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Hybrid Approaches

Rita Joshi

Edited by G.J.V. Prasad
Pencraft International, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 185, Rs. 400.00


Vikram Seth has emerged as one of the most significant authors of Indian fiction in English. He is also the most versatile – he is a poet, travel writer, playwright and novelist – and has won major awards in each category. He has a cosmopolitan identity having lived in England, California and China as a student. His first collection of poems, Mappings, was published by P. Lal in 1981. In this collection are two poems addressed to men and several romantic poems to women. Seth declares his early bisexual leanings: “In the ranks / of Gay and Straight / what is my status? Stray or Great:”(‘Dubious’) revealing that his sense of irony and love of word play intervenes in his awareness of his life experience.   The collection of essays on Seth under review is one of the first critical collections on the author. The editor, G.J.V. Prasad, states in the Introduction: “a collection can never claim to have said the last word on any writer…… here is a collection of essays which addresses a gap in our understanding and appreciation of one of the foremost writers in English of our times.” It is good that Prasad has made this qualifying statement in his Introduction as the book does not contain essays on the following works of Seth: Mappings, Chinese Poets, Beastly Tales and Arion and the Dolphin.   The essays in this book amount to individualistic discussions of individual works of Seth, as similar issues about different texts are not addressed. Quick collections of essays on Indian authors appear to be on the increase Pencraft, Atlantic, Rawat, Worldview and Prestige are the main publishers catering to this kind of academic enterprise. The collections suffer from uneven levels of research on the part of the contributors and mixed perspectives which may add to the reader’s confusion rather than fill a gap in his understanding.   One issue the critics in this collection do seem jointly concerned about is the location of a cosmopolitan writer like Seth. In a well-argued essay on Heaven Lake Nandini Chandra concludes: “Seth, the writer, poet and scholar is doing what the western traveller does in spiritual terms. He too is seeking to uncover the real China from the veil of ideology”. G.J.V. Prasad’s essay on the Humble Administrator’s Garden is an eulogistic appraisal of Vikram Seth’s craft as is K.C. Baral’s discussion ...

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