Author whose verses left an indelible mark

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 09, 2019 01:03 PM IST

Vikram Seth: This renowned novelist, poet and travel writer has numerous works to his credit, the main ones being The Golden Gate, a novel in verse and the epic work titled A Suitable Boy.

Renowned novelist and poet Vikram Seth has numerous works like The Golden Gate and A Suitable Boy to his credit Born in Kolkata on June 20, 1952, to Prem Nath Seth, a senior executive with a multinational footwear brand and Leila Seth, the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court, Vikram received early education at St Michael’s and St Xavier’s High Schools in Patna.

The eminent writer Vikram Seth(illustration: Mohit Suneja)
The eminent writer Vikram Seth(illustration: Mohit Suneja)

After graduating from Dehradun’s Doon School, where he edited the school magazine, Seth went to Tonbridge School, England. He then joined the Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford, where he pursued Philosophy, Politics and Economics.


He did a Master’s degree in Economics from Stanford University in United States of America. Vikram decided against taking up literature as a subject during his higher studies, because he apparently felt that he would lose interest in it if he studied it in college.

He enrolled for a PhD at Stanford and travelled across China from 1980 to 1982 as part of field research for his doctoral thesis. He, however, could not finish writing his research dissertation.


While at Stanford, Seth was also the Wallace Stegner Fellow in creative writing. His first work, a collection of poems titled Mappings, was published in 1980, before he began his fieldwork. However, this work was ignored by the critics.

He studied Chinese poetry and language, during his time at the Nanjing University in China. He published his second book, From Heaven Lake, in the year 1983.

This book, which described how Seth hitchhiked from China to India, received a positive response from the critics. Two years later, he published another collection of poems, which was titled The Humble Administrator’s Garden.


Seth achieved global acclaim in the year 1986, when his novel The Golden Gate, was published. The novel is written entirely in verse, and describes the lives of people in the Silicon Valley. In 1990, he published a book of poetry titled All You Who Sleep Tonight, and another collection of poems by the name of Three Chinese Poets was published in 1992.

Two years later, Seth wrote a children’s book titled Beastly Tales from Here and There, which had ten stories about animals.


In 1993, he produced his most famous work — A Suitable Boy. Written in prose, the 1,349-page novel, is one of the longest published book in a single volume in English language and is considered a modern classic. A year later, he brought out a volume of poetry about teachers and students, titled The Frog and the Nightingale.

His 1999 novel, An Equal Music, is about a professional violin player and his love for a pianist. In 2005, he published his second major non-fiction work, Two Lives. It is the story of his great uncle Shanti Behari Seth and great aunt Hennerle Gerda Caro. In 2001, the author was honoured with the Order of the British Empire.


Commissioned by the English National Opera, Vikram Seth wrote a libretto (text of an opera or other long vocal work) based on the Greek legend of Arion and the Dolphin. It was performed for the first time in June 1994.

Recalling the experience of being interviewed for the position of Seth’s literary agent, Giles Gordon, who held the post was quoted as saying in an interview that the writer sat at the end of a long table and began to grill the candidates, which made for an “absolutely incredible” sight.

Vikram received huge advances for some of his books: £250,000 for A Suitable Boy, £500,000 for An Equal Music and £1.4 million for Two Lives.

The noted author also played an active role in the campaign for gay rights in India, especially the movement against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

He is the recipient of the Padma Shri, Sahitya Academy Award, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, WH Smith Literary Award and the Crossword Book Award.

Sources:, Wikipedia

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