On falling in and out of love with Vikram Seth’s poetry and rediscovering it these days

For a few years now, Vikram Seth has been my favorite English poet. And this is how my love affair with his poetry began.

On a Sunday afternoon in October 2009, i’d chanced upon his book ‘The Collected Poems’ at the Book Bazaar in Daryaganj, Delhi. Before that, Dee had gifted me his novel in verse ‘Golden Gate’ but i could never find time to read it. (Just realized that it is more than a few years and i haven’t even started it!) That big goof-up beside, i think i started reading this collection somewhere in mid-2010. For the next few months reading Vikram Seth with a cup of tulsi-ginger tea became my Sunday morning routine. Only Sundays because my advertising job didn’t give me much liberty to indulge in poetry on other mornings. His work was simple, easily accesible and despite being written in English had a peculiar Indian emotion that hooked the normally gazal and Urdu poetry lover like me. I read and re-read many of his poems and dreamt of becoming as comfortable while writing English verse as him. I was in love with his poetry.

But, all love stories have their ups and downs and soon Mr. Seth’s verse too lost favour with me. I moved on to other poets, primarily web-based poetry and non-fiction reading material. Life got too hectic and Sunday mornings lost their charm. Still, this book always remained at the top of the pile on my book shelf. But all that was a few weeks before. Am glad to note that in the past few days, i’ve again started exploring its treasures. Actually, there has been a healthy change in the office routine and i’ve actually started proper reading once again. Hope i’m able to continue this for some time more 🙂

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read his poetry before, do grab a copy of ‘The Collected Poems’ soon. It is by Penguin and you can find it on flipkart here: http://goo.gl/gZY2K 

And as a celebration of his poetry, i’m sharing with you a very dear poem, The Accountant’s House. Lines in italics are my emphasis, as they are my favorite.


The Accountant’s House

We go in the evening to the accountant’s house.
It is dark and the road is slush.
The fireflies fleck silver.
The ash flicked off by my companion, the barefoot doctor, is gold.

I want to clear up some questions on the income and expenditure account.
His wife and two daughters smile as I come in.
They pour tea. Their son died last Spring Festival.
We smile and discuss electricity fees.

This is my last day here. The Ministry of Education
Has decreed a two-and-a-half-week limit.
I will turn into a pumpkin soon enough.
But today there is work, are pleasantries.

The green seedlings outside have been transplanted.
The accountant looks sad and my heart goes out.
No-one knows how he died. He came home from play
And his head was hot, his nose bled, and he died.

Yet they laugh, yet they laugh, these lovely people,
And he clicks his abacus and she gives me a towel and the two girls
Smile shyly, boldly at the stranger and the father
Discussing matters of much importance together.

-Vikram Seth, from The Humble Administrator’s Garden

It is a poem which leaves me with a sense of hope in the middle of sadness, a realization that life has to move on and no matter what, there is always something worth living for. And that is what gives meaning to our lives.

What did you feel? Do share your views, comments with me.



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