He loves playing Candy Crush and he loves calligraphy. He has also produced a best-selling tome, all of 1,349 pages, called A Suitable Boy. For Vikram Seth, rendition of his finer sensibilities and thoughts in the form of the written word is not just a matter of literary pursuit but a way of life, so to speak. From praising the UAE on having a Ministry of Tolerance to the allure of a book in the printed form, the celebrated Indian author shared his views with Gulf News on the sidelines of the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair on Monday. Following are excerpts from a free-wheeling chat:
GULF NEWS: What is that one thing that keeps Vikram Seth going?
VIKRAM SETH: Maybe ‘lazy’ is too strong a word to use, but let me put it this way that temperamentally, I’m not a hugely energetic person. If I find something staid, I move on to something completely different and I keep doing that every few years. Once I find something interesting, I feel inspired and that’s what keeps me going. It can be something very simple, it can even be the beginning of a conversation. I never decided that I have to write within this genre or that genre.
So it’s not something that is well-thought out …
The fact that it’s not something well-thought out is the source of my salvation.
GULF NEWS: Where would you place yourself among contemporary Indian writers, speaking very subjectively?
Of course this has to be ‘subjective’! All the current Indian writers, they are so very different from one another. Whether it’s Amitav Ghosh or Salman Rushdie or whoever … they are all so different. And it’s not just Indian writers, but this holds true for most writers from the Indian sub-continent. They are all so very different. And I think that’s good. Sometimes, we may not like each other’s writings but we may like each other as a person; or we may quite like each other’s writings, but we may not stand each other personally. There are many Indian writers who are well worth reading and I hope I’m one of them.
GULF NEWS: Your views on ‘Indian writings in English’ or ‘Australian writings in English’. Is it all right to typecast literature into such categories?
I would say it’s a matter of convenience, but one shouldn’t make too much out of it. Maybe it’s the content and the milieu where it is set. But then look at The Golden Gate. Obviously it’s written by an Indian. But it’s set in America because I felt it had to be of its time, of its place. On the other hand, if you look at A Suitable Boy, there are just one or two English characters in it.
Does growing intolerance in the contemporary world worry you?
I would say there is a populistic narrowness that’s worrisome. In fact, I was very happy to know that the UAE has a Ministry of Tolerance. When I look at the kids today, I’m worried because there is an ecological threat, the threat of nuclear weapons and so on. Or for that matter see what’s happening in the world of genetic engineering … the modifications etc. So I always believe that it’s very important to have a ‘Ministry of Happiness’ in each one of our hearts to counter these.
With proliferation of social media and e-books, do you think the allure of the written word is being lost?
The ‘allure’ of the written word has been there for just 500 years, but for almost 2,000 years before that or even earlier writing did exist in some form or the other. Personally, I’m very attached to the written word. I’ve never read anything on an e-book. But more than the e-book what worries me is social media. When I see little children busy with their phones instead of playing marbles or chatting, that worries me.