I forgot exactly why I picked up this book for the long weekend. In the
dictionary, I have reached the word "Gandhi" which might have revived a
curiosity in India. I hadn't read anything about that country since "The Great
Indian Obsession." I just thought the story which inspired the 2008 movie,
Slumdog Millionaire, might be a good bet although I hadn't watched the film.
In about 300 pages the book recounts a dozen chapters of the life of young Ram
Mohammad Thomas, from his ophan childhood till he wins in a quiz show one
billion ruppees after answering correctly 13 questions. One or more sad stories
make the theme of each episode, exposing the shocking suffering of the people at
the bottom of the Indian society. It paints vivid pictures of the ills of
poverty, the senselessness of religious intolerance, indifference, corruption,
and other dark sides of human nature. Nonetheless, Q & A is able to blend in
humor, hope, and thrills throughout and reaches a happy ending where all the
hero's and his friends' woes are resolved by his big win. The ending feels
shallow and hasty but overall, the book exposes and entertains.
The author himself was from a lawyer family, worked for the government, and
served recently as the Indian ambassador (high commissioner) to Canada. His
background clearly shows in a few places in the book and his mastery of the
English language is admirable.
As usual, I recorded the paragraphs, phrases, and words interesting to me, (This
might be the first time I could do so for an entire book.) including the two
snippets below that reveal the importance of English in the Indian world.
Without even trying, I became their leader. Not because I was bigger; not
because I was more aggressive, but because I spoke English. I was the orphan
boy who could speak and read the magic language, and its effect on the
officials was electric. The head warden would ask how I was doing from time
to time. The sports teacher allowed me to set up a makeshift cricket pitch
in the front courtyard, where we got in four or five decent games before
Munna broke the warden's window and all sports were banned. The stern cook
occasionally obliged me with a second helping. Gupta never called me to his
room at night. And the doctor put me in the isolation ward without the usual
delay, thereby preventing me from infecting the whole dormitory. (p76)
"My name is Raju Sharma," I say. There is no way I am going to use any
of my real names in this city. Not after killing an unknown man on a train.
"Oh, so you are a Brahmin?" she asks, her eyes turning even more
suspicious. I should havve realized that a dark-skinned Brahmin would be
something of a novelty.
"Yes. I am new to Agra. I have come to ask if there is anywhere I can
"We have an outhouse where we keep tenants." I notice she uses the royal
"we" instead of "I." "Right now no room is available. ... But you will have
to manage somewhere else for a week."
"Thank you, madam," I reply in English. "I will take the room, and I
will pay you four hundred rupees next week."
The lady looks at me sharply as soon as I speak in English. Her severe
features soften somewhat. "Perhaps you can stay with Shankar for a week.
Lajwanti, show him the outhouse." (p248)
I seemed to have spotted an error on page 113
The diplomats and expatriates exchange gossip about their servants and
colleagues and crib about the heat.
Did the author intend to say 'crab' instead of 'crib'?