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At long last, a date with Seth after a seven-year wait

THE BESTSELLER: Vikram Seth... .

THE BESTSELLER: Vikram Seth... ."Always in demand".  

Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI: Vikram Seth certainly is an exception to every rule. The first real "desi" to walk through the "Golden Gate'' to go beyond the Indian subcontinent to the West via Tibet, Vikram Seth's latest book "Two Lives'' -- his first non-fiction biography, now all set to hit the bookshops on Saturday -- has already established his "suitable boy'' reputation in the literary world.

From the rumours of him having got the fattest advance for non-fiction writing at 1.4 million pounds from his British publishers to being the most popular Indian writing in English today, a book by Seth after seven long years is reason enough for his Indian publishers, Penguin, to celebrate. Already slated as a bestseller even before its bright pink-and-green cover has made an appearance on the shelves of bookshops across the city, it might not be a Harry Potter as some shop-owners would like to point out, but it certainly is the biggest book for Penguin this year.

"Vikram has always refused to be pigeon-holed. His range and versatility are unmatched; he's done it all from the verse novel `Golden Gate' which broke him out, through the travelogue `From Heaven Lake', several poetry collections and his magnum opus `A Suitable Boy'. And yes, he is truly international. He can write effortlessly and with a completely authentic voice about where he is,'' says the CEO of Penguin India, Thomas Abraham.

Seth's refusal to be slotted in his writing seems to have found an echo among his readers too. While he might not want to be fitted into a definition with his work, his booksellers are keen on putting a tag to him: successful. As the spokesman of Om Bookstores in Delhi puts it: "He is the Shah Rukh Khan of Indian writing; his books always have a good initial opening.''

There might not be queues outside shops, but his name and his work sell.

"Vikram Seth is always in demand. Poetry does not usually sell in India, but his `Golden Gate' did from the beginning. We always keep it in stock because people show up wanting it. Even his `A Suitable Boy' is always in demand. Most popular foreign writers sell one copy a year of their best books and we consider that good. But Vikram Seth is an exception, he always sells a lot,'' says K. D. Singh, owner of The Bookshop in Khan Market.

And while Seth might rather prefer the "usual" comparisons of his writing to Salman Rushdie than to Shah Rukh, he is one name that most Indian recognise and definitely want to claim as their own. More Indian than Rushdie, he is the first of a generation of writers who have managed to create a space for themselves along with the literary giants of modern times to finally move beyond an Indian writing in English and belong to the world.

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