Utpal Borpujari

February 23, 2010

Stepping inside a hollow head

By Utpal Borpujari

In American slang, “dork” implies a social misfit, stupid person who is not to be confused with a “nerd” or a “geek”, which mean intelligent but misfit guys. Sidin Vadukut is definitely not a dork, but his hero is. Fortunately or unfortunately, that hero of Sidin does not exist in real life. Rather, Sidin’s dork hero, Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese, a fellow Malayalee, has emerged out of a mental combination of character traits of all part-dorks that he met during his engineering college years in NIT-Trichy, IIM days in Ahmedabad and work life in Mumbai. Sidin has given birth, rather brought alive, this dork, in a his debut novel titled, what else but, Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin ‘Einstein Varghese (Penguin).

It could have been great fun – or great disaster depending on your viewpoint – to meet up with someone like Varghese in real life. Since that’s virtually impossible going by the impossibly stupid character Sidin has dreamt up in his story, the next best option would be to read the book, which, like its character itself, might score with you or piss you off with its on-your-face brand of humour that is evident right from the start of the novel written in a diary form, the first of a trilogy. (Sample the advance ‘praise’ for the book on the back cover, which sort of lampoons the trend of such praise: “A stunning new voice in Indian literature! In Dork, Vadukut has written the book I’ve always wanted to write – William Dalrymple’s biggest fan’s youngest sister”; or, “I read this book and instantly knew that Robin Varghese is the role of a lifetime. Inshallah I will be a part of the movie when it’s made – Shah Rukh Khan’s dentist’s accountant).

As Vadukut waits for the reviews and reader feedback to come in, he ruminates about how the character came into being. “Varghese is based roughly on 60 per cent what I have observed in college and work, and 30 per cent on other people’s experiences, the last 10 per cent being fiction. He is a combination of a lot of interesting people I have met. I have put into him everybody’s character flaws. I cannot believe that there are actually people like him in this world, and when I wrote I thought nobody would identify with him. But after the book has come out, a lot of people have told me that they know someone like him,” he says.

Vadukut describes Varghese as a “hugely optimistic” and “naïve” character that developed out of a blog post he had written about what would happen if a guy with only theoretical knowledge in marketing consultancy sets out to implement all that in practical life. “The origin of the story goes back to six years. I sat for an exam on operations management, and did very badly. I had done operations management in my work. It set me thinking. I had done the job, but cannot write an exam. I came back thinking what if there is a guy who because of having done very well in the exam thinks he can do anything based on textbook information. I wrote a small blog on such a guy, just out of business school, who decides to implement all his textbook fundas on his first job, and how it blows up on him. Later, when I contacted a few publishers with a plan to write a book, I was suggested to write fiction. But I hate fiction, write very bad fiction. But I was told to go through my blog posts and see if something could emerge from there. That was when my wife reminded me about this character. Finally, the whole thing got expanded into this book,” he recalls.

The first-time author feels that the publishing scene in India now is good for debutants like him. “I think it is much easier now to be published, though you need to be really persistent with the publishers and willing to talk to them and network. But absolutely no way you can make a living out of writing, unless you are a success like Chetan Bhagat. I am sure 15 years ago I would not have been published. Who would have published an office culture humour novel then? But now times are changing, and you even have movies like ‘Rocket Singh’ on office culture. You spend eight hours a day in office, and there is so much humour, why not express it?” explains the author, who has to write the two sequels within 2010 but already is thinking of several other books – from non-fiction to crime novels. No wonder, for someone who has (almost) sacrificed his social life for writing, things can only get better. Anyone for more dork philosophy? – well, Sidin is already penning them!

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 21-02-2010)



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