Vikram Seth was already a respected poet and writer when the publication of his doorstopper 1300 pages plus volume “A Suitable Boy” in 1993, swung him into unprecedented international and literary limelight. A sort of Indian Pride and Prejudice (though Seth has referenced Chinese literature as his inspiration) set in the very early Independence years, just post Partition, the novel revolves around young Lata Mehra, her bustling mother’s efforts to find her an appropriate husband, and the choices she makes between her suitors. The intricate family micro story playing out against the colourful macro canvas of Indian political and social issues of the time, such as inter community relationships, the first national elections, rural reform, greatly engaged and drew in readers everywhere.
Almost three decades and many million Indian marriages later, “A Suitable Boy” is re-engaging global audiences via the BBC’s sumptuous serialisation of the novel. A good time to focus on the legacy of the novel. What did its publication mean to global literature and Indian and overseas readers, at the time. Is the story really timeless or now dated? How much has India, and writing about India, changed since Lata’s wedding. Has A Suitable Boy earned a place in the universal canon of Greatest Literary Works?
Hrishikesh Kannan is producer and presenter on India’s biggest breakfast radio show on 94.3 RadioOne and Podcast creator and anchor on the online platforms ‘moneycontrol.com’ and ‘Book My Show Jukebox’.