"I had only fifty thousand rupees, but every rupee had a Technicolor dream written on it, and they stretched out on a CinemaScope screen in my brain to become fifty million. I held my breath and wished for that moment to last as long as it possibly could, because a waking dream is always more fleeting than a sleeping one."
~Slumdog Millionaire, Vikas Swarup
Like so many others during my high school years, I yearned to visit India. In social studies class we'd studied the caste system and Hinduism and sacred cows, and I was entranced by this exotic culture and all things Indian, including an amazing restaurant called Nirvana in NY. As the years passed I retained my love for Indian food but my desire to see India lessened, and I've never traveled to India, although my sister, Amy, recently did; she graciously allowed me to use some of her photos in this post. When I watched Slumdog Millionaire win eight Academy Awards, I decided to renew my interest in India and vowed to go see the movie. First, though, I chanced upon a copy of the book to read (I'll go see the movie in the future).
While reading this book, I felt as if I had landed in the very heart of Mumbai, amidst the poverty, corruption, and violence. I was appalled by the way children and women were treated--but also by the way men were treated. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), life in India for many is very difficult, a fight for mere survival.
Slumdog Millionaire is extremely engaging (though heart-breaking at times) and tells a very exciting and well-crafted story. Originally published as Q & A in 2005, this book was written by Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat, and has been translated into thirty-four languages. Modern-day India is presented as very corrupt, and yet there are also people who care, and the powerful demonstration of hope over adversity among the people in the Mumbai slums. This is the story of an orphan, Ram Mohammad Thomas, who climbs out of one bad situation after another due to intelligence and more than his share of good luck. He's correctly answered all twelve questions on the TV show Who Will Win A Billion? (rupees, that is), and is arrested afterward because he's nothing more than an "idiot waiter" who has never attended school, and is thought to have cheated, and also because there is simply not enough money to pay him--no one expected such a big win. As he tells his story to his lawyer, he explains chapter by chapter how he arrived at each answer by recounting the adventures of his life. Ram's stories include many references to India's movies and actors, and to his best friend, Salim, who dreams of Bollywood stardom.
It will be interesting to see the movie, which stars Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, and others, and compare it to the book. The author says that changes have been made to the story in the film, and acknowledges that it's difficult for authors to be completely happy with adaptations of their work. But he called the movie "visually dazzling and emotionally satisfying", and said that filmmakers kept their promise to keep the "soul" of the book--which is ultimately about hope and survival--intact.