trusts him, they both trust each other. While Colonel Taylor treated him well, he could not really take how he calls Indians as “Bloody Indians”. But he just let it pass because he is good to him. If you stay in one roof with the other person, you will get to know him better, and Ram discovered more nasty stuffs about the Colonel such as spying and hurting his wife and kids. You know that if you are considerate with things around you, time will come that your patience will run out. Ram did not turn in Colonel Taylor for revenge, he did it to correct what has gone wrong with the Colonel.

7. “The city may have chosen to ignore the ugly growth of Dharavi, but a cancer cannot be stopped simply by being declared illegal”. Are there any problems that go unacknowledged because they’re too painful to face? If so, what impact does this have on the characters?

The injustices in the society are the prime issue that we must face but we are too afraid to face and resolve it. Salim and Ram could always turn to the police if they found murder or robbery or any form of crime, but they could not do so because they could not even trust the police. Everybody in the community, whether you are the victim or you are the suspect, are all victims of an unjust and crooked society. If you grow up witnessing all these kind of crimes, what kind of outlook in life will develop in you? We could not blame murderers, robbers and all the people doing illegal, because nobody stopped them and nobody has the courage to tell them upfront that what they are doing is wrong. Unless justice is served, the cancer in the community will continue to grow.

8. What do you think of Salim’s decision to give Ahmed, the hit man, a picture of Maman? Did Salim have another choice? Is he guilty of murder? Did Ram have other options besides throwing Shantaram down the stairs? Are these violent acts justifiable considering the behaviour of the victims?

If you know that a good man will be killed and you have the option to change the target, I am sure you will choose the person you loathe with to replace the target. Salim has the opportunity to change it, and it is wise of him to choose Maman because this man has been hunting him and did not treat him well when he was still under his custody. In fact, Salim has no other choice. It is either he will let Ahmed kill the person who can help him fulfil his dream or replace the target to a person who is hunting him to death. Salim murdered Maman, but in the account of Ahmed, so it’s justifiable. Ram is the one who committed murder when he threw Shantaram down the stairs because he did it with his own hands. But both Salim and Ram are just defending themselves. If they will not do anything to kill their oppressors, they will be the one who will get killed. It’s a survival of the fittest; you must defeat your enemy to survive. Seeing that both Shantaram and Maman are both bad guys, Ram and Salim just did the right thing.

9. Consider the impact of Western culture on Ram. He dreams eating at places such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut, and he practices “speaking Australian.” Why is this important to him? What does the West signify him?

For somebody who grew up in a chawl independently, the thought of a Western culture is a dream that temporarily let him forget the reality of India. Dealing with Western culture made Ram feel first class, he is even proud he could speak English because he know this is his passport to deal with other people.

10. Why does Ram want to have a “manageable dream”? What does he mean by this? And does this conflict with him appearing on a game show to win one billion rupees?

He has been into a lot of troubles and his journey in life has not been that “manageable”. When he says “manageable dream”, he means a simple dream, a simple life and a happy lifestyle. He wants to stay as simple as possible that he went to the game show without even dreaming of winning one billion rupees. He was there for a different reason. But when he was able to streaked the questions and he was offered undeniable amount of money, Ram knows that this money can take him to a dream beyond manageable.

11. Considering he believes he’s already murdered two people, why is Ram unable to kill Prem Kumar?

Because Prem Kumar’s case is different. He planned to kill Prem Kumar while the first two murders he committed were just spur of the moment decision. Those were acts of self defence, he needs to kill those people to survive, to fight and to live. However, with Prem Kumar, he planned to kill him for the sake of revenge. If he will kill him, this will make him a certified murderer.

12. How do you think Ram changes, if at all, during his eighteen years? Which journey had the greatest impact on him, either for better or worse?

I think the journey with Nita had the greatest impact with him. When he met Nita, he knows he will marry her and this is the first time he fell in love with a woman. Because of this love, Ram learned how to fight hard and broke the law just to protect and save Nita. With all those 18 years of journey, Ram learned a lot in life. This learning is far beyond the education could offer. It is through his experience that he learned how to deal with injustices in life.

13. “I realized a long time ago that dream have power only over your own mind; but with money you can have power over the minds of others”. In relation to this novel, would you agree with this statement? Are there characters without money that are able to influence others?

I don’t agree with the statement. Look at how Ram influenced Gudiya, Salim and Shantar. He even influenced the housemaid of Shantar’s mother not to steal. He doesn’t have much money to influence these people, but still he was able to talk to them, convince them and make them feel somebody without money cares for them. If you want to influence other people, you can do that with your money, but with your kindness and sincerity, your influence is better than the influence of money.

14. Despite his lack of formal education, Ram is able to answer twelve questions correctly in order to win a billion rupees. What do you envision the future holds for Ram?

Ram is a street smart kid. If he was able to answer the questions without learning them from school, he can manage his money using his own instinct. He met a businessman, he met a colonel, he met an actress and he met a priest. I’m sure Ram knows how these people managed their money and maintain their wealth. With one billion rupees, Ram can kick start a wonderful life and rest assured that this money is in good hand. He is a wise kid with great instinct, so nothing to worry.

VIkas Swarup did a wonderful job for this novel. I learned a lot not only with the culture of India but also on how to deal with life’s injustices. If you will stay humble, strong and sincere, justice will be served in due time.