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An IFS home alone in London & 12 chapters!

SOCIAL THRILLER is what Vikas Swarup describes his first novel Q&A as. ?It portrays the India in which affluence co-exists with poverty, deprivation with excess and indifference with compassion,? said the author. He was reading excerpts from the book at a session hosted by Chander Prakash of Universal Books, Hazratganj, attended by patrons of literature on Saturday.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2006 00:19 IST

SOCIAL THRILLER is what Vikas Swarup describes his first novel Q&A as. “It portrays the India in which affluence co-exists with poverty, deprivation with excess and indifference with compassion,” said the author. He was reading excerpts from the book at a session hosted by Chander Prakash of Universal Books, Hazratganj, attended by patrons of literature on Saturday.

The journey of the protagonist, Ram Mohammad Thomas, from rags to…a promise of riches forms the subject of the novel, which the author claimed to have written for a lark. In fact, as interesting as the story was how he penned it. “I was transferred from London to New Delhi and my family had already left for India. Home alone for two months, I decided to find out if there was a novel inside me,” said the IFS official, currently posted in Pakistan Commission in the Capital, admitting that the literary scene and environment of London was another factor that got him writing.

The novel, as the author read out, begins from the point where a waiter is arrested on grounds of suspicion after he has hit the billion-rupee jackpot in a game show called Kaun Banega Arabpati. The producers don’t have the cash, or the intention to part with it and they frame the 18-year-old with charges of foul play. A Samaritan lawyer comes to his rescue, but first asks him to break the enigma of HOW he cracked the 12 tough questions. Each of the 12 chapters explains how an abandoned orphan like him knew the answer to each question and how he got the peculiar, hybridized name. The novel has been translated into 23 languages and the Hindi translation is on the stands too.

“The genesis of the idea was a news item I read about slum children’s tryst with the Internet. The street-smart character I created is influenced in his life by the interesting people he meets along the way, including an Australian envoy, a film actress, an astronomer, a thieving maid and other such. It is the guy you would bump into anywhere—duping you of cash in Dharavi or wiping your windscreen at the Hazratganj crossing,” said the author who hails from Allahabad and has been posted to a number of countries. Another creative influence was the incident in which the winner of a million pounds in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was found guilty of cheating. He attributes the success of the book to the element of empathy and the victory of the underdog in the story. “I submitted the only four and a half chapters I had written till then and having read those, editors at Random Publishing House prodded me to write on. On the 60th day from my beginning to write, the novel was complete,” beamed the author, confessing that he suffered since his college days from a writer’s cramp and even signing a number of documents was a pain.

“We are reading dozens of drafts a month by Indian writers, though our focus this year would be on non-fiction,” said Deepti Lal of Random’s Indian office who chose Lucknow for the reading session admittedly because of her old ties.

First Published: Feb 19, 2006 00:19 IST