I have quietly tiptoed around Vikram Seth for a long time, partly because of the immense bulk of A Suitable Boy (I am an impatient reader). But I had been pelted with bits and pieces of his poetry for a very long time, from different people, and finally someone's very strong recommendation made me pick up and read An Equal Music. I finished the book a little more than a week ago. The music of it keeps staying with me. I think I love the man.
An Equal Music isn't a book about Indians at all. Its protagonists are British, and so are most other characters. The narrative takes place mostly in London but also in Vienna, Rochdale and Venice; and the story is intertwined with a deep understanding of Western classical music, which so few Indians really have (I don't, I admit).
But despite all that, there's something very Indian about An Equal Music. I cannot put words around it. I think if I was just given the text of the novel and not told who wrote it, I could've still sensed the touch of the Indian author. This is not to undermine the uniqueness of Seth, who I think is a wonderful writer in his own right. But this inherent Indianness that I'm trying to pinpoint is something that had troubled me when I read The English Patient. I had loved the book, and the sleeve had told me that Michael Ondaatje was Canadian, and it wasn't until long after that I discovered his Sri Lankan connection. Reading The English Patient had left me wondering, instead, how a Western man could write like that - and of course, as I later realised, Ondaatje isn't an entirely Western man. What am I trying to drive at? Is it something about the unique philosophy of our South Asian cultures... the way we interpret life... the way we value people... the way we hear music? Is there an academic term for this? Does anyone know here know it?
Any and every comment would be appreciated.
- Vikram Seth OR The "Indianness" in Writing