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A Suitable Boy- Vikram Seth

 
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Posted May 9, 2016 by

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth – 1993

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Posted by Steven on 18/4/2009, 21:37:30

Here is an unexpected link between one of our novels and today’s news: A Suitable Boy is set in India shortly after its independence from Britain and the partitioning off of Pakistan. One of the themes running through the book is the passage of the Zamindari Act which confiscates the estates of wealthy landowners and gives peasants title to the land they have been working. Recently there was this news item concerning Pakistan which indirectly referenced the Zamindari Act:

“The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal.

“Unlike India after independence in 1947, Pakistan maintained a narrow landed upper class that kept its vast holdings while its workers remained subservient…”

Lale, you said you are halfway through the book. Who, at this point, do you think is most “suitable” for Lata? Kabir? Amit? Haresh? Maan?

If she were my sister, I would encourage her feelings for Amit, but I may be biased because I like his sister Meenakshi. I always (in books and movies, at least) go for the haughty glamorous types.

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Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 22/4/2009, 15:06:48, in reply to “A Suitable Boy”

I have read a third or so of the huge book, and it got me trapped. I’m enjoying it so much, it’s like my favorite novels of the XIX Century, with epic proportions, lots and lots of characters well created, tons of subplots and intertwining of them. I finished our April book, “The Black Tulip”, early son that I could read as much as I could of Suitable Boy. I will go on until it’s time to read our May book.

So far: Kabir OK, Haresh OK, Amit is a lazy guy and Lata’s family is not wealthy, Maan I don’t like.

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Posted by Steven on 22/4/2009, 21:33:34, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

I just finished it, so now my wrists get a rest. The story becomes especially captivating in the final third, so find a comfortable nook.

Yes, it is very much like a 19th Century novel. I especially see similarities with the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope.

Does anyone know anything about cricket? The scoring alone sounds perplexing with scores like 268-0. And yet most matches seem to end in a tie.

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Posted by Sterling on 26/4/2009, 9:40:57, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

I’m a bit over 400 pages in, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I don’t think that I’m far enough to really offer an opinion, although I do rather hope that Maan grows up and makes a “Prince Hal” type transformation.

Even at my advanced age, I, like Lata, was a little put off by Kabir’s practicality and lack of romantic abandon. Haresh is, I find, a generally likable character, but I don’t have much impression of him as a potential mate for Lata. And while I understand your attraction to the glamorous haughty type, Steven, Meenakshi’s heartless insensitivity with the medals has biased me against the Chatterjis. (Although as a family, they’re starting to grow on me.)

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Posted by Sterling on 3/6/2009, 8:24:16, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

A 1700+ page novel is certain to be about several things, but my first impression after finishing the novel is that it could have been named “A Treatise Against Passion.” The lines that Lata quotes from Clough near the end of the book are from “Amours de Voyage,” Canto II, Stanza XI. I found it easily on the Web; I would embed a link here if I knew how. Anyway, Lata does have the gist of the verse.

Passion gets a very bad rap in this novel. This is most prominent in the relationship between Maan and Saeeda Bai, due to which he almost kills his best friend (and boyhood lover). However, we also see the shallow, unfaithful marriage of Arun and Meenakshi, and the unsatisfactory union of Dr. Kishen Chand Seth and Parvati. By contrast, we have the happy, supportive marriage of Pran and Savita. Lata reflects that Savita would have been just as happy and fulfilled if she had married someone else.

Somehow, perhaps because I’m an American with American cultural values, I thought “a suitable boy” was an ironic title. Far from it! Lata does indeed pick the most “suitable” suitor. (My apologies for what sounds like a lame joke.) She turns against the apparent love of her life, Kabir. She also turns against wealth, wit, and poetry by rejecting Amit (probably wisely). I find it hard to feel any enthusiasm at the end of the novel for her selection of Haresh. Haresh had a passion, too, in Simran. I suppose he has made the right choice by setting aside an “impossible” marriage, although my heart rebels against the idea that religiously mixed marriages should be avoided at all costs. Anyway, Haresh seems anbitious, energetic, and well-meaning. He is also moody, quick to anger, and wears those “co-respondent” shoes. He is indeed the most “suitable,” but I would have liked Lata to enter into marriage with more love and passion.

