Vikram Seth

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Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth, in Oxfordshire.jpg
Born (1952-06-20) 20 June 1952 (age 63)
Kolkata, India
Occupation Novelist, poet
Nationality Indian
Alma mater St. Xavier's High School, Patna
The Doon School
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Stanford University
Period 1980–present
Genre novels, poetry, libretto, travel writing, children's literature, biography/memoir
Notable works A Suitable Boy
The Golden Gate
An Equal Music
A Suitable Girl
from the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 22 January 2012.[1]


Vikram Seth CBE (/ˈsɛθ/; born 20 June 1952) is an Indian novelist and poet. He has written several novels and poetry books. He has received several awards including Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, WH Smith Literary Award and Crossword Book Award. Seth's collections of poetry such as Mappings and Beastly Tales are notable contributions to the Indian English language poetry canon.


Vikram Seth was born on 20 June 1952 to Leila Seth, the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court, and her husband Prem. He spent part of his childhood in Patna since his parents were posted there for a while. He attended St. Xavier's High School.[2]

Seth spent part of his youth in London and returned to India in 1987. He received primary education at Welham Boys' School and then moved to The Doon School, both in Dehradun. While at Doon, Seth was the editor-in-chief of The Doon School Weekly.[3] After graduating from Doon, Seth went to Tonbridge School, England to complete his A-levels,[4][5][6] where he developed an interest in poetry and learned Chinese. After obtaining a degree from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Seth moved to California to work on a graduate degree in economics at Stanford University. He then went on to study creative writing at Stanford and subsequently studied classical Chinese poetry at Nanjing University in China.

Having lived in London for many years, Seth now maintains residences near Salisbury, England, where he is a participant in local literary and cultural events, having bought and renovated the house of the Anglican poet George Herbert in 1996,[7] and in Jaipur, India.

In 2006, he became a leader of the campaign against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law against homosexuality.[8] His mother has written about Seth's sexuality and her coming to terms with it in her memoir.[9]

His younger brother, Shantum, leads Buddhist meditational tours. His younger sister, Aradhana, is a filmmaker married to an Austrian diplomat and has worked on Deepa Mehta's movies Earth and Fire. (Compare the characters Haresh, Lata, Savita and two of the Chatterji siblings in A Suitable Boy: Seth has been candid in acknowledging that many of his fictional characters are drawn from life; he has said that only the dog Cuddles in A Suitable Boy has his real name "Because he can't sue". Justice Leila Seth has said in her autobiography On Balance that other characters in A Suitable Boy are composites but Haresh is a portrait of her husband Prem.)


Internationally recognized as a writer and poet, Vikram Seth has published six books of poetry and three novels. In 1986, Vikram Seth wrote The Golden Gate, his first novel. The publication of A Suitable Boy, the 1,349-page mega novel propelled Seth into the public limelight. A Suitable Boy won the W.H.Smith prize in 1993. An Equal Music, published in 1999, deals with the troubled love life of a violinist. He creates a living and breathing world that keeps the readers focused and engaged. For his contributions to literature, Vikram Seth has received several top honors. The award of the commander of the order 3 of the British Empire CBE was given to Seth on February 2001. Vikram Seth's work 'Two Lives' published in 2005 is a memoir of the marriage of his great uncle and aunt. His upcoming novel A Suitable Girl is set to release in 2016.

Vikram Seth has written some very fine poems as well. His poetry includes Mappings (1980), From Heaven Lake (1983), The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985), All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990) and Three Chinese Poets (1992). His children's book, Beastly Tales from Here and There '(1992) consists of ten stories about animals. He has also authored a travel book, From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sin kiang and Tibet (1983). It is an account of a journey through Tibet, China and Nepal. Vikram Seth was also commissioned by the English National Opera to write a libretto based on the Greek legend of Arion and the Dolphin. The opera was performed for the first time in June 1994.


