Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vikram Seth

Born 1952

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..

His knowledge

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? 

His honesty

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?

His bravery

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 you're a fan like me, here's an interview you'll certainly like to read. Seth is a private person and this is the most forthright interview I've ever come across. http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?232671
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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.
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This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.


Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.



25 comments:

  1. Mr. Seth sounds like quite a person and a very brave author. Thank you for highlighting Indian authors; I'm not familiar with them and I enjoy being exposed to new-to-me work.

    This is A. Catherine Noon, visiting from the Noon and Wilder blog at http://noonandwilder.blogspot.com for the A-Z Challenge (and the Under 100 Followers section too), #1554 on the list. Happy blogging!

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  2. I was not at all familiar with Mr Seth's life and works. A 1400 page book... OMG... and that too a fiction and romance... must certainly check it out. i am intrigued now.
    And tomorrow it will be the famous Mr PGW :D

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    Replies
    1. Well it's not a love story... It's a lot of things with a a bit of a love story.

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  3. A Suitable Boy is a really really good read. I read it when I was on my maternity leave back at India and it realy did take a large chunk of my time, but I enjoyed it . I hear ' A Suitable Girl' is coming soon !!!

    Yes, agreeing with Shilpa here. Come on, Jeeves !

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    Replies
    1. That's a great way to see oneself through a pregnancy :-D.

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  4. O I remember reading that 1400 page novel...but I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I have read some of Seth's poems too. Quite good. One of my favourite poems of his is the one he wrote on Diwali - I once wrote a blogpost about it too....
    http://letbeautybeyourconstantideal.blogspot.in/2013/11/diwali-with-modern-indian-poet-and.html

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    Replies
    1. Off to read your post. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I like him and his subtle wit. I usually prefer those to the loud, brash in your face type of humor..

    PhenoMenon
    http://throodalookingglass.com/2014/04/voices/

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  6. I've not read Vikram Seth's works, but I admire him for standing up tall for whatever he believes in. Not many people, especially celebrities, do that.
    His mother, Justice Leila Seth is a truly great person in many ways.

    Looking forward to your post tomorrow on my favourite author!

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    Replies
    1. You're right. Most celebs prefer not sticking their neck out. I once interviewed Justice Leila Seth for a newspaper I was working with then and it was such a pleasure. She's a delight to talk to... Just as much as I presume Vikram Seth would be.

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  7. Admirable personality indeed!! This one also goes to my list :)

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  8. Oh another addition to my list...I'm growing so fond of this..don't stop after the challenge...maybe every week you should do a post with recommended books?
    V for Violated-Random Thoughts Naba

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    Replies
    1. That is SUCH a sweet compliment Naba. I'd love to.

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  9. oh yes V is for Vikram Seth but this one is my best friend back home in chandigarh :)

    not read any him....

    Bikram

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  10. Replies
    1. yeah .. and we had a third Vikram tooo :) but you see there are aonly a few with "B" :)

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  11. I confess I haven't read anything by Seth, except perhaps a poem in college, which I hardly remember now. I did hear a lot about A suitable Boy and mean to read it one day. Interesting to know a bit about him. I liked this line the best from your post today: "It is meant to be befriended."

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    1. Thanks Shailaja. It's such a long one you cannot finish it if you don't make a friend of it.

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  12. I enjoyed this book upto a point but I just couldn't finish it - too long for my liking. But the parts I read were most engaging.

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    Replies
    1. Long it sure is. One needs to be patient.. Very patient.

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  13. I have tried very hard to read A suitable Boy but the sheer volume has discouraged me for along. Maybe I should get myself to finish it :)

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    Replies
    1. No denying it's length but I found it an easy effortless read.

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