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When the 'Suitable Boy' charmed Chandigarh

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 9 January 2018, 18:58 IST

“Life doesn't cease to be a comedy because people die; nor does it cease to be a tragedy if people laugh,” stated Vikram Seth, the well-known writer, quoting George Bernard Shaw at a session at Panjab University in Chandigarh on Monday evening, as he talked about life with his parents.

The 'Suitable Boy' (one of his more popular works) was in the city for the 2nd Professor Urmi Kessar Memorial Oration. The event, though, was not an oration, but rather a conversation with Professor Pushpinder Syal where Seth unveiled several facets of his life and works, as he spoke on the topic 'Thoughts on being a writer'.

Writing and translating poetry

Seth candidly admitted to being nervous while facing audiences, and struggling with writers block. As he moved towards writing poetry, he lay great emphasis on rhyme and meter in writing poetry, quoting another English poet, saying, “Writing poetry without rhyme and meter I like playing tennis with the net down.”

Seth emphasised the usefulness of poetry as a way to console, referencing the elegiac and melancholy strains in his poetry, he explained, “It works that way; when you are happy and having a good time that's not when you are writing poetry, but only when you are sad or melancholy.”

“A poet walks like a neurotic millipede. Don't examine too closely what the processes of an artist's creation are. A poet must remember – Don't examine too closely what you do naturally,” he underlined.

Seth also talked at length about the art of translation, and how hugely satisfying it is even if only 10 per cent of the original comes out in the translation. “The original poet inspired you. In fact, had it not been for the Russian poet Pushkin's works, I would have not been a writer,” Seth disclosed, reminding listeners of the importance of keeping the original writer in mind.

Advice from the author

He had zen-like words of advice for budding writers in the audience who asked him about not finding the time to write or being worried about trends in literature. “Don't do anything for an hour everyday. Switch off your phone, your mind, your family, everything. Know yourself,” he said, adding that one should then flow with what he feels like. “Your song must be your own,” he said sagely.

There was a question from the audience about the future of longer books, his 'A Suitable Boy' being one of them. “People will be writing right-sized books. There are things like 'Game of Thrones' that are endless and people watch it,” he said.

Referring to the writing scenario in India when it comes to writing in native languages, with very few works being translated into English, he underlined that the writers have a difficult time getting their voice heard. They also find it hard to stay afloat. He said the Sahitya Akademi is doing its best, but there is a lot of cross translation. “I won't say there's not enough will for translation. In today's India, rather than opening up to the outside, we are creating borders within,”he remarked.

Social issues

Ever outspoken, Seth also reiterated his stand on certain crucial issues confronting Indian society. Referring to the Supreme Court deciding to review its order on Article 377 that criminalised homosexuality, he said he was happy about the news, and was optimistic of a judgment that is constitutional, humane, logical, and just.

“Intolerance is violence. You could be from any religion or caste. It is bad luck or a lottery. So it is illogical to say this religion is the best or this caste is the best or this nation is the best,” he stated, weighing in on the communal polarisation across the country.

First published: 9 January 2018, 18:58 IST