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'Slumdog' author praises 'stunning' pavilion

VIKAS Swarup, author of the novel "Q & A" on which the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" was based, was a celebrity guest last month at the India Pavilion at World Expo Shanghai 2010. His tour of the pavilion was hosted by his friend Riva Ganguly Das, India's Consul General in Shanghai, and they were accompanied by pavilion designer D. R. Naidu.

Swarup was born into a family of lawyers in Allahabad, northern India, and is a career diplomat currently posted as India's Consul General in Osaka-Kobe, Japan. Swarup graduated with distinction from Allahabad University where he studied history, psychology and philosophy, then joined the India Foreign Service in 1986.

"Q & A" has been translated into 35 languages and "Slumdog Millionaire," directed by Danny Boyle, became a popular film winning more than 70 awards including eight Oscars, four Golden Globes, and BAFTAs, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

In his diplomatic career, Swarup has served India in various countries, such as Turkey (1987-1990) the United States (1993-1997) Ethiopia (1997-2000), the United Kingdom (2000-2003) and South Africa (2006-2009). He has held his current role in Japan since August 2009.

"Q & A" was his first novel. It was short-listed for Best First Book by the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and voted the Most Influential Book of 2008 in Taiwan.

Swarup's second novel "Six Suspects" was released in the UK in August 2008 and the BBC's Radio 4 has commissioned a radio play based on it. Vikas contributed a short story titled "A Great Event" to "The Children's Hours: Stories of Childhood," a bold and moving anthology of stories about childhood to support the "Save the Children" fund and raise awareness for its fight to end violence against children. Q: What is your impression of Expo 2010 and the India Pavilion?

A: All I can say about the India Pavilion is it's stunning, an innovative way of capturing the story of India's diversity and democracy. Expo was held in 1970 in Osaka when India was not an emerging country but now in the 21st century people can see in the pavilion our progress from ancient to modern. They can see the 5,000 years of history from pictures hanging on the wall and the exhibition pieces. They can also see modern India through the Tata Nano (Indian-built car) and information technology. My visit to Shanghai is a great opportunity to see all the pavilions, and everybody says this is the best Expo in history. I believe it can help to educate people about different countries' cultures.

Q: Where did you find the inspiration for "Q & A?"

A: When I was growing up, I liked to watch a lot of quiz shows. Everyone in India will tell you how great they are, although the first few questions are so easy that even the guy on the street can answer them. I was angry that they did not have contestants who don't have any formal education.

My inspiration came from a project started by NIIT, the National Institute of Information Technology, which put free computers in a slum. After two months, the slum children, who had no idea of computers, were logging in and surfing on the Internet. Then I said to myself, if a slum kid can start using a computer, why can't he be in a quiz and win.

Q: How do you deal with questions about the film's interpretation of Indian life?

A: Some people ask if "Slumdog Millionaire" totally reflects Indian life and why I decided to cooperate with director Danny Boyle. We live in a globalized generation and it is a high-quality film that I hope helps people understand the real India.

Q: What impressions should people have of modern India?

A: We can prove to people they are wrong to think India is a poor country with lots of people who can never make progress. But we can be democratic, united and progressive. Similar to other countries facing many problems, we can overcome them, and we're really doing well with that. Even in a dirty slum a billion flowers can bloom.

Q: How do you manage your careers?

A: I balance them well. It is great being a consul general representing India and I also enjoy being an author, because writing allows people to use their talent.


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