He studied metallurgical engineering, then got an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, and now works as a journalist, covering everything from cricket to couture. t2 caught up with Sidin Vadukut, the London-based 33-year-old author, to chat about his Dork series, social skills and all things dorky.
Tell us about your new book Who Let the Dork Out? [Penguin India, Rs 199]
When we started the trilogy some three years ago, the idea was that in three books we’d outline the career of the protagonist, Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese, from management trainee to CEO. I also wanted to look at three different sectors — the first book looked at consulting, the second at banking and now the third one looks at government. I also go into a little more depth about his personal life in Book 3.
Why did you decide to weave the story of Book 3 around the Commonwealth Games? And why don’t you call it the Commonwealth Games?
I didn’t want to call it the Commonwealth Games because then people would immediately have certain expectations about what I had included or not, you know. Second, I thought it would give me more satirical licence if I called it something else. So I made up the name Allied Victory Games. Everything is fictional in the book… the ministry does not exist, the Commonwealth Games is not mentioned, so there’s no issue of copyright and so on. I also felt that while reading, people would know what it refers to but a fictional name makes it slightly more tongue-in-cheek. It’s kind of like everybody’s involved in an inside joke.
Now why the CWG at all, see, even while I was launching Book 1, I knew Book 3 would have him dealing with government. I was working as a reporter in Delhi when the Games started falling apart, so to speak. I and a colleague were one of the first people to write that all may not be well with the Games preparations. I had great expectations from the Games, I was terribly disappointed that it didn’t go well. I spoke to a lot of people involved in the Games and they would tell me bizarre stories... stuff that you can’t make up!
Give us an example…
For example, I knew this one guy who had won a contract to supply potted plants at the Games. And he casually said he sold the same plant five or six times! He would sell the plant, drop it off, the next morning he would go pick it up and drop it off at another venue and draw up another bill. And he would keep doing this. He said nobody checked, nobody cared….
Then, last year I was speaking to the CEO of a major Swiss watch company and I asked him, ‘How was 2010 for you?’ He told me that there was this tremendous boom in demand for Swiss watches in November 2010 because a lot of people who had pilfered funds from the Games were then desperately trying to get rid of it. In fact, in Delhi, the market boomed for a month because everybody was buying watches with cash!
So, to come back to your question, I thought if I wrote about the Games, I wouldn’t need to make stuff up, all these bizarre things were already there. And now I am very happy I wrote about the Games because in the process I also pulled in a lot of popular political names and issues.
Weren’t you worried about ruffling the feathers that be?
No, not really. One, I’m not someone who sells a million copies, so I just might fly under “their” radar completely (laughs).
Second, if I were to get into trouble for mocking people, I’d have already got into trouble for doing it because I do a fair bit of mocking in my tweets, my blog posts, my writings.
Why is a dork your central character?
I really like him! In business school, I remember taking an exam on a topic that I thought I knew very well because I used to work in a factory before I did my MBA. But I did very badly in the exam, and people who had no real-world experience did much better, not because they understood the topic better but simply because they had a textbook perspective. I thought that was so ironical! And I started thinking… what if there’s somebody who is good with bookish information but who has no real idea of how society and the real world works.... So I wrote this blog post about a guy who has no experience and totally mucks up his company, completely oblivious to how much of a liability he is. It was quite a popular post. Many years later, when I wanted to write a book, my wife said, ‘Can you take this naive, fresh-out-of-business-school character and expand it into a book?’
You’ve clarified somewhere that a dork is not a nerd….
Yeah, a dork is not a nerd is not a geek. I think there is tremendous international debate about the difference among these three (laughs). A dork is perhaps extremely gifted academically but very, very poorly equipped socially, while a nerd is someone who has decided to sacrifice all his social skills for his other interests. Like I’m a nerd about the Second World War.
So, are you a dork?
Completely. My social skills are practically zero. I think the only reason I got married was so that I could outsource all my social requirements, being nice to people and all that, to someone else. But I can be quite a nerd too, when it comes to things I am passionate about… WWII, like I told you, and lately crime fiction.