Sidin Vadukut tells Anjana Rajan about punctuation and other heart-wrenching issues
Life is full of irritating experiences whose underlying meanings indicate you should be feeling the opposite to what you are actually feeling. The fool in theatre is really the wise one; disappointments are life-saving junctures; missed goals are the turning point to a new career…and so on. When you cry, you should be laughing. Stands to reason that when you guffaw at the antics of Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese in “Who Let the Dork Out?”, the third book of the “Dork” series, along with the corrupt politicians and officials in his circle, you ought also to be silently weeping at the thinly disguised satire on the great Indian democracy. Author Sidin Vadukut agrees.
“This is not makebelieve,” he points out, in the context of humour writers basing much of their work on personal observation. “This book is genuinely sad. If you don’t come out of it feeling a little bad, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.”
Vadukut’s dork protagonist negotiates his way up the corporate ladder, via his contacts at the Ministry for Urban Regeneration and Public Sculpture (MURPS), where he helps bail out the minister at the nth hour when preparations for the Allied Victory Games are in a shambles and the world is sneering at India’s imminent failure on the international stage. The dubious means employed, the cynicism, the lack of scruples and self serving motivation of everybody involved are enough to give the caring Indian reader a conscience-engineered stomach ache. You can’t but agree with the author, currently a columnist and editor at Mint, when he says, “There’s a lot of malice in the way our government dysfunctions.”
Rather like lots of famous people, Sidin, who became a bestseller with his debut novel, “Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese”, calls himself “a really boring guy” in real life, one who’s “not particularly social”. For a boring person he’s got plenty on his CV. An engineer from NIT Trichy and an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, his interests ranging through “sports, technology, some finance and banking and a lot of Swiss watches”, Sidin lives in London.
“If I had to sit and do nothing I would just sit and read and write about wars,” says the man who suffers, in the tradition of humorists the world over, from other people’s expectations that he would be cracking jokes all the time. He also reads, “slowly but a lot” of Malayalam literature. But it is not just the subject matter of his reading and writing that he is serious about. Editors be warned: change around his punctuation at your peril. Never mind journalism’s proverbial lack of respect for punctuation and even grammar: Sidin declares, “I’m still a stickler for grammar. I write a lot of humour and it physically pains me when editors screw around with my punctuation. Nothing kills a non sequitur like scrunching paras. You need that space, that colon, comma.” He concedes, “It looks like it’s written very informally. But if you screw around with my paragraphs, I will hunt you down and kill you.”
Sidin, who believes “punctuation gives emotion to a sentence” can get away with complaints like that even as he admits he is a “very bad typist” who drives his publishers (Penguin) round the bend asking “Is this Robin or you?” since the dork — whose diary entries form the bulk of the narrative — is no epitome of erudition! “Language is not his strength. I think he has a psychosis with this diary. He’s genuinely talking to him,” says the author, noting, “It’s a very difficult character to write because you have to fall into his head.”
Robin also frequently lapses into Malayalam. “I actually considered writing a glossary,” remarks Sidin, adding, “When I get really agitated I flip back to Malayalam. First Tamil, because I went to college in Tamil Nadu, and when I’m really angry I turn to Malayalam.”
Apparently Sidin has now fallen back out of Robin’s head, because his next book, which he says is for Rupa, is on Indian patriotism. “There are certain things we are so proud of. I’m going to investigate all of these things.”