Vikram Seth, a name that resonates with literary excellence and a deep-rooted connection to the world of words, is an acclaimed Indian novelist and poet. Born on June 20, 1952, in Calcutta, India, his journey through the realm of literature has been marked by numerous accolades, memorable works, and a profound commitment to social causes.
Vikram Seth was born into a family with remarkable achievements. His father, Prem Nath Seth, held a prestigious position as an executive with Bata Shoes. His mother, Leila Seth, was a barrister who achieved the distinction of becoming the first female judge of the Delhi High Court and the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of a state High Court in India.
Seth's educational journey commenced at The Doon School, a renowned all-boys private boarding school located in Dehradun. It was here that he honed his literary skills and served as the editor-in-chief of The Doon School Weekly. One of the most influential figures in his life during these formative years was his teacher, the accomplished mountaineer Gurdial Singh. Singh's mentorship extended beyond the classroom, where he nurtured Seth's appreciation for Western classical music and instilled in him a love for adventure and daring.
After graduating from The Doon School, Seth ventured to Tonbridge School in England to complete his A-levels, laying the groundwork for his future academic endeavours. He then embarked on a journey to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), a course that has shaped the minds of many great thinkers. Later, he pursued a Ph.D. in Economics at Stanford University, although he did not complete the doctoral program.
Vikram Seth's literary career is a testament to his versatility as a writer. He has enriched the literary world with eight books of poetry and three novels, each showcasing his exceptional talent and profound insight into the human condition.
In 1980, he published "Mappings," his first collection of poetry, which laid the foundation for his poetic legacy. However, it was the publication of "A Suitable Boy" in 1993 that catapulted Seth into the global limelight. This 1,349-page magnum opus is a panoramic narrative of post-independence India and its socio-political landscape. The novel's immense success led to its adaptation into a BBC television drama miniseries in 2020.
Seth's second novel, "An Equal Music," delves into the intricate web of relationships and the passionate life of a violinist. He showcased his poetic finesse with works like "The Golden Gate," "The Humble Administrator's Garden," "All You Who Sleep Tonight," and "Three Chinese Poets." His children's book, "Beastly Tales from Here and There," transports young readers to a world of enchanting stories featuring animals.
Seth's literary repertoire extends to non-fiction with his travel book, "From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet," which recounts his journey through Tibet, China, and Nepal. He was commissioned by the English National Opera to write a libretto based on the Greek legend of Arion and the Dolphin. His dedication to storytelling is exemplified by the announcement of a sequel to "A Suitable Boy" titled "A Suitable Girl" in 2009.
Beyond his literary pursuits, Vikram Seth is known for his advocacy and commitment to social causes. He is openly bisexual and was in a relationship with the violinist Philippe Honoré for a decade. His novel "An Equal Music" is dedicated to Honoré. In 2006, Seth emerged as a prominent leader of the campaign against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality. His unwavering commitment to fighting for LGBTQ+ rights continued even after the law was reinstated in 2013.
Seth's life is a blend of his love for literature, music, and social justice. He splits his time between the United Kingdom, where he meticulously restored the former home of the Anglican poet George Herbert near Salisbury, and India, where he maintains a family residence in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
Vikram Seth's contribution to literature has been recognised with numerous awards and honours, underlining his significant influence on the literary landscape:
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, Commander
2001 – EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Award) for Best Book/Novel for "An Equal Music"
2005 – Padma Shri in Literature & Education
2013 – NDTV's 25 Greatest Global Living Legends In India
Vikram Seth's literary journey is a testament to the transformative power of words and the capacity of literature to inspire social change. His ability to craft vivid narratives and advocate for justice has solidified his place in the pantheon of great literary figures. As he continues to share his stories with the world, readers eagerly anticipate each new work that bears the indelible mark of his unique voice.