Imagine a world where one is not living, but existing. Where even the basic human needs are not easily accessible. The reality of having a lifestyle being decided by society and being passed on by immediate family members. Corruption amongst the wealthy punishing these individuals being addressed as “untouchables” and society being dictated by the wealth of others. In the novel, Q & A, by Vikas Swarup, takes into account about the lives of these “untouchables” through an example of an 18-year-old man named Ram Mohammad Thomas who endures the daily struggles occurring in the slums of New Delhi, India. This story goes in depth of how this man who does not have the proper education for his age can possibly get all ten questions correct on the infamous game show, “Who Will Win a Billion?”. When Ram gets arrested, the author discusses poverty and power and reveals how corporate greed has a strong impact on individuals with less societal value.
Without a secure income and family to support and individual, one has a difficult time gaining hope. When Ram describes his childhood, he has stated that orphans, like him, had a clear role in society. Yet, Ram has a strong impulse to scavenge any route for success and to comprehend this success like the superiors in this third-world country. He recalls, “A world in which they live in huge houses, drive huge cars and get huge presents. We saw this fantasy world, but we never got carried away by it… The most we could aspire to was to become one of those who held power over us. So whenever the teacher asked us, ‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ No one ever said pilot, prime minister of bank or actor. We said cook or cleaner of sports teacher, or, at the very best, warden.”
(Swarup 75) Due to the caste system present in India, the fate of the next generation is already decided for them, therefore, none of the children have any hope to explore higher- paying jobs. Also, Ram acknowledges how individuals with more privileges often do not appreciate the simple, yet meaningful, aspects in life than many children, similar to Ram, that appreciates these gifts of life. This theme of power resonates throughout the novel.
Poverty is a strong force that only self-determination can break. As Ram is on a train with a destination to Mumbai, he has been collecting a serious sum of money while participating on the game show, “Who Will Win a Billion”. However, the passengers that are boarding the train still avoid him due to his lowlife lifestyle and looks. He explains, “For the first time in my life, I had something more tangible than a dream to back up a claim. And for the first time in my life, I saw something new reflected in the eyes that saw me. Respect.” (Swarup 155) Ram finally has been achieving what he has been dreaming towards. He has gone against the caste system’s standards of wealth for his position and age, so he displays his success by craving attention by others around him. Ram possesses an alarmingly increase sense of power is not comprehendible to the mentality of individuals with higher standing, unable to accept the speculation of change in the caste system.
The outcome of prosperity can alter one’s way of thinking, thereby creating an illusion of false gratification from wealth. When Ram has made a descent amount of money, he applies to a job as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal. Some of his clients invite Ram to an evening out with some college students. During Ram’s experience through the evening, he begins to realize a whole new side of the life of the wealthy that rather disgusts him and estranges him from his newfound wealth. He states, “But seeing these rich college boys spending money like paper, I am gripped by a totally new sense of inadequacy. The contrast with my own imperfect life pinches me with the force of a physical hurt. Not surprisingly, my hunger just shrivels up and dies despite the mounds of tempting dishes lying on my table. I realize then that I have changed. And i wonder what it feels like to have no desires left because you have satisfied them all, smothered them with money even before they are born.” (Swarup 258) Ram ponders whether this life is truly worth living if it means transforming into a more devious and selfish creature that under-appreciates the true magnitude of money. This leads to Ram questioning whether he wants to continue this lifestyle and become more content with returning to where this story began, thereby deteriorating the illusion that wealth bears more quality life and gratification. This event is an immense contrast to earlier in the novel, however this realization is crucial to highlighting the under-appreciation that accompanies the life of wealth.