I begin this post with a confession - I don't quite know the entire works of this author other than the single one I enjoyed. Given that Vikram Seth's greatest love is poetry and I'm not much of a poetry person this post is destined to be lopsided. However I am hoping my love for his single epic work A Suitable Boy and for him as a person will offset my ignorance. Bear with me dear readers. And if the poets among you will comment upon his poetry, I will be truly grateful.
First, a bit about his life...
Vikram Seth was born in Kolkata and spent his childhood in Patna to a businessman father, Prem Seth and judge mother Leila Seth. He studied at St Xavier's, Patna, Welham's Boys' School and later at the famous Doon School of Dehradun, India.
A Suitable Boy
'I took seven years to write it and 3 to recover,' says Seth. The book is an epic novel of over 1400 pages and traverses the Indian cities of Brahmpur (imaginary), Calcutta, Delhi and Kanpur. Set in post partition India the books centres on a mother's search for a Suitable Boy for her 19 year old daughter Lata. Where there's a young girl looking for marriage, there has to be some kind of a love story, right? And so we watch as Lata makes up her mind between her three suitors.. The one she loves - Kabir, the practical choice - Haresh and the one most like her - Amit. Along the way we get an insight into the India of that time - the Hindu-Muslim strife, an inside view of a politician's life, the Zamindari system and much more. It is a simple story told simply with no pretensions of high flown language or over the top emotions. A Suitable Boy is a book not to be just read. It is meant to be befriended.
What impresses me about him as a person..
He knows French, German, Welsh and even Mandarin in addition to English, Hindi and Urdu. He has learnt Classical Chinese poetry. He also plays the flute and the cello. He has dabbled in Indian and Western classical music though he loves the latter more. He sings Leider (German love songs), specially Schubert. Oh and he has studied creative writing and also holds a graduate degree in Economics from Stanford University. He's a travel writer and a children's writer as well. Amazing, isn't it?
He has never made an attempt to hide his sexuality and is a self-confessed bisexual. Of course it can be largely credited to his family. His mother has written about his homosexuality too and of her coming to terms with it. Here's what he has to say about himself..
Some like Jack and some like Jill
I'm glad I like them both
but still I wonder if this freewheeling really is an enlightened thing
Or is it's greater scope a sign of deviance from some party line
In the strict ranks of gay and straight
What is my status: Stray or great?
I like the way he stands up to his beliefs. He openly opposed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises gay sex at a function in the presence of the Indian President. Although he's a very private peson he has been very vocal about the subject. Says he, "To not be able to love the one you love is to have your life wrenched away."
His quiet sef-deprecating wit
His is not the kind of wit that has you rolling with laughter. It's the kind that makes you smile and ensures the smile stays there for a long long time. Sample his quotes..
I often feel newspapers are just filling up space. Of course, I also know people who write really long books.
Basically my mother couldn't hold a tune and when I was a baby, a rather tactless baby, I would ask her not to sing... You can't get to sleep if someone is singing off key nearby.
(and now I'm wondering why my son specifically asks me not to sing each night!!)
If Vikram Seth's wit was the quiet kind, tomorrow's author is one who'll have you laughing out loud. If you haven't guessed already, he has the honour of being knighted and goes by the nickname Plum. Easy peasy I know.
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.