The hype and anticipation preceding the poetry reading by author Vikram Seth – the star attraction on Day 2 of the Literature Live Mumbai Litfest on Friday – was followed by an anti-climax.
Although the organisers changed the venue from NCPA’s Experimental Theatre to the much larger Tata Theatre, the turnout for the final show was far from houseful.
Seth, however, lived up to the audience’s expectations, with his charm, humble display of erudition and a dramatic end to the performance. With author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi as his host, Seth read out poems from his new book, The Rivered Earth, that will be launched in India next month.
The book comprises four libretti (texts written to accompany music) that Seth wrote over several years in collaboration with composer Alec Roth. It combines art, calligraphy, geography, music, prose and poetry, and Seth’s poetic forms draw inspiration from ancient Chinese poetry, the Rig Veda and also English metaphysical poet George Herbert.
“I put my own thoughts and ideas into the poems, of course, but sometimes I like being constrained by certain poetic forms,” said Seth, who read out Chinese calligraphy in fluent Mandarin before explaining it aloud in English.
He also read out the first version of ‘Fire’, a poem that was rejected by the composer for being too “literary”. “He asked me to rewrite the poem after getting drunk. The irrational idea worked,” said Seth, who, before exiting the stage, stood up to recite the new version of ‘Fire’ in an intoxicated, high-pitched, almost sinister voice, his eyes wide and expressive. He received a standing ovation in response.
At another venue, armed with his cello, powerful singing voice and a gift for writing and dramatic storytelling, London-based musician Matthew Sharp performed Finkelstein’s Castle. The performance was a sequel to his last year’s act, Johnny’s Midnight Goggles, a tongue-in-cheek whodunit about an unwitting detective. “Combining music and literature is an ancient form of art and my work is a reinvention of that,” said Sharp, 39, who is now working with Indian flautist Sameer Rao on a double concerto combining Indian classical ragas with Western classical orchestral music.