Sidin Vadukut, the author of the Dork Trilogies is out with his latest book – The Sceptical Patriot: Exploring The Truths Behind The Zero And Other Glories . The e-book is already in the market and the book, which will hit shelves this weekend, is a “tongue-in-cheek yet insightful look at Indian self-perception and self-deception.”
The author who is currently based in London talks about his latest work, the research that went into it and his journey into the literary world in an email interview. Excerpts.
What is The Sceptical Patriot (TSP) about?
TSP is a simple idea. I took a bunch of widely quoted 'facts' about India's historical and intellectual greatness and decided to fact check all of them. I got mixed, but interesting results.
TSP is your first attempt at non-fiction. How was it? Which genre do you prefer writing?
I function in waves. Currently, now that a non-fiction is behind me, I feel like working on a novel. I have an interesting idea or two.
But overall I think I enjoy non-fiction more, especially projects like TSPThe Sceptical Patriot . Nothing gives me greater pleasure than reading books, connecting things, telling stories and making sense of complex pictures.
What kind of research went into TSP ?
First I read everything available about a topic on the internet. Internet research is actually illuminating. It gives you a sense of what people already know, what sources are the most popular and what viewpoints are the most controversial. Next I start finding sources for the things I read online: books, research papers, newspaper articles and so on. Then I dig up the sources mentioned in those sources. And I keep doing this till I think I have a fairly exhaustive picture of something. Just hunting down a chain of sources and documents can be illuminating.
For instance the chapter in the book on Jagdish Chandra Bose made me realise how much he had fallen in and then fallen out of favour in western scientific literature and media. You wouldn’t realise that if you didn't go back chronologically. I hope TSP makes people curious about Indian history and that it will inspire more young people to study and write history.
How did it feel writing a book that has nothing to do with the Dork series?
I loved the transition. I have, I feel, changed as a person since the Dork series. I am an older, grumpier and more boring person with a propensity to rummage through libraries. TSP allowed me to be all that to my heart’s content.
What prompted you to pursue writing?
My journey really started when I became a voracious reader at a really young age. There were many reasons for this. But most of all because, I think, I grew up in a slightly austere family. We grew up in a typical NRI Malayali gulf family of the 1980s. A comfortable life but with no room for luxuries. I really didn’t have a lot of toys or other forms of amusements. So I found succour in books and newspapers and even dictionaries.
And naturally, like anybody who reads a lot, I began to wonder if I could write. I kept trying, in fits and starts, for many years. I don’t think I was particularly good. The inflexion point came in the summer of 2004 when my blog became popular, thanks to a couple of posts. That changed everything. I began to read more and write more. I also began to take it more seriously. I still think of myself as a novice writer. I still read books by E.B. White or Ian Frazier or newspaper articles in the New Yorker or the London Review of Books or The Caravan and marvel at the ability people have to craft sentences.
I have also been very lucky. My blog took off at a time when people actually read blogs. And then I moved into print media at a time when they were still hiring and willing to take experiments with young, untrained writers. I think all those things have changed now. It would be impossible today, I think, to convert a good blog into a proper writing gig.
What are you working on now?
Marketing the book! But also I am thinking of writing one more non-fiction before going back to fiction. I have lots of ideas and need to finalise on one soon.