Seth detailed in an interview (in the year 2005) in the Australian magazine Good Weekend that he has studied several languages, including Welsh, German and, later, French in addition to Mandarin, English (which he describes as "my instrument" in answer to Indians who query his not writing in his native Hindi, which he reads and writes in the Dēvanāgarī script) and Urdu, which he reads and writes in Nasta'liq script. He plays the Indian flute and the cello and sings German lieder, especially those by Franz Schubert.

Seth's former literary agent Giles Gordon recalled being interviewed by Seth for the position:

Vikram sat at one end of a long table and he began to grill us. It was absolutely incredible. He wanted to know our literary tastes, our views on poetry, our views on plays, which novelists we liked.[10]

Seth later explained to Gordon that he had passed the interview not because of commercial considerations, but because unlike the others he was the only agent who seemed as interested in his poetry as in his other writing. Seth followed what he has described as "the ludicrous advance for that book" (£250,000 for A Suitable Boy[11]) with £500,000 for An Equal Music and £1.4 million for Two Lives.[12] He prepared an acrostic poem [13] for his address at Gordon's 2005 memorial service.[14]





Childrens' book[edit]

His Expressions[edit]

  • From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983)
  • Two Lives
  • The Rivered Earth[18]


  • 1983 – Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet
  • 1985 – Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia) for The Humble Administrator's Garden
  • 1988 – Sahitya Akademi Award for The Golden Gate
  • 1993 – Irish Times International Fiction Prize (shortlist) for A Suitable Boy
  • 1994 – Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book) for A Suitable Boy
  • 1994 – WH Smith Literary Award for A Suitable Boy
  • 1999 – Crossword Book Award for An Equal Music
  • 2001 – Order of the British Empire, Officer
  • 2001 – EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) for Best Book/Novel for An Equal Music
  • 2005 – Pravasi Bharatiya Samman
  • 2007 – Padma Shri in Literature & Education[19]
  • 2013 - The 25 Greatest Global Living Legends In India

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vikram Seth". Desert Island Discs. 22 January 2012. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Vikram Seth's Founder's Day Address, The Doon School, Penguin Books of Modern Speeches (2009) p.34 "...edited the Weekly and did other things"
  4. ^ Vikram Seth's Art: An Appraisal - Roopali Gupta - Google Books
  5. ^ "Vikram s Christi College, Oxford". 
  6. ^ Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy: A Reader's Guide - Angela Atkins - Google Books
  7. ^ Lewis, Leo; Island, Jindo (29 July 2006), "Listening to God's melodies", The Times (London), retrieved 2007-09-05 
  8. ^ "It Took Me Long To Come To Terms With Myself. Those Were Painful Years.", Outlook India, 2 October 2006, retrieved 2007-09-05 
  9. ^ "Delhi High Court Chief Justice Leila Seth reveals a mother's trial with a leap of faith". Daily Mail (London). 
  10. ^ Gavron, Jeremy (27 March 1999), "A suitable joy", The Guardian (London), retrieved 2007-09-05 .
  11. ^ Vikram Seth writes Suitable Boy sequel in The Guardian 3 July 2009
  12. ^ Bhatia, Shyam (1 September 2003), "Seth to get at least $3 million advance",, retrieved 2007-09-05 .
  13. ^ Archived 15 August 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Vikram Seth", DoonOnline: Features & Spotlights, retrieved 2007-09-05 .
  16. ^ Albertazzi, Silvia (2005-01-20), "An equal music, an alien world: postcolonial literature and the representation of European culture", European Review (Cambridge University Press) 13: 103–113, doi:10.1017/S1062798705000104 .
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Times of India by Shobha John, TNN: 27 Nov 2011, 05.13 am IST : 'I got drunk to write, says Vikram Seth'", The Times Of India (India), 27 November 2011 .
  19. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
  • Chaudhuri, Amit (ed.). "Vikram Seth (b. 1952)." The Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature. New York: Vintage, 2004:508–537.

External links[edit]