Why Vikram Seth prefers to read non-fiction rather than fiction

Acolossus in the lit domain, Vikram Seth may not be a  Seth Godin (though both are from Stanford), but he has views on marketing that are not dissimilar to those of the management guru. For example, he believes in the basic paradigm of “a writer who sits in his or her room and writes and the reader who sits in his or her room and reads.” All else — publicity, articles, prizes, critics — is secondary. In an interview with CD, at a grill in Mehrauli, Delhi, the 60-year-old Calcutta-born writer who recently turned painter for a  Pernod Ricard brand talks about productivity, modern day publishing and the global stature of the Indian novel. Edited excerpts:

You have never been a prolific writer. Do you think productivity is overrated?

I wouldn’t make a generalisation like that. The work should be of the length that it should be. And secondly, the frequency of the works should be the frequency that it should be. You can say someone is very prolific either because their work is very substantial and copious. Now there cannot be A Suitable Boy every two years. You’ll say a writer’s work is copious because he’s done a lot of work. So over time, their corpus builds up. You’re right in that my corpus in terms of the number of books is not a lot. In 30 years of writing, I’ve only brought out 12 books. But some of them have been quite long. Whether being copious is an overrated virtue, Hardy and Dickens were both were very prolific and they wrote some wonderful novels. But you might wish that Wordsworth towards the end of his life could have been a little less prolific. So this kind of thing is very much a judgment call. Take poets like  Philip Larkin or  Edward Thomas, who had a very small corpus but the corpus had very fine poems. Take Ghalib, for example, and compare him to Mir. Now Mir was a wonderful poet and he was quite prolific. Ghalib’s entire divan is slim. I’m not talking about his Persian divan which is bigger than his Urdu divan. And yet, many people think that he is the greatest of the poets. So it’s a false dichotomy.

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