He has a degree in economics from Stanford University, USA. But Vikram Seth’s most-famous novel, A Suitable Boy, was no economic effort, given its copious word count of 5,91,552. But that didn’t stop the book — it is considered one of the longest English novels ever written — from receiving ample critical acclaim and popularity. However, his latest work, Summer Requiem: A Book Of Poems, is rather short and crisp at 66 pages. After a few excerpts from the book were released online earlier this month, there was an outrage on Twitter about the simplicity of the lines. Some even called the work ‘pedestrian’ and ‘substandard’. But, Seth is unperturbed. Ahead of his session at the Tata Literature Live!, where he will be given the Poet Laureate Award, we speak to him over the phone about all things literature.
You have published poetry after a long gap. Why so?
That’s true. I think it’s actually been over 15 years. Perhaps, it’s because when I write, I become a very lazy person.
After three of your poems from the collection were released online, there was a deluge of negative remarks about the work on Twitter. Do you take such criticism seriously?
You are the second person to tell me about this. Half an hour ago, someone else told me about these Twitter comments. I did hear about that, but I don’t really concern myself with them. Everyone has the right to an opinion. Some people will like my work, some people won’t. And if someone feels something, they should talk about it. I think it’s a good thing. All I can say is that these are the poems I have written, and I think they are kind of okay, otherwise they wouldn’t have been published.
You have extensively written poetry and prose. Between the two, which format are you more comfortable with?
I suppose, primarily, writing comes naturally. I was surprised when I first became a novelist. In fact, my first book — The Golden Gate — was actually a work of novel-in-verse. For me, writing is pretty arbitrary. One day, I may wish to write poetry, another day it might be prose; on the third day, it will be drama, and on the fourth day, I’d prefer to sleep (laughs).
How do you like the idea of your works being converted into films?
About the option of making my books into movies, I have always felt that the process would freeze my visual sense of the characters, and I don’t want that to happen. So, I have mixed feelings about the idea.
The sequel to A Suitable Boy is in the works. Considering the amount of positive response the original has garnered, do you feel the pressure of expectations?
Well, I have to deliver the book to the publishers next year. So, in all probability, it will be out by early or mid-2017. And right now, I am not working on any other thing, apart from giving interviews. Of course, there is an internal pressure that focuses on what happens to the characters in A Suitable Girl (the sequel). But the fact about whatever A Suitable Boy happens to be, doesn’t create any pressure.
Is the sequel going to be as voluminous as the original?
That even I will have to wait and see (laughs).
Your first book came out in 1986. How, according to you, has the publishing scene evolved?
Today, writers have a wide range of options to choose from when they wish to get their work published. And also, there’s the possibility of self-publishing and self-commenting... like you earlier mentioned about people commenting on Twitter, etc. So, if you have something to say, you can write it in the social space, which was previously not the case.