vinod_new.jpgLike we promised, we have with us today Mr Joseph, the author of Hitchhiker which has created quite a buzz on the blogosphere. Our earlier story on Hitchhiker.

Vinod is a solicitor based in London and was kind enough to spare some time for us, in fact, kind enough to wake up at 5:00 am London Time in the morning to have a chat with us 🙂 Now thats someone we do not interview everyday !

Ujj: So Vinod do you normally wake up this early or is it just because of me bugging you for an interview?

Vinod: I am a morning person and I try to swim in the morning before going to office. So, this is my usual time. Just 30 minutes of swimming in the slow lane. What about you?

Ujj: uh .Ahem. me too. Ok so lets hear something about you. Birth place, education and how did a lawyer end up writing a book?

Vinod: I was born in Kerala and my mother-tongue is Malayalam. I grew up at a place called Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu. My Dad used to work as a lecturer at a polytechnic there. My mother used to teach at a local school. I went to National Law School in Bangalore to do a 5 year law degree after which I worked in Mumbai as a corporate lawyer for 4 years. After that I came to the UK to do a masters course at the London School of Economics. I completed my LLM in 2003, during which time I took an exam called the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT), which allowed me to qualify as a UK solicitor. I have been working as a solicitor with a commercial law firm since January 2004. My parents have retired and now live at our ancestral home in Kerala. I have been married for the last 4 years (almost). Nisha is a software engineer and works for a telecom company in the UK.

Ujj: Yes she must be really proud of you, so were you the lawyer by the day and the writer by the night…

Vinod: Sort of. I wrote Hitchhiker while I was doing my LLM. When I finished my LLM in September 2003, I had completed my first draft. I took me a few more months to find a job, by which time I had finished editing it. My day job involves long hours and so I don’t manage to write for more than a few hours every week, mainly on week-ends.

Ujj: Novel moves around delicate topics like conversions, caste reservations, inter caste marriages, riots but all from the perspective of a kid and then a financially insecure man. Did you yourself ever face any identity crises or anything?

Vinod: Many people have asked me this question. Some even ask me if it is an autobiography. The answer is No. Hitchhiker is based entirely on what I have seen and not what I experienced. For the record, I’ve had a relatively privileged life. I belong to a caste which is quite high up on the caste/social ladder. I went to good schools and colleges. I have never really experienced discrimination, neither in India, nor in the UK.

Ujj: did you always know that a kid with identity problem was going to be your protagonist..

Vinod: Not really I decided to base my novel on issues I am familiar with, am very interested in Ebenezer was the end result, but even when I started writing, I had no clue how Ebenezer would turn out to be.

Ujj: Do you think Ebenezer would have done better for himself if he could avail reservation even after converting? cause even after converting his father could not offer him anything special? reservation in fact would have landed him in the IITs?

Vinod: Yes, he would. At the end of the day, a reservation, despite its inefficiencies and collateral unfairness, is a huge boon to the one who actually benefits from it.

Ujj: I know many people must have asked you this but I want to hear it from you, will Hitchhiker have a sequel? Are there any more works in the pipeline?

Vinod: I seriously doubt it. I want to leave Ebenezer’s future to the reader’s imagination. I have been writing a collection of 10 short stories which are based in a fictional village in Kerala. I hope to complete them soon.

Ujj: cool ! thatll be something to look forward to. So how did you hook up with books for change? Is this publishing house like an NGO?

Vinod: Books For Change (BFC) is the publishing division of Action aid India, which is an NGO. BFC publishes books which have a high social content.

Ujj: A ok…some time back I read a survey done by the time group that concluded that more than 60% of the youth of our country like to keep friends with the people of the same religion and more than 65% would like their parents to chose their brides for them..I for one felt quite sick about this..

Vinod: It is a good thing that it is only 60%

Ujj: phss.. 🙂 . but seriously don’t you think the youngest country in the world ought to be a little more progressive.

Vinod: It would be nice if people were a little less bigoted

Ujj: One last thing, what stand would you take about reservations? in the book one of the characters believe that the one thousand year old suppression and stigma cant go without a sustained reservation? what do you think? Or lemme put it this way, what was your reaction when you saw doctors and engineers facing water cannons while protesting against reservations?

Vinod: I feel that reservations do serve a purpose. It is no easy task to undo the damage caused by caste divisions which have existed for many centuries. Providing good schools, hospitals etc to the weaker sections of society will go a long way in creating an egalitarian society where all children go to school and every one has the opportunity to eke out a decent livelihood. However, providing reservation is still the most effective way to move a marginalized caste up the social ladder.
It must also be recognised that reservations do result in a lot of collateral unfairness. Even though reservations make sense in a broad way, there will be many individual instances where deserving candidates lose out on account of reservations. The higher the percentage of reservation, the greater the collateral unfairness. It is very difficult to say what would be the optimum percentage of reservation. I feel that total reservations should not exceed 20% or at the most 25%. Also, economically prosperous sections should not have reservations, even if they belong to a marginalised caste. Creamy layers should definitely be skimmed off. Also, I would not support reservations for promotions.
What I have stated here is my personal view. While writing Hitchhiker, I did my best to ensure that my personal view did not affect any of the characters in it.

Ujj: well thats enlightening. Vinod we really thank you for this and sorry for having eaten away your swimming time. I am sure our readers are going to enjoy this conversation.

Vinod: Thanks a lot 🙂