Lavanya: One of the questions I like to ask people when I talk to them for the first time is about their reading taste. I'd like to ask you the same, Vinod. What kind of books do you read?
Vinod: Well, I agree. It is a good way to understand what sort of a person you are talking to. I too like to ask people about their reading preferences. I read a lot of classics and mostly books that have a historical background/setting. As far as classics go, Tolstoy's War & Peace, Anna Karenina and similar books are favourites. I enjoy Graham Greene, A.J.Cronin, James Michener. Among the Indians, R.K.Narayan is a favourite. I particularly like Nadine Gordimer.
***L: In Hitchhiker, you use an neutral narrator. I was wondering why you did not narrate the story from Ebenezer's point of view.
V: If you notice, Hitchhiker has several small characters and their stories in addition to the story of Ebenezer. For instance, Ebenezer has no idea of knowing what happens in the UK in the Narendra Shah part of the story. I did toy with the idea of a first person narrative but the multiple stories necessitated a neutral narrator.
L: Right, I forgot about the multiple stories. Also, on a related note, I wanted to ask you about the functional style of the prose. In Chenthil's review of your book, he had mentioned that the author sounds like someone who thinks in Tamil and then translates it into English. When I read your book, I felt that you wanted the narrator of your story also to sound like someone from a Southern Tamilnadu background and that the sparse style and the Tamil-native-like English construction were deliberate. In a sense, Chenthil was right about the prose sounding like it were written by a Tamilian thinking in his mother tongue and translating it to English. However that Tamilian is supposed to be the narrator and not the author. Am I right?
V: Yes the sparse Tamil like prose style was consciously done. In Southern Tamilnadu, that is the way you would hear people speak. I wanted to give my readers a flavour of way people speak over there.
L: Your choice of places - Aaroor, Thenpatti - are they really around in Tamilnadu? They seem very familiar and authentic but I don't think I've heard of these names.
V: They are fictional. And yes, I wanted to make them as authentic as possible. Let us just say that Aaroor is a fictional place an hour or so away from Salem.
L: Why did you set the book in Tamilnadu?
V: Well, I grew up in a place called Virudhunagar - lived there till I was 18 - until a few years ago my parents used to live there (now they've retired and settled at our ancestral home in Kerala). So, I am very familiar with Southern Tamilnadu and could easily recreate the environment from memory.
L: You wrote this book when doing your Masters at the LSE isn't it? How long did it take you to write the book?
V: It took me around 8 months to write the first draft - of which I wrote full time for a month and around two or three hours a day otherwise. Then, after my LLM exams at the LSE got over, it took me 3 more months to find a job and start working. I used that time to revise what I had written. When I started my first job in the UK in January 2004, I had completed Hitchhiker.
L: I have read a lot of Indian writers mention that physical distance away from India provides them with the perspective to view and write about India in a way that they can never imagine doing had they lived in India. You wrote The Hitchhiker in London. Did your location matter to you, help you, in writing your novel? Or would home in India have made no difference to the perspective that you hold in the book?
V: In my case it didn't make a difference since I had just got to the UK. I guess, it would make a difference if one has lived away for many years.
L: Why the title The Hitchhiker? Is it just a straightforward use of the free rider kind of meaning or does the choice run deeper?
V: Ebenezer hitchhikes his way through life - first piggybacking on the GEC and later for a short while as a Hindu convert.
L: Are you working on a book now?
V: Yes. I am working on a collection of ten stories, set in Kerala.
L: How did you come across my blog?
V: I was searching for reviews of Robert Edric's Gathering the Water and came upon what you wrote. I was pleasantly surprised to find that people still read books like these.
L: You bet they do! Do you blog or have you ever considered blogging?
V: I don't blog but I have considered it. It is very addictive isn't it? And it requires a good investment of time and effort. I don't think I can manage that along with my work and the writing.
My thoughts on The Hitchhiker
The Hitchhiker at Books for Change