An afternoon reading with dignified diplomat Vikas Swarup

Vikas Swarup
Vikas Swarup (left) with journalist Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

nita balani

TORONTO: There is nothing better than curling up with a book on a cold windy fall day – only this time it was a reading from author and diplomat Vikas Swarup at the Harbourfront Center on a Sunday afternoon. Vikas Swarup is author of Q &A the novel which was adapted to film under the title of Slumdog Millionaire. The film was critically acclaimed in India and abroad and went on to win numerous awards, including 10 Oscar nominations of which it won eight, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.  

Vikas Swarup is the perfect image of a dignified diplomat currently posted in Ottawa as India’s High Commissioner. He was invited as part of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) under the segment Safar: Journeys to South Asia curated by Meenakshi Alimchandani and hosted by Teenaz Javat (CBC). Swarup was in conversation with Anirudh Bhattacharya (himself a well-known author and journalist) .

Bhattacharya skillfully steered the interview to reveal a dignified diplomat who just loves writing his signature thrillers with a hook and twist and an iconic sense of humour.

Happy to be invited to the book festival, Swarup said,  “Toronto needs this inclusiveness in events like these. IFOA is a great place to have multicultural voices to be heard especially given that Canada is one of the most welcoming countries for people from all over the globe. You can be comfortable in your own skin in the communities here with no glass ceiling and can achieve success in all walks of life.”

The seasoned diplomat has written three novels – his first novel, Q & A (2005), about a boy who grew up in the slums of Mumbai and went on to win a million in a TV game show. His second novel, Six Suspects (2008), has been translated into more than 30 languages. And the Accidental Apprentice (2013) is about a challenge given to a woman by a corporate billionaire to accomplish 7 tests from the Textbook of Life and if she is successful in all of them she will be chosen as the CEO.

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All three books have been written while Swarup has been a full time diplomatic envoy of the Government of India posted in different continents. Swarup said on being transferred to Canada “I was told that Canadians are like Americans but with no guns!” He goes on to say that he thought he would work Monday to Friday and have the entire weekends free to pursue his writing. But he was in for a rude shock as he underestimated the Indian community settled here in Canada  that relentlessly sends him invites week after week to attend festivities and celebrate community events. He said jokingly, “I look forward to the snow here then maybe the relentless pace will slow down and I can actually have my weekends to pursue my writing.”

Speaking about his style of writing, he said, “I prefer having several characters and different points of perspective in my novels. That gives me the flexibility to present the complexity of India – a single narrative can’t communicate the complexity of India.”

All his books have multiple narratives through different characters to drive the story. He does not believe in “writing bland antiseptic books – I write as an insider for an insider.” He does not consider himself a social reformer. “I love India but I can also criticize (my country).You can only criticize that which you love.” He does not “write with a hesitant pen.”

The session ended with a few questions from the audience. When asked about if his fans can expect a sequel to Q & A, he quipped: “I am not looking for a Spiderman franchise!”

Swarup’s contribution to contemporary literature cannot be overlooked. His Q & A is part of the optional literature reading list for high school students around the globe. We do hope Vikas Swarup writes a society thriller during his time here and puts Canada on the map for politeness, lots of snow and lots of festivities all through the year!

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