The Flooze's Reviews > Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
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Mar 17, 13

bookshelves: lit-fiction, owned, vanquished_2013
Read from March 15 to 16, 2013

Slumdog Millionaire (Q&A) is not a masterpiece of prose. But it is a startling and thought-provoking story, rife with social commentary.

The prologue is engaging, swiftly establishing the ludicrousness of a waiter from the slums winning a quiz show. It deftly highlights the resignation the residents of Dharavi feel towards their lot in life: the inevitability of the police taking you away; the abuses doled out by corrupt officers; the belief that you summon only misfortune if you challenge the social divide, if you have the audacity to dream of crossing the barrier between the rich and the poor.

This dismal acceptance is a common thread of the novel. A woman thinks death must be exquisite, if the abuse doled out by her lover can be so painful yet so sweet. A group of disabled boys think their life in a Dickensian squat is tolerable as it means food, shelter, and protection from other gangs. A neighbor advises Ram that to reach happiness one must only close his senses and he will no longer have to concern himself with the pain surrounding him. With cultivated ignorance comes peace.

This is not advice Ram Mohammad Thomas can tolerate.

Slumdog Millionaire is a story of an underdog. A boy who rails against injustices, using whatever tools fate provides him. In many ways, he’s a remarkable lead. Ram is confronted with harshness and cruelty at every turn, yet maintains an impressive mindfulness of others and remains open to connectedness. He’s sensitive and empathetic, trusting in the universe without being naïve to its pitfalls. He dares many times to dream of crossing the social divide. But moreso he dreams of staying alive, of connecting, of relieving the burdens of others.

Fate and the interconnectedness of all things play an incredibly strong role. The synchronicity of events is of mythical proportions. Swarup’s positioning of the hero often strains belief – unless you are willing to trust in the power of luck and the idea that all things happen for a reason.

Calling Ram a hero is apt – and double-sided. In each of his retellings, he shows a fierce desire to protect others. At one point I wondered how much of his ability to be at the Right Place at the Right Time was born of a hero complex. But then I considered his many losses as well as the dialogue within his retellings. There’s a flatness to every conversation – an aspect that irked the crap out of me in the beginning. The dialogue comes across as a translation of meaning, not genuine speech suffused with emotion. There’s also a great deal of telling instead of showing.

Perhaps the level tone makes it more credible. This boy is not sensationalist in his memories or in his acts. He’s simply doing the things he perceives need doing and nothing more. If Swarup was flamboyant in his writing, our admiration of Ram’s perseverance might flag. With this flatness, there’s no ego to taint the significance of events.

Ram’s ability to connect to so many people is underlined by his name, Ram Mohammad Thomas – so called to please the members of an All Faith Committee. (He jokes that he’s lucky the Sikh member did not come to that day’s meeting, or his name would be even longer.) Throughout the book, we hear of religiously-motivated riots, hate crimes, and vicious mobs. We also hear of Ram’s experiences living in chawls or at a church, where he learns the rudiments of all religions from people living together companionably. Ram himself never adheres to any one faith. He is all and none, connected to individuals not ideologies.

Swarup’s conceit of the game show questions evoking deeply significant memories is a sound one. It allows us to bounce with Ram through time and circumstances, offering a well-rounded impression of the character. We become invested in Ram’s life, eager for the missing pieces of his time-line. It’s effective. The wrap-around story of the quiz show itself pales in comparison until the literal and figurative big pay-off.

There’s so much more to be considered here: the socio-economic divide; the war between India and Pakistan; the violence born of religious fervor vs. the coexistence of varying groups within the same city; corruption and the abuse of power; deciding whether the author is utterly homophobic; on-screen heroics sparking unrealistic ambitions; Minimally Invasive Education as one of the author’s inspirations; the comparison of the book to the movie. The discussions prompted by this book could be unending. I end this review as I started: Is this novel transcendent in its prose? No. But, damn, will it make you think.
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Quotes The Flooze Liked

Vikas Swarup
“Love doesn't happen in an instant. It creeps up on you and then it turns your life upside down. It colors your waking moments, and fills your dreams. You begin to walk on air and see life in brilliant new shades. But it also brings with it a sweet agony, a delicious torture.”
Vikas Swarup, Q & A
tags: love

Vikas Swarup
“And for the first time in my life, I saw something new reflected in the eyes that saw me. Respect. It taught me a very valuable lesson. That dreams have power only over your own mind. But with money you can have power over the minds of others”
Vikas Swarup, Q & A: Slumdog Millionaire

Vikas Swarup
“There are those who will say that I brought this upon myself. By dabbling in that quiz show. They will wag a finger at me and remind me of what the elders in Dharavi say about never crossing the dividing line that separates the rich from the poor. After all, what business did a penniless waiter have to be participating in a brain quiz? The brain is not an organ we are authorized to use. We are supposed to use only our hands and legs.”
Vikas Swarup, Q & A: Slumdog Millionaire

Vikas Swarup
“Till now, my conception of love has been based entirely on what I have seen in Hindi films, where the hero and the heroine make eye contact, and whoosh, some strange chemistry sets their hearts beating and their vocal chords tingling, and the next you see of them they are off singing songs in Swiss Villages and American shopping malls.”
Vikas Swarup, Q & A
tags: love

Vikas Swarup
“I wonder what it feels like to have no desires left because you have satisfied them all, smothered them with money even before they are born. Is an existence without desire very desirable? And is the poverty of desire better than rank poverty itself?”
Vikas Swarup, Q & A


Reading Progress

03/15/2013 page 1
0.0% "There was no hue and cry. Not one resident stirred from his hut. Only the old owl in the tamarind tree hooted at my arrest."
03/15/2013 page 91
28.0% "You have been counting rosary beads for an era / But the wandering of your mind does not halt. / Forsake the beads in your hand / And start moving the beads of your heart."
03/16/2013 page 306
96.0% "Oh, shit."

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