Former sports journalist Siddhartha Vaidyanathan writes his first novel
Former sports journalist Siddhartha Vaidyanathan’s first novel is on a young boy’s struggles and successes in an all-boys’ school in Bengaluru of the ‘90s
Former India cricket captain Rahul Dravid, a voracious reader, terms it “Fun, entertaining, delightful.” When the cricket icon, known for his guarded commendation for the written word, showers such generous praise, you are bound to take notice of the subject of his attention. What’s wrong with you, Karthik? is a debut novel by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, a contemporary writer on cricket, who adopts an easy storytelling manner.
Vaidyanathan worked at ESPN from 2003 to 2008 before moving to Seattle where he edits academic journals. He has been a regular contributor to publications like The Guardian, Wisden, Wall Street Journal and Forbes.
The 278-page book narrates Karthik’s experience, joyful and painful, at school and his “transition into adolescence,” rekindling some of our own memories of schooldays when we discovered a new world every day. How close was the narrative to his own childhood in Bengaluru in the early ‘90s when India was undergoing a change – a time and place the book is set in?
Vaidyanathan is candid, “My childhood was quite different. I didn’t have too many problems fitting in at school. And I was nowhere as tense as Karthik is. Also, most of the events in the book are made up. And even those that happened didn’t take place in the same chronology.”
Karthik Subramanian was crafted from people he saw around him then, and he says the character grew within him. “I had a few friends who struggled to fit in at school. At that age, especially in an all-boys school, anyone who is slightly different runs the risk of being ridiculed or bullied. I grew up watching plenty of Hindi movies where the hero is shown as strong and confident. Somehow, I have been drawn to the other kind of hero: someone who is shy and vulnerable. You rarely hear their point of view.”
‘Spirit of an all-boys school’
He admits to similarities between the school, St George’s, in the novel and his own school, but the point was always to capture the spirit of an all-boys school: “the kind of camaraderie — and alienation — that it fosters.” Naturally, cricket creeps into the narrative, but, as Vaidyanathan points out, “I didn’t have a cricket novel in mind but couldn’t ignore it either. So, there is some cricket too.”
Vaidyanathan manages to create a lovable Karthik, who has a mind of his own, even as he battles the demons outside. “I wanted Karthik to tell the reader exactly what he thinks at each stage. He is outwardly shy but inwardly talkative,” he says, of the 12-year-old.
The novel took six years to construct, but Vaidyanathan “was doing other things as well in that period,” going long stretches without writing. “A large chunk of the book was written in the two-year period between 2016 and 2018.”
The book that has been shortlisted for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, begins with a Karthik confused with all the external voices, and ends with his inner voice predominating. “I wanted the book to finish on a hopeful note.”
What’s wrong with you, Karthik? (Pan Macmillan India) is available at Amazon.in