Q and A Summary

Vikas Swarup

Q and A

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Q and A Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Q and A by Vikas Swarup.

This compelling debut novel from Vikas Swarup was translated into eighteen languages, and is actually the basis for the Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. The narrative begins in Mumbai, India, where Ram Mohammad Thomas is being held in a jail cell. He has just correctly answered the twelve questions needed to be declared the winner on India’s largest quiz show, called Who Will Win A Billion? The reader comes to find that Ram is being held in the jail cell on suspicion of cheating. What is unfathomable, it seems, is the fact that this kid who has never gone to school or even read a newspaper in his life has actually won such a contest of wits and knowledge.

Speaking to his lawyer, Ram proceeds to explain how he has come to this point in time, being able to answer each of the twelve questions based not on schooling or book smarts, but street smarts. Indeed, Ram relates how various episodes in his life have resulted in his ability to effectively answer each question, so that a waiter such as himself with no seeming advantage could indeed have prevailed in such a fashion, against all odds.

The narrative then goes back in time to review Ram’s life. It begins when he was found as an abandoned baby in a clothes donation box at a church in Delhi. From this amazing tale of survival and luck, the narrative moves on to Ram’s employment by a once-popular Bollywood star. Next, the narrative moves to Ram’s experiences with an obsessively strange Australian army colonel, and then on to his career at the Taj Mahal as a comically creative tour guide to unsuspecting tourists.

Unlike the movie, which many have seen and which is still a popular representation of the Indian underdog, the book’s tone is altogether darker. Scene after scene is recounted where the worst of humanity is experienced by Ram and other underprivileged individuals. These glimpses into a hard life made harder by horribly corrupt individuals are also, however, the stepping stones used by Ram to learn about existence and survival.

The stories are steeped in inhumane actions and fatalism, and include instances of child molestation, rape, torture and maiming for financial gain, brutalization, and murder. And yet these complex events are not used by Swarup for mere show. In their own way, each act represents a way forward for Ram. In this way, the novel approaches the weighty tomes of survival, love and sacrifice through the lenses of comedy, drama and heartbreak. As a tale about good and evil and how these apparent binaries influence people and the choices they make, it is easy to see how Swarup’s book was made into a widely popular film with universal appeal.

In addition to using separate storylines that eventually wrap up into explosive endings, the chapters also end by going back to the beginning narrative with Ram and his lawyer. During these scenes, Ram and his lawyer then view footage of the show and look at Ram’s responses to the questions. With this trope, Ram and the lawyer, and the reader by default, are able to see how the “life lessons” just mentioned by Ram have indeed helped him correctly answer a particular question during the quiz show based on experience.

Above all, Q and A tells the story of an underdog’s rise to fame despite all of the debilitating circumstances that life tries to throw in his path. Ram’s life has morphed from an abandoned street urchin to someone who engages the world through lived experience. Symbolically, Ram shows that people can overcome the greatest odds, the worst heartbreaks and crimes against humanity. Moreover, the novel shows that people should not be judged by outward appearances or by the messiness of their past. Like Ram, people can grow and shape their own destiny, one experience at a time.