Finding suitable time for A Suitable Girl
With a £1.7 million deal for the sequel to his debut A Suitable Boy, celebrated writer Vikram Seth goes into hibernation to finish A Suitable Girl
Binoo K John
David Davidar (left) and Vikram Seth at the reading
NOVELIST AND poet Vikram Seth, who recently released his latest collection of poems Rivered Earth, has said that he is finally going to sit-in and work on his project novel A Suitable Girl, at least two years after he signed up on a £1.7 million deal for the sequel to his debut novel A Suitable Boy.
“I am not supposed to be sitting here and doing this event,” Seth said on 5 May, at a rare two-hour reading and Q&A session at Bookwise in Shapurjat. “This will be my last event for at least one year, since I have to put all my effort into Suitable Girl. Any suggestions for plots in the novel are welcome,” he quipped to the small gathering of about a 100 people who sat spellbound as he read from a lot of his poetry, spoke about his technique and writing style and answered varied questions on his work from David Davidar, now of Aleph Books.
Seth spoke elaborately on his body of work and his major inspirations, which included Pushkin and the 17th century Welsh poet-turned-priest George Herbert (whose old rectory in Salisbury, UK, Seth bought last year). He has been labouring on A Suitable Girl for sometime now writing in Herbert’s old house and also in his Noida house often into the early morning, ‘disturbed by the barking of Maneka Gandhi-protected dogs at 3am’.
What attracts Seth to Herbert’s poem is its clarity which is a standard marker of Seth’s poems too.
“If somebody writes clearly you can pretty much tell immediately if something is shallow or deep, whereas if they write with all this duckweed on the surface, you can’t tell if the stream is one inch deep or a hundred fathoms,” he had told an interviewer last year.
In answer to a question by Davidar, Seth said he had no regimented schedule for writing and gets down to it when he feels like it. Seth presented a picture of a talented writer owing his inspiration to certain literary traditions, which he said was very important for a writer. But, for being inspired by Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, ‘I would not have been able to write The Golden Gate’, Seth said about his novel in verse which pitched him to global fame.
There was nothing calculated about writing poetry as different from writing prose. “Prose lets you do what poetry cannot. Also prose is not formal in structure,” said Seth.
Seth is known for his structure and rhyming schemes, rarely embracing the liberties of free verse. In Rivered Earth he used the three stanza, eight lines and the simple rhyming scheme of AB, AB, AB, CC in most of the poems. In the Golden Gate he used the ABABCCDDEFFEGG rhyming pattern used by Pushkin.
The simple AB, AB rhyming scheme, that he had employed in some of this most memorable short poems including All you who Sleep Tonight is one among his seven poetry collections:
All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right,
And emptiness above
Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.
In answer to a question Seth said that journalism was not his main area of interest, though he has written a few. He said spending time to study a book for review and then painstakingly churning out a 400 word review or something like that was not worth it. “I could very well work on a poem instead.”
With Davidar sitting by his side, Seth fondly recalled the troubled days of writing The Suitable Boy, when nothing seemed to work and finally David took him to his Vasant Kunj apartment where they beat the humongous book into shape (the final count stands at 1,488 pages) and the effort, which took almost 10 years.
By all indication, the sequel will not be even half as big because publishers have moved away from novels that are a tome. Also, Seth has slowed down with time. His poetry collections are now aneroxic in size, betraying the stirring nature of the content inside. He had to add some calligraphic pages to Rivered Earth to give it weight and to meet the minimum required size.
The target date for the novel is 2013, and Seth, perhaps to preempt outcries about the deadline getting delayed keeps saying that he is a lazy and impulsive writer, something which he said again at the Saturday reading in the chic urban village of Shapurjat.
For Suitable Boy, Seth got an advance of £250,000 from Penguin UK but the sequel has fetched him many times more: £1.7 million, again from Penguin UK. The sequel will be about the grandson of the heroine of A Suitable Boy searching for a girl. The setting will be his fictional town of Brahmpur and Delhi.
Even after signing the deal two years back, Seth has been occupied in writing poetry which seems to his yearning. Prose he has to labour on, poetry pours out of him.
Like this exquisite one about the material urges and the higher calling:
Voices in my head
Prove yourself. Fight. Shove.
Learn.Earn. Look for love
Drown a lesser voice:
Silent now of choice;
Breathe in peace and be
Still, for once, like me.