By Jules Marie, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger
“I’m naturally attracted to the tale of the underdog; about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. It’s the sense of curiosity that draws us to these stories.” -Vikas Swarup
Diplomat and author Vikas Swarup discussed his life and work with journalist Namita Bhandare at the third edition of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival in Boulder, Colorado.
Vikas Swarup, the Indian Ambassador to Canada, wrote the book Q&A, which became the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire, and went on to win eight Academy Awards in 2009.
Bhandare reminded the packed audience that His Excellency Mr. Swarup, the High Commissioner of India to Canada, comes from a long line of family lawyers, and could spell the word habeas corpus by the time he was seven years old.
“His books are gripping; they are fabulous. They have a sly, sense of humor and they’re marvelous. As a reader, I find Q&A to be beautifully plotted. Here’s a boy from the slums, who’s never gone to school, goes on a game show and is able to correctly answer all the questions the game show people ask so they’re convinced he’s cheating. The facts of his life actually gave him the answers to all the questions. It’s a beautiful structure. It’s sheer genius,” said Bhandare.
“No one had ever revealed the private life of their protagonist. That’s what’s unique about the book. The movie changed some of the individual stories; but it didn’t change the narrative. The movie got its fair share of criticism in India. A case was filed against me, the director and the screenplay writer for denigrating people who lived in slums. The judge called it nonsense and said it was just a word and they lost the case,” said Swarup.
“The best teacher in life is life itself. Every moment in life is meaningful and precious.”
The Culture of the Underdog
“India is the most complex county in the world … the sheer diversity; the number of languages, the food, cultures, dress. I’m trying to make it more accessible to readers of my books. Every question in Q&A, the six characters in Six Suspects and the seven tests in The Accidental Apprentice all allowed me to explore something unique about India; No man is an island in India. The lives of the rich and poor are constantly intersecting and colliding. You can’t keep yourself from the squalor and poverty of India and my books address this,” explained Swarup.
“What I love about fiction is it is totally free. You can go wherever you want. Where do you want to go today, I ask myself? I’m intuitively drawn to the underdog; about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. it’s the most powerful story in the world. You’re always hoping they’ll beat the odds. It’s the sense of curiosity that draws us to these stories,” encouraged Swarup.
“As a diplomat, writers are trained to deal with words. That’s our primary calling. One wrong nuance can send a relationship with another country into a tailspin. Ours is very cerebral. You are constantly reading, analyzing, understanding and interpreting your country for a foreign audience. I love having this dual existence; being a writer and a diplomat. The life of a writer is an unpredictable life. You give birth to a new entity every few years when you come up with a book. So I love combining the two. I can write what I want rather than what the market wants me to write,” he said.
“In writing, less is more.”
“A writer engages with words and words are something you acquire in the process of growing up. It’s not something that’s instinctive. I think creativity rests in all of us in one degree or another. In some people, it lies dormant. They haven’t learned to channel their creativity. My three C’s of success are curiosity and confidence and a computer. You have to be curious. Every book begins with a What If. What if? What if a slum kid went on a game show and won? Confidence is equally important because writing is about taking risks. And without the computer, I couldn’t do any of this!” said Swarup.
Photo Credit – Abhijit Sur