& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Suitable Boy

Vikram Seth will do a sequel to A Suitable Boy. It’ll be called A Suitable Girl. Seth will get – hold your breath – 1.7 million pounds from Hamish Hamilton.

A Suitable Boy is a masterpiece. It’s a book that you never wish ends, and the writer almost grants you your wish.

It’s the nearest to reading Premchand in English.

I read it many years after it was first published. The reason for the delay was its daunting size; it’s supposed to be the longest novel in the English language.

But once you begin to read, there’s just no way you can put it down.

All through the book I wanted Lata Mehra to marry Amit Chatterjee, but she marries the straightforward and boring Harish Khanna.

It's a prudent choice, I guess. Girls who marry interesting guys suffer.

I wanted Mann Kapoor and Saeeda Bai to be together. But she refuses even to see him in the end, preferring agonizing loneliness.

Again, a prudent (though heart-wrenching) decision. Tawaifs and young lovers don’t have a future together.

Even Jawaharlal Nehru is a character in the book. The author doesn’t have him speak. Nehru, while spending a night alone in a dak bungalow, reminiscences of his pre-independence era affair.

The book creates images of the fictional Brahmpur that to me brought back memories of Bahedi, a small town on the Bareilly-Katgodam railway line where I had extended stays in the early 1980s. And, once while I was at the guesthouse, ND Tiwari, who was passing through, came and camped for the night in the next room.

The novel brings to life a young nation’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes of partition. It weaves several complex themes that a nascent nation grappled with often unsuccessfully and yet never wavered from the chosen path. In so many ways, A Suitable Boy is an accompaniment to Ramchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi.

The book is an epic and Seth is a master. A Suitable Boy can effortlessly translate into a blockbuster Hindi movie. Ashutosh Gowarikar, with his talent and attention to detail, can easily turn the book to celluloid.

I had tried reading The Golden Gate (an imitation of Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin written in iambic tetrameter verse), but couldn’t move beyond the initial phase. Pet iguanas didn’t appeal to me then; they don’t even now.

Image: http://www.brokenenglish.com/dickss/portraits/images/vikram%20seth.jpg

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