For the sake of the handkerchief: Vikas Swarup
Madhusree Chatterjee

HE is no ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, and neither is he the street-smart protagonist of this year’s favourite at the Golden Globes.

Career diplomat-author Vikas Swarup, whose book Q And A has been made into Slumdog Millionaire, has his feet firmly planted on the ground. He knows the popular ‘g-zone’ — how to make his readers hold their breath till they reach the last page of his book.

Vikas Swarup
MAN OF THE MOMENT: Vikas Swarup, author of Q And A on which the award-wining movie Slumdog Millionaire 
is based

And with the film rights of his new novel Six Suspects — a whodunit based on the sensational crimes across the country — sold to BBC and Starfield Productions, Swarup could well have another blockbuster in his hands.

"I believe in luck all the way, even though Danny Boyle has turned the luck factor (in my book) into a comment on destiny at the end of his movie Slumdog Millionaire," Swarup, currently India’s deputy high commissioner in South Africa, told IANS in an informal chat at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Swarup says he likes books "which use economy of expression like South Africa-based Jim Coetzee’s Disgrace, a complex socio-human drama, in which even the death of a dog can make you cry. I write for the sake of the handkerchief."

Excerpts from an interview:

Q Your book and the movie made on it could at best be described as a phenomenon. What do you have to say?

A: Yes, it is a phenomenon. You cannot take away the success of the book because it is set in India and neither the moavie. Stories from India — portraying the changing socio-cultural contemporary realities, are finding resonance across the world. The same magic could not have been replicated had the book been set in Brazil. I wanted to capture a slice of India.

Q Does the movie work well for the book?

A The standard rule is that since most Indians are avid cinegoers, they usually see a movie and then enquire about the book because the movie gives the author the credit. Though I was told by (director) Danny Boyle that the name of the film had been changed, along with some facts — like the name of the protagonist — I did not mind.

It works that way in the film fraternity. Once people read the book, they get to know the inside story. Moreover, let us not forget that the shelf life of the movie is much less than that of a book. The book will be around longer.

But frankly, I did not realise that the Golden Globe is this huge. My phone has not stopped ringing since the nominations were announced. I believe in luck all the way. I have been a lucky author even though Boyle has turned the luck factor (in my book) into a comment on destiny at the end of his movie "Slumdog Millionaire". But the way he shot it was brilliant.

Q The question may sound clich`E9d, but what exactly was the trigger for the book?

A I have been often asked how I started writing the book. One of the biggest triggers was the fact that I was alone at home — in between postings — in India when I started working on it. I had a lot of time to spare.

In 1999, there was a project known as the "Hole in the Wall" by Prof Sugata Mitra, who led a group of scientists from NIIT to study a slum in the Kalkaji area in Delhi.

They made a hole in the wall and publicly assembled a computer and installed it. After some time, they found that the children living in the slum had started using the computer. How did they learn to use a computer even though they did not have knowledge about one? It is because we all have this innate ability in us to pick up something new.

It was also around this time that the quiz show hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, Kaun Banega Crorepati, became very popular and Major Charles Ingram was accused of cheating in a British quiz show. I decided to write a fiction on these real life experiences, as life was the best teacher.

Q What is your new book Six Suspects all about?

A My second book is a thriller laced with dark humour, echoes of the sensational crimes in the country and political nuances. 32-year-old Vicky Roy, son of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Jagannath Roy, is a trigger-happy VIP scion. He commits a series of six crimes and is let off for want of evidence or because the witnesses die mysteriously.

The fifth criminal act lands the brash young man into trouble. He kills two black bucks somewhere close to Rajasthan and celebrates his acquittal with a party in Delhi where he shoots bar waitress Ruby Gill after she refuses him a drink. It turns out to be the nail in his coffin. The lights switch off and Vicky Roy is felled by an assassin’s bullet in darkness. The ensuing body-search throws up six men with six different guns — all of whom were invited to the party.

There are six suspects but the police have no idea about the gun from which the shot was fired. Read the rest.

The movie script of Six Suspects is ready. I have seen it, but I was not involved in the process of writing the script.

Q What kind of books do you like?

A I like books that do not make the reader run for the dictionary — the kind that literary writers write. I like those, which use economy of expression like South Africa-based Jim Coetzee’s Disgrace, a complex socio-human drama, in which even the death of a dog can make you cry. I write for the sake of the handkerchief.

There has to be an element of humour in my books, the call of conscience and the titanic struggle between life and death. The more affluent a country becomes, the more banal the stories are. — IANS