#22 Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Verghese, Sidin Vadukut
I liked this novel in spite of myself. However badly that speaks of my character, I think it at least rescues my taste in some measure. What won me over to Dork is that it's not a novel about a bumbling young chap who discovers himself [that category of novels is called, in my mind, 'Wank.'] Through the story, the young chap remains an unreconstituted bumbler, and that's putting it kindly. Robin Verghese is a hopeful young egoist with a diary, a job at Mumbai's Dufresne Partners, and reality-defying naivete. We follow his diary, Mole-style, as he swashbuckles his way through one promotion cycle at his frankly lamex0rz firm, makes long-running attempts to get the girl, and takes the odd opportunity to save the day.
Robin is not an idiot savant. He's just an idiot. And the great thing about Dork is that it isn't really just lampooning the little guy, of course - it's the whole culture. Robin's world is so painfully familiar to anyone who's been a corporate minion that it should come with warning labels for reproductions of soulless Taj parties and desperate usage of PowerPoint. But there's nothing bitter or angry about this book. Its prime provocations are goofy, not satirical. Robin is a type of character very familiar to Indian readers - the product of an elite school, dealing not just with the vagaries of the world outside, but also with the chaos within. He's also a LOLarious send-up that type.
I enjoyed it. And I'm going to take the rare opportunity to infuse this post with some hard-hitting journalism. I had the privilege of speaking to the author just before the Mumbai launch of this book. Below I reproduce the short Q&A that appeared [version thereof] in the March issue of Verve Magazine.
How do you make consulting interesting?
By not writing too much about it. It’s easy to poke fun at the stereotypes, and it serves as a rich backdrop, but the book is about its characters. The diary format helps; you can pick and choose details, skip over days of the boring stuff, and still stay true to the format. I didn't have to write a magnum opus.
But parts of this book were so reminiscent of Tolstoy.
Don't make me kill myself.
Sorry. Who is Dork’s ideal reader?
There was a focus of sorts when I was talking about it to my publishers. I thought it would speak best to young readers, between 25 and 35, MBAs fresh out of school. But my major concern was really to do justice to my own mental image of Robin Verghese. I’ve been amazed at how different people have taken different things from the story, though – for many people, it’s worked as a great slice-of-life in a metro, for others it’s about a lifestyle.
How easy is it to sustain humour (a mainstay of your kvlt blog, Domain Maximus) at novel-length?
It’s very difficult. There are several transitions that you have to make carefully: sustaining a line of humour for that span, and writing fiction itself, is a challenge. But the genre of humour, of the jokes, is carried forward from Domain Maximus to the book - the general sense is the same. I did take a lot of shortcuts to help myself. The diary format, for example, bridges a gap with the blog format.
What sort of writing inspires you?
My own favourites are writers like William Dalrymple, Bill Bryson, Martin Cruz Smith and so on. Dork in particular had a number of inspirations. I worked with the sensibility of The Office TV series, which really opens up everything in the office space to be laughed at. Sue Townsend is another. And Craig Brown, Molly Evans, and the brilliant office culture columnist Lucy Kellaway.
What can we look forward to in the further adventures of Robin Verghese?
Robin will not reform. He will remain a dork, and the comedy of errors will continue. The repercussions so far have been small – I want him to arrive at a point where he’s able to create international diplomatic incidents.