Despite heartrending descriptions of sexual abuse, racism, poverty, homeless and much, much, more in modern India, this is an utterly enjoyable picaresque adventure that is one of the best reads of the year. In the hands of another author, the brief life story Ram Mohammad Thomas would probably be told as a simple tearjerker tragedy and the reader would be left to shake their head sorrowfully at the plight of another poor third-world soul. However, Swarup has a gimmick framework up his sleeve, and it works like a charm. Granted, one has to be willing to go along with the premise that this entire structure is based on coincidence of colossal proportions — readers who aren’t willing to suspend disbelief will probably not last more than a few chapters.
We first meet the 18-year-old protagonist in jail, where he sits accused of defrauding the popular TV game show “Who Wants to Be A Billionaire?” (in rupees). Despite being abandoned at birth, uneducated, and left to fend for himself for most of his life, it seems Ram somehow managed to answer the show’s twelve questions correctly. To all outside observers, his social standing and lack of education appear to preclude this happening legitimately. However, just as the police are about to unleash some heavy manners on him, a mysterious lawyer intervenes and takes him away. The story then unfolds question by question, as Ram tells her via flashbacks to his life just how he managed to know each answer.
Ram’s life story unfolds as a series of episodes ranging from the horrific to the merely tragicomic, and in a sense, one can view him as emblematic of India’s lost children, and the book as caustic social commentary on contemporary India. Aside from being abandoned at birth, he must contend with a pedophile priest, a closeted homosexual movie star, a violent, drunken neighbor bent on incest, international espionage, child slavery, numerous thieves, a suicidal employer, and the deaths of several close friends. And yet, despite this bleak subject matter, the intrepid Ram keeps doggedly moving forward and surviving. This isn’t done in a sentimental, “triumph of the human sprit”, after-school special way, but in a straightforward manner that shows a confused young boy doing whatever it takes to live. And of course, the ultimate moral of the story is that those who keep their eyes and ears open in life can learn a lot about it without any books. An excellent story, well-told, and doubtless to be made into a film.
Reviewd by A. Ross, Washington DC, Courtesy: Amazone.com