A Suitable Read


Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth

Hail Muse. Dear Reader, 🙂

I have just finished reading Vikram Seth’s very long novel (it’s around 1,400 pages) A Suitable Boy (a week ago) and his novel-in-verse The Golden Gate (last night).

And I can say that I am now officially a fan of Seth’s.

The two books are emotion stirrer in such a way. A Suitable Boy (1993) , which is a story about a mother looking for the right boy to be married off to her daughter set in 1950s India post-independence, post-partition, can make a reader feel restless of the world’s social injustice and ethnic-religious animosity. While, verses in The Golden Gate (1986) can make readers feel the loneliness and depression of a 26-year-old yuppie in San Fransisco.

He’s just a genius.

I had a chance to meet the acclaimed writer in October while covering the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Thanks to that assignment I became intrigued to read that bulky second-hand copy of A Suitable Boy that has been sitting untouched on the cabinet for so long.

However, at the time of the meeting with Seth, I have never read a single word from him. The bulky novel was too much for me to finish before the festival.

So, with internet-research that helped me just so far, blind and uninformed I met with Seth, who was amicable and very polite. My blunder, which I found out later while I was towards the end of reading A Suitable Boy weeks after our meeting, was asking him his reasons to write in English.

He treated that silly question of mine with kindness. He said that Indians no longer associate English with colonization. “We can use English freely without the slightest aspect of feeling oh we should really be writing in something else. We write what we can write in,” he said.

He also made an analogy of someone who was trained to play the piano since childhood would not be able to play the traditional gamelan instrument as good as the piano.

In A Suitable Boy, there is a character that resembles much with Seth. Amit Chatterji, a poet, attempting to finish his long novel about the Bengal famine. In the book (p.1369), Amit in one of his readings explained why he wrote in English almost in the same way Seth explained to me. A Suitable boy was published in 1993. So, I was like 15 years behind.

But, oh well. What’s done is done.

I found a nice poem from his collection of poems All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990), and would like to share it with you.


Sit, drink your coffee here; your work can wait awhile.
You’re twenty-six, and still have some life ahead.
No need for wit; just talk vacuities, and I’ll
Reciprocate in kind, or laugh at you instead.

The world is too opaque, distressing and profound.
This twenty minutes’ rendezvous will make my day:
To sit here in the sun, with grackles all around,
Staring with beady eyes, and you two feet away.

* For Jemise for being 26.

So my dearests, when will we have our twenty minutes rendezvous?


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7 Responses to “A Suitable Read”

  1. bellesbits Says:

    Hey Lady, Swap you a lend of the Golden Gate for my poetry goodness. Boleh?

  2. anandaayu Says:

    Boleh banget!

  3. CB Says:

    Sounds like an intriguing writer, I’ll have to look him up.

    I have a feeling my Dad would like him too.

  4. tbelfield Says:

    Nice review. Thanks.

  5. nyscha Says:

    Your review has further piqued my already fervent curiosity about the book.

    Me wants to borrow A Suitable Boy from you.
    Me also wants to find a suitable boy. But that’s another story.


  6. Bellesbits Says:

    Me wants Nyscha to write about search for said boy. Me wonders what happened to other boy?

  7. Novia Says:

    I read Seth’s “Beastly Tales” some years ago. It’s a book of children’s rhymes, enchanting without getting all sugary sweet. Since then I’ve made similarly delightful discovery of Indians writing in English, like Ranjit Lal and his “The Caterpillar Who Went on a Diet And Other Stories,” and Vikas Swarup with his “Q&A”. I’m always amazed with the people who write in the language they are not born to. I wish I can anywhere as eloquent as them in English. 🙂

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