Jul 23, 2009

Q and A - Vikas Swarup

The brouhaha on Slumdog Millionaire hasn’t fully subsided yet and I have already forgotten the name of the book which inspired the Academy award winning film. I was looking at the cover of the book Q and A – by Vikas Swarup and I felt there was something familiar about it. Had I heard about this book? I still could not remember. I finally looked at the cover and decided to take it.I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I decided it doesn’t harm to make a try.

I also liked the fact that it didn’t have an intriguing cover. Some covers have enticing pictures, some have the author’s name swamped all over , almost enveloping the almost invisible book title and some have intriguing covers; the word we would have used in college would have been fundoo. You didn’t even know what was striking about it, but there was a weird attraction. At times I felt the mere attraction in the cover was the fact that its author was famous or the book had won some prestigious award. Hence when I saw a white book with a big Q and A in pink-magenta combinations across it, I was rather pleased. After I finished the book, I was quite happy with the story. It was a feel-good and they lived happily ever kind of story.

I haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire yet. I have a tendency to delay watching such blockbuster hits. God only knows why. However this time it helped me to read the book without any bias of watching the story on screen earlier.

Ram Mohammed Thomas is a waiter who is punished for being lucky and his luck helps him in winning the reality quiz show “ Who Will Win a Billion “ or W3B. While reading the entire story, it feels that Thomas as he is known, is way too lucky. An orphan by abandonment, Thomas views all kind of child and human abuse but he never faces it himself. In some situations it is explained that his knowledge of English saves him from a lot of troubles. Despite Hindi being the national language, India has a die-hard attraction towards English. The knowledge of the language does make a difference all over the country but saving oneself from street gangs, child abusers with help of English is probably pushing the envelope a bit too far.

The format of the story is interesting. Once Thomas proceeds to tell his tale, it proceeds according to the different levels of the W3B game. While the story is interesting, the twists in each incident become rather predictable. Some how the whole story has a Bollywood feel to it where Thomas escapes street gangs, police rather easily and manages to kill villains as well. In the end, it just feels that Thomas is made to live different lives in the course of one story which does not even cover his entire life. Some of the stories do tug at your heart, but somehow there is this feeling of déjà vu while reading about Thomas’ travails and it is probably all due to the predictability factor emanating through out the story.

I guess I will have to applaud Danny Boyle for making this into an Oscar winner as I would have never dared to think beyond Bollywood for such a story.

Jul 15, 2009

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

When I pulled out the book from the library shelf I decided upon taking this book home for a couple of reasons. The title of the book did ring a bell in my mind but I also registered the fact that this author was not the same one who wrote an equally thick book “A Suitable Boy”. Somehow, I am not in love with most Indian authors. I do not why I just cannot get to like their stories, their way of writing or their take on Indian way of living. Perhaps it is our education which has kind of ensconced the British English and their literature well in our minds. So when we read books we still expect similar kind of writing. At least I do (sigh). However, I did like few authors and Vikram Seth and Jhumpa Lahiri were among them. Hence the primary assumptions while selecting the book were that I would be keeping myself busy thanks to the thick volume and it would hopefully be a nice read like the author’s namesake (by first name:D ). 

Both assumptions weren’t fully correct. I realized that I really am a voracious reader and my abundant free time helps me in finishing the books earlier than either me or my family would like. My mother’s frequent complaint is that I almost gobble the books when they come from the library. I behave as they would be taken away from me very soon and hence the only action left to me is to finish reading them as soon as I can. Thankfully this volume kept me busy during the days of no phone and Internet connection. I am one of the present generation who somehow cannot live without at least 5 mins of Internet surfing a day, at home. While traveling I am usually sane without any such connection but one never knows. 

Regarding the author, I hardly remember Seth’s style of writing, but I wasn’t very pleased with Chandra’s. Perhaps it was the indulgent use of Bombay Hindi, more known as “tapori” language. With just one book I feel I am quite familiar with the street talk. Unfortunately most of the terms are used by the police and gangsters. While the writing didn’t exactly enthrall me, I really liked the story and the plot, especially the way he kept two different loops of story telling on the same events run parallely. One was happening in the present and one was telling the story from past. 

Chandra claimed to have undergone a lot of research in the beginning of the book. Hence I assume a lot of the story is based on few real-life incidents. With the intersecting lives of mafia dons, Bollywood, one would feel at many places that some characters are probably based on people we know. I haven’t figured out any till now though I am still ruminating. There are numerous characters all throughout the story. Some have lives of just few pages but their stories are very interesting and touching like Navneet behenji, Dipika. I am yet to find a male character whose life touched me! Most part of the book is about a don and a policeman investigating his death. There are countless characters and most are interconnected. The book also seems to have an invisible moral of Karma in many of the mini stories as well as the main one. Funnily or happily, the don dies a sad death while the supposedly good police man leads a happy life. However, on second thought I have read about these people ending their lives rather violently. Prabhakaran who was quite a don in his own way is probably a recent example. Overall, the book is quite an interesting read though the language really pained me. The best part of the book as mentioned already is the story and thanks to it I have been seriously wondering where the divide ends between research and fiction.