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Posted by Guillermo MaynezEmail User on 4/6/2009, 14:25:24, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

Same here, Sterling. Haresh is a likable guy, but not very interesting. And as you say, Lata doesn’t choose him out of love, but comfort and peace. I resist imagining Lata as the bored wife of a shoe factory foreman, living forever within the four walls of Prahapore, talking to the uninteresting wives of the Czechs. I wanted her to marry Amit, who, although an eccentric and lazy guy, would have given her a much more comfortable, dynamic, interesting and funny life. Now, as for other important characters:

Mrs. Rupa Mehra: the mother in law from hell. Of course she’s one of the best-rounded characters, but not a person to be with for more than a few minutes. She kept reminding me of my aunt Lucy (and you don’t want to know her).

Mr. Mahesh Kapoor: probably the most interesting character. His political life gives so much depth and historical context to the book. The one thing I didn’t like about him from early on in the book is the arrogant and cruel way he treated the sweet Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor. But he’s a man hardened by jail and the strenuous effort to keep a state running. He’s also a sort of tragic figure in the book.

Maan: didn’t like him at first, but he eventually grew up, the hard way. I was shocked to learn that he and Firoz had been lovers in boyhood. He seemed to be very manlike

Pran and Savita: THE lovely couple. They will be happy, and hopefully Pran won’t die young.

Arun and Meenakshi: probably fun to chat for a while at a party, and probably good to see her beautiful face and figure. But even in bed with her lover she is frivolous, demanding, and capricious. Arun is a guy with an anger-management problem (and he’s a cuckold)

Varun: the idiot of the family

The Chatterjis: funnily eccentric and obnoxious. Nice family. Kukoli must be pretty and fun.

More later, as I have to go…

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Posted by Sterling on 7/6/2009, 15:00:34, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

I found, to my amazement, that I wanted the book to be longer! (Or for there to be a sequel.) I wanted to know if Pran’s illness returns and whether Savita becomes a lawyer. Kabir is simply abandoned. What becomes of him? Thank heavens the charges against Maan were dropped, but what now? What of poor Tasneem? Suicide, incest, attempted murder all swirl around her. Does she reach a safe harbor? And so on.

In his little rhyming couplets for each chapter in the table of contents, Seth coyly implies that the book is ended “–at least for now.” I hope there is more to come.

I agree with most of your assessments, Guillermo, although I wanted Lata to marry Kabir, because he is her passion. Obviously the religiously mixed marriage is a problem, but they may have the strength to be able to cope.

Mrs. Rupa Mehra is pretty scary. However, I thought Seth opened a touching window into her heart in the passages following her receipt from Meenakshi of the hated lacquer box.

I, too, was shocked by the revelation of the affair between Maan and Firoz. Maan seemed to have healthy (or, as may be, unhealthy) heterosexual drives. However, it certainly paid off in the stabbing scene. It is as if Maan is betrayed by two lovers at once.

And yes, I would like to hang out with the Chatterjis. Obnoxious, true, but definitely fun.

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Posted by Steven on 9/6/2009, 7:58:15, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

I would certainly like to read a sequel as well. Maybe he is working on one. Seth is still just a kid (i.e. younger than I am) and hasn’t published any fiction in ten years.

The novel against passion idea is very apt. What an unexpected theme from a poet!

I think Lata’s choice of Haresh has a feminist element. She wants to be her own person. Kabir wouldn’t love her as much as she loved him, and Amit’s celebrity would put her in the background. Instead, she marries a man who will be in her shadow socially and, she hopes, professionally. Lata makes a safe choice just as a man might choose a “good homemaker” over a flashy or independent mate. I don’t particularly like her choice, however. His mannerisms and affectations would get on my nerves in no time.

Maan’s bisexuality surprised me as well. Apparently it was an attachment to Firoz only, as there are no clues that he has any sexual attraction to other men. I could never warm up to Maan. He could never master his emotions and desires, no matter how much damage he was doing to his family. (The opposite of Lata, of course.)

Another theme is that of religious conflict. Seth appears to want to demonstrate that there is no natural hostility between Hindu and Muslim. The greatest friendships and loves in the novel are those that cross religious lines.

I would love to be a member of the Chatterji household.

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Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 9/6/2009, 14:46:54, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

A sequel would be great. Just like Steven, I never warmed up to Maan either. He was just a spoiled kid, lazy, vain, and in the end not very much experienced with women, as we can see from his foolish infatuation with Saeeda Bai. One should always (if ever) approach a professional courtesan (to put it mildly) with the awareness that these women have a hard emotional life, are usually volatile and capricious, but nevertheless, especially after many years of practice, find it hard to throw away their lifestyle and become permanently attached to a single man. After Maan’s trip to the Rudhia district and his close encounter with the misery and poverty of the Indian countryside, he would grow up and mature, but he didn’t. I have the feeling that, years after the tragic incident with Firoz, he will simply look back at it as a youth adventure, and not a lesson.

