Vikram Seth was born on June 20, 1952 in Calcutta, West Bengal, India, is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children’s writer, biographer and memoirist.
Vikram Seth was born on 20 June 1952 to Leila and Prem Seth in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His family lived in many cities including the Bata Shoe Company town of Batanagar, Danapur near Patna, and in London.
His father was an executive with the Bata India Limited shoe company who migrated to post-Partition India from West Punjab in Pakistan. His mother, Leila was the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court as well as the first woman to become Chief Justice of a state High Court, at Simla. She studied law in London, while she was pregnant with Seth’s younger brother, and came first in her bar examinations conducted only weeks after she delivered her second child.
His younger brother, Shantum, leads Buddhist meditational tours. His younger sister, Aradhana, is a film-maker married to an Austrian diplomat, and has worked on Deepa Mehta’s movies Earth and Fire. (Compare the characters Haresh, Lata, Savita and two of the Chatterji siblings in A Suitable Boy: Seth has been candid in acknowledging that many of his fictional characters are drawn from life; he has said that only the dog Cuddles in A Suitable Boy has his real name — “Because he can’t sue”. Justice Leila Seth has said in her memoir On Balance that other characters in A Suitable Boy are composites but Haresh is a portrait of her husband Prem.)
Born in Calcutta, India, Seth spent part of his youth in London but returned to his homeland in 1957. After receiving primary and commencing secondary education at the Doon School in Dehradun in India, Seth returned to England to Tonbridge School. From there, Seth studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he developed an interest in poetry and learned Chinese. After leaving Oxford, Seth moved to California to work on a graduate degree in economics at Stanford University.
Having lived in London for many years, Seth now maintains residences near Salisbury, England, where he is a participant in local literary and cultural events, having bought and renovated the house of the Anglican poet George Herbert in 1996, and in Delhi, where he lives with his parents and keeps his extensive library and papers.
A polyglot, Seth detailed in an interview (in the year 2005) in the Australian magazine Good Weekend that he has studied several languages, including Welsh, German and, later, French in addition to Mandarin, English (which he describes as “my instrument” in answer to Indians who query his not writing in his native Hindi), Urdu (which he reads and writes in Nasta’liq script), and Hindi, which he reads and writes in the D?van?gar? script. He plays the Indian flute and the cello and sings German lieder, especially Schubert.
Seth has published five volumes of poetry. His first, Mappings (1980), was originally privately published; it attracted little attention and indeed Philip Larkin, to whom he sent it for comment, referred to it scornfully among his intimates, though he offered Seth encouragement.
In 2009 Seth contributed four poems to Oxfam which are used as introductions to each of the four collections of UK stories which form Oxfam’s ‘Ox-Tales’ book project.