The manuscript of 'A Suitable Boy' was so huge that it had to be sent to the publishers in the UK in a whiskey crate, recalls author Vikram Seth, whose magnum opus is set to be adapted into a period drama by the BBC. The novel, running into 1,350 pages, weaves a coming-of- age story set in post-colonial India, and was published in 1993 to much acclaim, both at home and internationally. Seth, now 64, took nearly eight years to finish the book, one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language, parts of which he wrote in Shimla in early 90s. "Mama (late Justice Leila Seth) was posted in Shimla and I decided to go there, away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi, to concentrate on my writing. "And, when the manuscript was finished, the pages stacked up quite high, and it (manuscript) was sent to the UK in a whiskey crate, for auctioning to publishers," Seth told PTI. The celebrated poet-novelist is the eldest son of the Leila Seth. She served as the chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court from August 5, 1991 to October 20, 1992. In her equally acclaimed memoirs, 'On Balance' Justice Seth recalled the years when the "monumental novel" was a "work in progress". "Though Vikram wrote the bulk of 'A Suitable Boy' in 8 Rajaji Marg (bungalow), its revision and some additions were completed in Armsdell (chief justice's bungalow) in Shimla. During the long process, lasting many years of writing, revising and producing the book, quite apart from the creative stresses and difficulties, he had many problems," she wrote in her autobiography. And, now the literary world of Seth will come alive on screen. The eight-part tele-series by BBC One will be shot on location in India and feature the BBC's first entirely non- white cast. The story of 'A Suitable Boy', a title that would later become Seth's most identifiable book in his enviable body of literary work, begins in 1950s, the decade Seth was born in (1952). The Kolkata-born author created a fictional town of Brahmpur, located on the banks of the Ganga, embedded it with memories of the cities he grew up in, and populated it with characters anchored in realism in a colourful backdrop that complement and supplement the characters that populate his imaginary literary universe anchored in realism. "I did dovetail the references to those places and landmarks -- Brahmpur (Bankipur in Patna), Subzipore Club (Bankipore Club of Patna), Praha Shoe Company (Bata) and then there are links with cities like Calcutta, Lucknow, Allahabad and Kanpur. But, at the core of it is Patna," he said. Justice Seth practiced as barrister in Patna High Court from 1959-69 while her husband Prem Seth was working as a manager for Bata in Patna's Digha area.
She passed away early this month aged 86, at her home in Noida. "People have often asked me if 'Lata' (the protagonist) was modelled after my mother. Not really, but the character of Rupa Mehra was definitely made after my grandmother (nani)," Seth says with a smile. "I have tremendous fondness for Patna, and have wonderful memories. And, though the readers of different places, find connect, my characters and the universe I have imagined, grow organically as the story progresses," he said. His younger brother Shantum Seth (60), recalls that "Vikram was always immersed in the world of his characters that he was imagining". "When we were living at Rajaji Marg bungalow, he, in his room, had also created a map of Brahmpur (the city in his novel), and would always 'interact' with his characters, as he does now too. Once in Shimla, mama (Justice Seth) came home early, so he told her -- 'Why have you come back so early? All my characters have run away'," Shantum told PTI. 'A Suitable Boy' is divided into 19 parts, with each segment described in rhyming couplet form on the content page. 'The Golden Gate' author is currently working on sequel to his magnum opus, 'A Suitable Girl'. "The characters in my next novel are still evolving. I am also waiting for my next book, as much as others are." Justice Seth further reminisces in 'On Balance' that her son had his share of problems while writing the book. "But when the book finally appeared, resplendent in dark red and gold and elegantly printed on fine paper, all was forgotten." The first edition of the novel still occupies pride of place in the enviable book shelf that Justice Seth had maintained with much care. "The novel ('A Suitable Boy') was first published in India, as it was set here. Just like my first book 'The Golden Gate' was first published in the US and 'An Equal Music' first in the UK," the author said. Based on meticulous research, the book also navigates the political space of then India, the first general elections of 1952 and also various socio-cultural signposts. "For me, as an author, it is not about the fame that my work brings, but the real joys lie in little things like readers telling that they can relate to the story, that is the real reward as a writer," Seth said.
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