With Who Let the Dork Out? (WLTDO) Sidin Vadukut completes his trilogy of office culture novels centred around the life of Robin “Einstein” Varghese and his closest confidant, his diary. Vadukut recently spoke to Mint’s Sidin Vadukut about the trials and tribulations of writing humour novels, the humorist’s process, and experimenting with narratives.
This is the third and concluding part of the ‘Dork’ trilogy. Does this mean that you will never write a ‘Dork’ book again? Is this it for Einstein?
I think so. This might well be the last of the Dorks. There are some reasons for that. When I first planned the books with the editors at Penguin, we structured the series as the story of this guy’s professional life from first job, through middle management, to CEO. That was always the non-negotiable plot thread for the series. And I’ve stayed true to that.
Now, writing any more books would mean compromising on either the context—office culture—or the concept—diary entries. Both of those, I think, would destroy Robin Varghese.
I have plenty of material left over. At least two notebooks full of plot ideas, mishaps, scandals, insecurities and set pieces. But I think all those ideas will stay there, or work their way into other books in the future.
Dork, for all practical purposes, has said everything he intends to.
Nothing. So does he finally become CEO in ‘Who Let the Dork Out?’
Aha! Perhaps. You will have to read the book to find out. When the book opens, he is still interim CEO awaiting confirmation. But I will say no more. I don’t want to spoil the book for readers. I do not want to rob them of the sheer pleasure of being taken along on a wondrous journey full of humour and biting satire and…
Thank you so much for that. How challenging is it to publish a trilogy of humour novels? It has to be difficult making people laugh over and over again with the same character and context?
It is very difficult to make people laugh at all. Period.
The problem with humour novels is that there is no secondary pay-off you can fall back on if your jokes don’t work. If readers don’t laugh then you are finished. Readers won’t say: “This humour novel is so boring. But at least I learnt something new.” There is no “at least” in this genre. Mirth is the only pay-off. Damn difficult. People are stingy with laughter.
Now you know as well as I do that the modern workplace is a true crucible of a person’s professional and personal character. There is no greater measure of a person’s worth than his ability to thrive in the cubicle. Yet you find it fit to ridicule this great meritorious institution in your books. Why?
(Suddenly both burst out laughing, tears of delight pouring down their respective cheeks…) Too much.
I know, right? But back to our discussion. Each of your first two books was set very much within an office. Does the third book follow the same format?
Yes. But the difference here is that there are two different offices in the book. The first is Robin’s own office. As usual. The second is the office of a small government ministry that is located near Patel Chowk in New Delhi. The book is split between both locations almost equally.
What is this ministry called?
The Ministry for Urban Regeneration and Public Sculpture. MURPS for short.
And your synopsis mentions that in the book Einstein will be working with MURPS in order to execute a certain international sporting event being held in Delhi.
Yes. The Allied Victory Games (AVG) 2010. MURPS has been appointed by the prime minister as the nodal agency for inter-ministerial oversight of the AVG2010. Of course, nobody at the ministry has any idea what this really means. Until Einstein steps in as an independent subject matter expert and adviser.
A satire about government can be tricky. There will be many comparisons to the ‘Yes, Minister’ books and films.
Yes. I was afraid of that while writing the book. In fact, for the first six months of this year, while I worked on WLTDO, I made it a point to not consume a single Yes, Minister product. I was petrified of influences creeping in.
I think two things go in my favour here. The first is the fact that MURPS is a very Indian ministry with very Indian concerns. And secondly, AVG2010 provides a nice backdrop that people can connect to immediately. I don’t think there ever was a sporting event in any Yes, Minister stories. I think. I hope. I pray.
So in this book you have both office politics and official politics?
Yes. And poor Einstein has to deal with both. Things are going to get messy indeed.
Has he changed much in this book?
He is three years older than he was in book 2. And I think he is a lot more mature. And a lot less prone to sudden emotional outbursts like he used to be.
He has also developed a deeper understanding of relationships and the compromises involved in a relationship.
Does he… you know…
Plenty for an engineer-MBA…
Were you tempted at all to fiddle with the diary-entry format? Or to replace it with other epistolary formats? Like emails? Blogposts?
I was. In fact, I have been tempted to try other formats right from my first book. They just didn’t work. And always seemed too jarring. For instance, there was this interview transcript that was included at the end of book 1. At least 50% of the readers hated it.
I tried again in book 2 and then book 3. It just seemed too gimmicky. So I dropped it. But the next book I write I won’t touch diary entries with a bargepole.
So what is next? Why not branch out and try something else like a crime novel? Or a World War II thriller? Or a breezy, non-fiction book on Indian patriotism?
Boss, it is like you are just reading my mind. You are truly a perceptive journalist. I am thinking of exactly those projects. I want do all those genres. In fact, I think I want to try all genres. You live only one life. Might as well try everything.
You’ve lost weight and look much sharper than you used to.
So do you.
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