Is this your first visit to Sharjah?
Yes. I’ve been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi several times but this
is the first time I will be visiting Sharjah. Of course I know of
Sharjah as a unique Emirate which is rich in tradition. I look
forward to soaking up its rich history and culture, shopping at its
fabulous souks, and visiting its famous museums and galleries.
One place in Sharjah known to most Indians is the Sharjah
Cricket Stadium which featured many matches of the Indian
cricket team in the 1980s and 1990s!
What are you hoping to gain from the visit?
First and foremost I hope to interact with my readers in
the UAE. I also use my participation in literary festivals to
help promote the book reading habit. In today’s world,
unfortunately, the “image” is drowning out the “word” and it is
important for children to know that only through reading can
one learn to write.
How do you combine the roles of writer and diplomat?
I call myself a diplomat who writes. For me, work comes first and
writing comes second. Unlike other writers with day jobs who
are able to write in the crevices of the day, I can only write when
I have a clear horizon in front of me, meaning several hours
without any interruptions. So I usually write on weekends and
holidays. I try to strike a balance between my life as a writer and
my role as a diplomat.
Had fiction been a long-held ambition when you
I am an “accidental” writer. I never thought I would be a novelist
and did not write a word of fiction for almost fifteen years after
my graduation. It was only when I was posted in London that I
was inspired to try my hand at fiction, motivated by some of my
contemporaries in the Foreign Service who had written novels.
And believe it or not, I wrote this novel in the last two months of
my diplomatic posting in London in 2003.
When I wrote Q&A, I had no idea that it would find a world-
wide readership, with translations now in 43 languages, or that
it would be made into an Oscar winning film. I thought it was a
very “Indian” book and only readers in India would relate to it.
But I guess it has appealed to readers across the world because
the themes and the emotions evoked are universal and the
underlying message is a simple one - of creating your own luck,
of the underdog beating the odds and winning!
The film Slumdog Millionaire was a huge success, but did
not stick entirely to the plot of your novel. Were you happy
to see the filmmakers produce their own version?
On the whole, I am satisfied with the film. It is a riveting piece of
cinema with some amazing cinematography, great music and
a fabulous cast. It does differ from my novel in some significant
ways but it also preserves the soul of my novel and borrows
the entire narrative structure. My book was about survival and
hope and the triumph of the underdog and the same things
can be said about the film. Many of the characters in the film
are also from the book. But I was sorry to see that the multidimensional Ram Mohammad Thomas had morphed into the
one-dimensional Jamal Malik.
Did you ever feel that the fame of the film was eclipsing the
I think the novel stands on its own. It had been translated into
36 languages much before the film came out (now it has been
translated into 43). What the success of the film has done is to
take the novel to a different level and bring me a whole new
Both Q&A and your third novel, The Accidental Apprentice,
are about ordinary people to whom the extraordinary
happens. Is this a theme of particular interest to you?
I think it is a universal theme. Isn’t it a secret fantasy for most
people to imagine what would happen to them if they won a
lottery or suddenly got discovered as a model or a film star?
As you know, I prefer to write what I call “social thrillers”. I am
naturally attracted to this theme because of the scope it offers
for drama and intrigue.
Vikas Swarup is a multi-award winning fiction author and
Indian diplomat. He is currently High Commissioner of
India to Canada and formerly the official spokesperson of
the Ministry of External Affairs of India.
His novel Q&A was adapted into the Oscar-winning
movie Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars—the
largest total won by a single film since The Lord of the
Rings: The Return of the King. Critically acclaimed in India
and abroad, this international bestseller has also been
translated into 43 different languages. His other two books
are Six Suspects, which has been optioned for a film, and
The Accidental Apprentice, which has been broadcast as a
BBC Radio Play.