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Will return award if Sahitya Akademi fails to protect writers rights: Vikram Seth

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New Delhi: Famed author Vikram Seth says that he would return his award, if the Sahitya Akademi fails to protect the lives and rights of writers.

“I will return the award almost certainly if this institution fails to protect or robustly defend free speech or lives of writers. I didn’t want it to sound like a threat. However, I fully expect this institution do something worthy of their name and history,” Seth told IANS after the launch of his book, ‘The Summer Requiem’ here on Tuesday night.

The Akademi is slated to meet on October 23. If Seth does return his award, he will join a growing list of writers and academicians who have returned their award in protest against what they said was growing intolerance against writers and free thinkers.

The Padma Shri awardee has been trolled on Twitter on his support for those who had returned their awards. He said he would join the list of award returnees if the Akademi remains mealy-mouthed on freedom of expression. The author received the Akademi award in 1988 for his novel ‘The Golden Gate’.

Earlier, participating in a discussion with David Davidar of Aleph publishing, Seth hailed the decision of many writers to return their Akademi awards, saying that it was not a concerted action.

“I don’t think writers returning award is a concerted action. It’s not easy to return awards and I would call it as a courageous act. The award is a mark of recognition that you receive in your rather isolated professional life,” he said.

Seth also expressed anguish over Akademi’s mute response to the killing of writer M M Kalburgi and two more rationalists. “I heard that when poet Keki N Daruwalla wrote to the Akademi after the killing of writer M M Kalburgi, he only got a telephone call saying that there was pressure,” he said adding that Akademi has to stand up for writers.

“Pressure? Pressure not to say that the murder of Kalburgi or Pansare was wrong? Pressure not to speak out against or attempt to gag people who speak their minds? What kind of pressure is this?” Seth asked.

Seth said that he hasn’t spoken to other writers on the issue, but was waiting for the outcome of the October 23 meeting.

“I haven’t spoken to others but there might be people who think in that state. All bets are off that an institution which behaves like that is perhaps not something we have to accept awards from,” Seth said.

Seth had faced barbs in social media over receiving awards from ex-Union minister Jagdish Tytler in 2005. Seth said he was unaware that he was to accept award from the Congress leader, who was allegedly involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

“When I realised that Pravasi Bharatiya Samman is going to be given by Jagdish Tytler, I consulted my parents. They said that if I don’t accept, it will be an insult to the nation. So I went ahead,” Seth said.

However, he had refrained from shaking hands with Tytler as a protest. “I told my parents that under no circumstances, I would shake hands with him. I loathe what happened in 1984 and not only at the time of riots. Even the entire election campaign, which followed it, was nasty,” Seth said.

The author, known for his works like ‘A Suitable Boy’ and ‘Equal Music’, read a couple of poems during the launch. ‘A Suitable Girl’, a sequel to ‘A Suitable Boy’ is scheduled to be published next year.

The launch of ‘The Summer Requiem’, held at Taj Mahal hotel, coincided with Seth’s mother Leila Seth’s 85th birthday.

(Preetha Nair, IANS)

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“A Suitable Girl”: Most Awaited Novel By Vikram Seth, Finally Published

Seth suffered from writer's block after his break-up

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"A Suitable Girl": Most Awaited Novel By Vikram Seth, Finally Published, flickr

Hardly has any novel been awaited with as much curiosity and anticipation in recent times as Vikram Seth’s sequel to the monumental “A Suitable Boy” (1993). Five years on, since he was first expected to deliver the manuscript, the novel is still to see the light of the day. But what seems like a saga of missed deadlines can very well — far from our eyes — be a masterpiece in the making.

“The more I talk of her, the more shy she becomes,” Seth had told this correspondent in 2015 about “A Suitable Girl”, the novel-in-waiting.

Seth, as his literary agent David Godwin puts it, has been known to take his time with his books. The prolonged delay, however, was not acceptable to Hamish Hamilton (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and he was asked to return an advance payment of $1.7 million when the deal was called off. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, an imprint of the British publisher Orion, then acquired the novel — and it was scheduled to release in 2016.

But a flying bird — a friend and confidant of the writer — says that he is now giving the “final touch” to the novel and that one can expect “the big announcement” soon.

Seth released a collection of poems titled “Summer Requiem” in the meanwhile. In the collection, he traces the immutable shiftings of the seasons, the relentless rhythms of a great world that both “gifts and harms”. Composed as they were while he was (which he still is) writing the sequel, several poems in the offering open doors to his mind, or perhaps they may be preludes to the larger narrative that he is weaving.

“I have so carefully mapped/the corners of my mind/that I am forever waking/in a lost country,” he writes in the opening poem. Interestingly, Seth’s companion to “A Suitable Boy” will be a jump sequel — the characters have travelled from the 1950s and it will be very much a novel set in somewhat the present times.

novels By Vikram Seth
novels By Vikram Seth, flickr

In its title poem, he mourns that the “liberated generation lives a restrained youth,” and then adds: “I must forsake attachment”. On another occasion in the book, readers find him lamenting over “the peaceful love” that the narrator has “never found”. In another short poem “Late Light” he writes: “Outside the great world’s gifts and harms/ There must be somewhere I can go/To rest within a lover’s arm/At ease with the impending snow”.

Reportedly, Seth suffered from writer’s block after his break-up with French violinist Phillippe Honor but that was a long time ago and was reflected in “An Equal Music”. He has moved on or has he not?

Nonetheless, it has been about five years since “A Suitable Girl” was first expected to hit the stands but the wait is surely worth it. As writer-politician Shashi Tharoor says about his good friend’s technique — that “Vikram Seth draws an entire roadmap of his novel, planning every minute element in great detail” — the sequel, thanks to all the anticipation and the pressure on the writer, may actually be a masterpiece in the making, as sublime as its counterpart and yet set in the time of its readers.

Vikram Seth is a recipient of the Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award, and among several other prestigious honours, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman. He has been widely translated and is among leading novelists on the global stage. He has published three novels — “The Golden Gate” (1986), “A Suitable Boy” (1993) and “An Equal Music” (1999) — along with several collections of poetry such as “Mappings” and “All You Who Sleep Tonight”.

Also read: Here is all the reason for Bookworms to look ahead for the upcoming year: A List of the Best Stories and Novels in 2017!

Seth — an openly gay man — is also one of the prominent faces of the campaign against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality. (IANS)