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[YRP Students' Essays] Questioning Our Luck

Slumdog Millionaire has sparked conversation after its release in 2008 as an inspiring movie about a slum boy winning in a quiz show. However, not many of us are familiar with the book that the film was based on. Q&A, the original novel written by Vikas Swarup, tells us the story of a slum orphan boy called Ram who, to everyone's surprise, becomes the first winner in the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Skepticism is unquestionably present among the corrupt officers and Ram is alleged for fraud because after all, how can a slum boy answer questions related to diplomacy, international capitals and solar systems if he had never even been to school?

Q & A (Slumdog Millionaire)
by Vikas Swarup

The story kicks off rather abruptly: "I have just been arrested. For winning a quiz show." From these first two sentences, readers detect Ram's honesty and utter disbelief towards the injustice of the corrupt officers and enables us to acknowledge intuitively that this boy is telling the truth. Readers will read and seek in earnest what Ram has to say about his "luck" and why he could answer all the questions.

Vikas Swarup has managed to impress his readers by his unique structure and flow in which his story carrys out. Each chapter flows not in a chronological order but in the orders of the questions asked in Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He recounts each of his episodes in his life and confides in his lawyer and the readers about how certain parts of his experiences had enabled him to answer each and every one of the twelve questions. In the readers' minds, each step to the last question accompanies each step towards completing a giant puzzle of his life, simultaneously grasping the characteristics of our protagonist, Ram Mohammad Thomas. For some, this structure may seem too confusing as he takes us back and forth through time in each chapter, however, I must say that this structure was one of the reasons that kept me turning the pages. For instance, one will feel obliged to watch a whole variety show because their favourite section is showing near the end and commercial breaks tend to enhance the audiences' curiosity however annoying they may be. The same goes with this book. When all the pieces of the characters and episodes fit together to form a complete story, it offers us a completely different outlook and readers will realize the most unexpected connections. Therefore, telling the story in a chronological order would have made this book a little tedious and would not have made it as intriguing.

Vikas Swarup not only entertains us with Ram's stories with a fair amount of humor added in, he also illustrates the underbelly of the Indian society; a topic with the tendencies to be neglected. For instance, homo-sexuality, brutality and lack of education. Ram notes on the very first page,

"Arrests in Dahravi are as common as pickpockets on the local train. Not a day goes by without some hapless resident being taken away to the police station."

Also his friend, Salim, lands himself in the middle of a communal riot. "The wreckage of a smouldering vehicle lay directly in front of us," he says. "Shops had been reduced to rubble, splashes of blood could be seen on the pavement." Another tradition that shocked me was that in certain communities in India, girls from each family were obliged to take the role of earning money as a prostitute while men drank and gambled. The author's realistic depiction throughout the book enables us to imagine and broaden our knowledge of the Indian society.

The question I asked myself after I had closed this book was "what was the author's message?" Was he encouraging us to believe in luck even under unfortunate circumstances? This may have been the partial message from the author, however, there are certainly more to it than that. First, what kind of character do we portray when we hear the word "clever" or "smart"? Nowadays, we tend to systematically interpret "smartness" to "education" and associate "education" to "schools". For instance, why is it that people look up in awe and respect to those who mention that they had graduated out of Oxford University? It is, undoubtedly, a famous and respectful university. However, the question we need to ask ourselves is "Is knowledge and cleverness all about schools and universities?" Educated people are intelligent and studious, however, intellectual are those who apply their intelligence from their experiences and seek to expand their knowledge further. This is one of the most significant message from Vikas Swarup. After reading this book, I had come to think that "luck" is not something that appears out of the blue and that there is no such thing as "sheer luck". Miracles are something only "triggered" by luck and there has to have been something else within to have made it happen. Ram proves through his experiences that knowledge is not all about education, it is about having ambitions, curiosity and experiences through life. Ram says it all at the very end of a book when asked why he threw away the lucky coin: "I don't need it anymore. Because luck comes from within."

Overall, this book inspired me in many ways. Those who like realistic-fiction stories or thinking of trying one will be pleased with this book. It depicts India well, even certain parts that people tend to neglect and leave unheeded. This book will give people hope that anything could happen even when they seem far-fetched at first. On the other hand, it also serves as a reminder that "luck" comes only to those who seek for it.

Child Research Net would like to thank the Doshisha International Junior/Senior High School and Hikaru Yasugaki, student and author, for permitting reproduction of this article on the CRN web site.

Related article in CRN: Post-Slumdog Millionaire in Light of Slum Children of India

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