Vikram Seth

Seth in 2009
Born (1952-06-20) 20 June 1952 (age 69)
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
  • Novelist
  • poet
Alma materCorpus Christi College, Oxford
Stanford University
GenreNovels, poetry, libretto, travel writing, children's literature, biography/memoir
Notable worksA Suitable Boy
The Golden Gate
An Equal Music
Notable awardsPadma Shri, Sahitya Academy, Stegner Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Commonwealth Writers' Prize
Vikram Seth's voice from the BBC programme Desert Island Discs, 22 January 2012.[1]

Vikram Seth CBE, FRSL (born 20 June 1952) is an Indian novelist and poet. He has written several novels and poetry books. He has received several awards such as Padma Shri, Sahitya Academy Award, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, WH Smith Literary Award and Crossword Book Award. Seth's collections of poetry such as Mappings and Beastly Tales are notable contributions to the Indian English language poetry canon.[2]

Early life and education

Seth was born on 20 June 1952 in Calcutta. His father, Prem Nath Seth, was an executive of Bata Shoes and his mother, Leila Seth, a barrister by training, became the first female judge of the Delhi High Court and first woman to become Chief Justice of a state High Court in India.[3]

He received his primary education at St. Xavier's High School in Patna, and then went to The Doon School in Dehradun, where he was editor-in-chief of The Doon School Weekly.[4] At Doon, he was influenced by his teacher, the mountaineer Gurdial Singh, who taught him geography and, according to Leila Seth, "guided Vikram in many ways...encouraged him to appreciate Western classical music and instilled in him a love of adventure and daring."[4] Singh later described Seth as an "indefatigable worker, and he maintains without difficulty his distinguished level in studies...he has put in enormous amount of energy in other spheres of school life, in dramatics, in debating, in first aid, in music, and in editing the Doon School Weekly."[4] After graduating from Doon, Seth went to Tonbridge School, England, to complete his A-levels.[5][6] Later he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He then pursued a Ph.D. in Economics at Stanford University though never completed it.[7][8][9]

Work and style

Seth has published eight books of poetry and three novels. In 1980, he wrote Mappings, his first book of poetry. The publication of A Suitable Boy, a 1,349-page novel, propelled Seth into the public limelight. It was adapted into a BBC television drama miniseries in 2020.[10] His second novel, An Equal Music, deals with the troubled love-life of a violinist. Seth's work Two Lives, published in 2005, is a memoir of the marriage of his great-uncle and aunt.

In addition to The Golden Gate, Seth has written other works of poetry including Mappings (1980), The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985), All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990) and Three Chinese Poets (1992). His children's book, Beastly Tales from Here and There (1992) consists of 10 stories about animals. He has written a travel book, From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983), an account of a journey through Tibet, China and Nepal. He was also commissioned by the English National Opera to write a libretto based on the Greek legend of Arion and the Dolphin. The opera was performed for the first time in June 1994.

A sequel to A Suitable Boy, A Suitable Girl, was announced in 2009.

Life and career

Seth's former literary agent Giles Gordon recalled being interviewed by Seth for the position, "Vikram sat at one end of a long table and he began to grill us. It was absolutely incredible. He wanted to know our literary tastes, our views on poetry, our views on plays, which novelists we liked".[11] Seth later explained to Gordon that he had passed the interview not because of commercial considerations, but because unlike the others he was the only agent who seemed as interested in his poetry as in his other writing. Seth followed what he has described as "the ludicrous advance for that book" (£250,000 for A Suitable Boy)[12] with £500,000 for An Equal Music and £1.4 million for Two Lives.[13] He prepared an acrostic poem[14] for his address at Gordon's 2005 memorial service.[15]

Seth was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001.




Children's fiction


Appearances in poetry anthologies

Personal life

Seth divides his time between the United Kingdom, where he bought and renovated the former home of the Anglican poet George Herbert near Salisbury, and India, where he has a family home in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.[22] In 2006, he became a leader of the campaign against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law against homosexuality.[23]



  1. ^ "Vikram Seth". Desert Island Discs. 22 January 2012. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  2. ^ Joshi, Rita (1991). "In Other Places: An Inner Voice". India International Centre Quarterly. 18 (1): 55–65. JSTOR 23002110.
  3. ^ Angela Atkins (26 June 2002). Vikram Seth's Suitable Boy: A Reader's Guide. A&C Black. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8264-5707-3.
  4. ^ a b c Leila Seth (7 February 2007). On Balance. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-81-8475-055-3.
  5. ^ "A suitable joy | Books". The Guardian. 26 March 1999. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  6. ^ Atkins, A. (2002). Vikram Seth's Suitable Boy: A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 8. ISBN 9780826457073. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  7. ^ "Vikram Seth". Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  8. ^ "The Golden Gate returns to Stanford May 30". 20 May 2013. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  9. ^ Vikram Seth's Founder's Day Address, The Doon School, Penguin Books of Modern Speeches (2009) p.34 "...edited the Weekly and did other things"
  10. ^ "A Suitable Boy: BBC miniseries".
  11. ^ Gavron, Jeremy (27 March 1999), "A suitable joy", The Guardian, London, retrieved 5 September 2007."
  12. ^ Flood, Alison (3 July 2009). "Vikram Seth writes Suitable Boy sequel". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  13. ^ Bhatia, Shyam (1 September 2003), "Seth to get at least $3 million advance",, retrieved 5 September 2007
  14. ^ "Curtis Brown". Archived from the original on 15 August 2004. Retrieved 26 February 2017.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  15. ^ "Vikram Seth – Vikram Seth Biography – Poem Hunter". Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  16. ^ "Vikram Seth", DoonOnline: Features & Spotlights, archived from the original on 16 May 2006, retrieved 5 September 2007
  17. ^ Albertazzi, Silvia (20 January 2005), "An equal music, an alien world: postcolonial literature and the representation of European culture", European Review, Cambridge University Press, 13, pp. 103–113, doi:10.1017/S1062798705000104, S2CID 144544406
  18. ^ "Times of India by Shobha John, TNN: 27 Nov 2011, 05.13 am IST : 'I got drunk to write, says Vikram Seth'", The Times of India, India, 27 November 2011
  19. ^ "Rubana Huq, ed. The Golden Treasury of Writers Workshop Poetry. Review : ASIATIC, VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, JUNE 2009". Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  20. ^ "The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  21. ^ "Book review: 'Twelve Modern Indian Poets' by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra". Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  22. ^ Lewis, Leo; Island, Jindo (29 July 2006), "Listening to God's melodies", The Times, London, retrieved 5 September 2007
  23. ^ "It Took Me Long To Come To Terms With Myself. Those Were Painful hardware core Years.", Outlook India, 2 October 2006, retrieved 5 September 2007
  24. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.