Open Space

Fine Loss, Finer Verse


Mappings, Vikram Seth’s first book of verse, bears translations of poets Heine, Nirala and Faiz Ahmed Faiz; the work is young but energetic, in the foal one glimpses the stallion. A clear documentary light distinguishes The Humble Adminstrator’s Garden, precise yet atmospheric homage to landscape that is transcendent of earthly measure. The Golden Gate is electric proof of genius, a novel-poem so universal in its disquiet as its affinities, it might only ever be personal, so the rhymes stick in your head as if memories you did not know you had. In All Who You Sleep Tonight flaring longing is subsumed in imagined lives, signaling the start of a love affair with loneliness.

Anyone who has felt like they did not fit will feel right at home in Beastly Tales, parabolic ode to the invincible loser. Three Chinese Poets tips its hat to the toil of ancient others, a collection of such scholarship that it soon becomes its own pure thing. Innumerable students read The Frog and the Nightingale, what they originally encountered as text they later embraced like knowledge of their most private selves. The Rivered Earth came from living in a historied house, from gazing out at an enormous expanse of green, and discovering that all erudition is weak before the threat of love’s retreat. And a foremost compilation that cements Seth’s dogged pursuit of what is even, true and good in the world, Summer Requiem, exalts readers out of ordinary time and into magic hours.

In private, the poet is known for unfailing allegiance to his family, dutiful son and devoted brother, the bridge-playing uncle – and a man who watches over his companions. A beloved friend to a select few: mercurial, vigorous, charming, witty and always honest, his life is gilded on the surface. Even so, this admirable and singular body of poems may have emerged from solitude bordering loneliness. But the harvest of the poet’s isolation companions the quiet hours of others: his readers. For anyone who has ever sat in a room wondering when it would end, the long evening, they might reach for the verse of our laureate. In its meter and rhyme they would see they were not alone; in fact, all consolation and exhilaration, the pleasures and each promise, meaning and deep fulfillment, beauty as well as truth, it was all right here: an equal, handsome and suitable companion, waiting between the pages.

(This is the full text of the citation for the award of Poet Laureate conferred on Vikram Seth on 29 October 2015 at Tata Lit Live in Mumbai)

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is a novelist and columnist

More In Framework

The Road to Rio

In Ahmedabad, school children use colourful dupattas to form the five-ring emblem of the Olympic Games in Rio

All That Remains

Graves of those killed during an ISIS suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on 22 July (Photo: Getty Images)

Writer At Home

Award-winning novelist Amitav Ghosh was a resident at the President’s Palace from 10 to 14 July as part of

Time Out

Women of the Dawoodi Bohra community in traditional rida enjoy a splash of water at Marine Drive, Mumbai

Holistic Happiness

Thousands of enthusiasts attend free outdoor yoga classes held as part of the Mind Over Madness Yoga festival

Trump’s Sena

Hindu Sena President Vishnu Gupta celebrates Donald Trump's birthday in New Delhi

Fasting, Feasting

A Muslim family breaks their fast on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramzan at Jama Masjid in New

The Tulip Moment

Called ‘Tulip’ by Lord Mountbatten, renowned octogenarian dancer Tara Balgopal now lives in obscurity.

River Mantra

Oblivious to the poisonous foam around her, a Hindu woman performs rituals in the Yamuna in Delhi

Summer Break

Copper-pods fallen off Yellow Flame trees line a street outside the Mumbai Police Headquarters, a sight that

Hail the Healer

It was in 2008 that Omkar Nath Sharma, a retired blood bank technician, witnessed the collapse of a bridge

Lady Hulk

Navreet Josan, a make-up artist based in Delhi, is not just about lipsticks and rouge. Originally from

Mountain Therapy

Daily wage workers on a break in Kasauni, Uttarakhand, enjoy a spot of sunshine and take in the grandeur of