The hero of the book, Ram Mohammed Thomas has won a billion rupees in a quiz show. Nothing wrong in winning, but if the winner happens to be a slum-dweller who has never attended school, things do look fishy. And if the producers of the show do not have the money to pay, they will make sure it looks fishy.
Twelve chapters and twelve questions. Each chapter of the book revolves around each question of the quiz show. The prologue begins with Ram’s arrest and gives a little background about the characters and the plot. Once the chapters start, the book picks up pace. Each chapter takes the reader to a particular period of Ram’s life and as a side-effect justifies how Ram knew the answer for the question which figures at the end of every chapter.
The book traces Ram’s life till he is 20 and gives us a glimpse of how chequered it was. He moves from one city to another, Delhi, Mumbai and Agra and from one job to another. He was a waiter, a bartender, a helper, a tourist guide and so on. The story about how he got his strange name, Ram Mohammad Thomas, is quite interesting. In the process of revealing Ram’s life to us, Swarup also gives us a realistic view of the world. Be it Shantaram who molests his own daughter or Swapna Devi who abandons her son or Shyam who is the pimp for his own sister. There is Mamman who turns healthy children into handicapped ones so that they can earn more money through begging. While these incidents tug at your heart and gives a gloomy picture of the world, the author shows there is still hope because of people like Father Timmothy, Lajawanti and Ram himself.
Certain incidents do seem unrealistic. Armaan Ali incident in the theater seems too dramatic, Ram killing the dacoit and so on. At times, it feels as if certain incidents were weaved in just to justify the question on the quiz show.
Swarup’s writing is not impressive. It is plain and bland. What keeps the readers glued to the book is the plot. The author recreates the same suspense in the book which is associated with a quiz show. The reader is eager to know what the next question would be and how Ram would justify knowing the answer. There is no doubt about Ram’s answer being correct since we already know he has won.
Ram’s character has a gloomy shade, as if he is narrating with a heavy heart. The author never reveals the playful side of Ram. He seems too mature even as a kid. There are way too many characters in a book to make justice to all of them. Salim’s character does remain with the reader for his innocence and his extreme optimism.
This book has the quiz show as its core plot, but this book is much more than that. This could be easily passed on as an autobiography of a randomly picked child on Mumbai streets.
If you are looking for a light, fast read do pick up this book.