I dislike Haresh for exactly the same reasons as Steven: good man, but extremely proud of himself, full of manias and, below the surface, with great anxiety over what other people think of him.

I hope one day he gets out of Prahapore and more into the world, so the dear Lata will shine a little more.

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Posted by Sebastian on 8/9/2012, 20:31:24, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

One of the great strengths of the book is that almost all characters are lovable despite or exactly because of their flaws! There are only three characters I more or less could do without: Meenakshi and Arun really deserve each other, but this guy who abuses his daughter is DEFINITELY creepy and despicable. Maan is a big child with a big heart. His self-destructive tendencies are not surprising considering his over-bearing father whose approval he seeks. It is a quite tragic turn that he should almost kill the friend whom he has saved earlier on and who is very dear to him. In a sense its the responsibilities of their fathers. Had the Nawab been honest about his past instead of posing as this detached, unworldly figure and had Mahesh Kapoor not been so demanding things might have turned out differently. I can’t wait for A Suitable Girl to be published, and I hope some of the characters “survive” into that book. I miss Mrs Rupa Mehra’s emotional blackmailing, the Chatterji’s chatter, Kabir’s good looks, Maan’s impulsiveness and Savita’s maturity … already. What a great book! (My first thought was: I don’t read books that are longer than the Bible, but after the first 100 pages I hated the fact it would ever end.)

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Posted by Lale on 9/9/2012, 8:07:11, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

Hi Sebastian,

Welcome to our discussion board.

This is one of my favourite books of all times. When I was half-way through the book, one of our members (I think it was Sterling) said that there was a sequel in the works. I was disappointed because I think sequels are never as good as the first book and also I am always suspicious about the goal of sequels (to make more money). But when I finished the book, I realized that there has to be a sequel because we need to know what happens to all these wonderful characters. And also what happens to India.

Meenakshi and Arun are really annoying, but I also found Mrs. Rupa Mehta insufferable. I know a couple of mothers like that and they suck the life out of you. I think it is because of her that Lata married to a man he did not love and that’s a shame.

By the way, I recently did a book art with my first copy of the book (the one that I actually read, I have another, brand new copy, just to save), it turned out to be very cool. Manipulating 1500 pages took some time but the result is fun.

Vikram Seth was in Ottawa in July, participating in a number of musical/literary events:

– Our Rivered Earth – Vikram Seth narrates his book while the music from the book is played by established musicians.

– An Equal Music – Seth reads excerpts from his novel and the music mentioned in the book is performed live.

I meant to go to the last event and show the author what I have done with his book but due to my mom’s illness I couldn’t go.

But I will take photos of my book art and post them here.

Lale

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Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 26/8/2009, 22:51:10, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

Did it disappoint you that Haresh was finally the one? Had you been Mrs. Rupa Mehra, would you have chosen Haresh for you son-in-law? Or which one? I can see why you didn’t like Meenakshi (except maybe for a one-night stand, in case of us guys), but why didn’t you like Kakoli?

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Posted by Lale on 29/8/2009, 10:39:06, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

: Did it disappoint you that Haresh was finally the one?

I was disappointed. She is not in love with him, I don’t think young people should marry without love and passion.

: Had you been Mrs. Rupa Mehra, would you have chosen

: Haresh for your son-in-law?

Difficult question. I can never be a Mrs. Rupa Mehra. She is the kind of woman I despise the most. I know two Mrs. Rupa Mehras in real life, and they are the most annoying people on earth and I have zero tolerance for them. Real-life Mrs. Rupa Mehras caused a lot of damage in the lives of their family members, all the while claiming that they “want the best for them.” What they don’t understand is that they want the best for themselves and/or what they think is the best. They are very persistent people, they want to control the lives of other people. I cannot tolerate them and I have no sympathy for them. Lata was very very tolerant of her mother. I could not have done it. Mrs. Rupa mehra is the kind of mother that makes her children run away from home (and Lata almost did it but eventually she came to sympathize with her mother.)

I have built my entire life philosophy around not being a Mrs. Rupa Mehra to my daughter.

Haresh is a good, hard-working person. I kept feeling sorry for him throughout the book, I don’t know why.

Lale

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Posted by Sterling on 31/8/2009, 8:42:47, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

In a culture in which everyone is deeply involved with extended family, it may be just as well that Lata did not choose Amit. Lata would be bound even more closely to Meenakshi and Kakoli than she already is. That might not be a recipe for happiness.

You’re very harsh on Mrs. Rupa Mehra. I agree that she is obnoxious in many ways, but I also felt sorry for her. Maybe it is because there are no Mrs. Rupa Mehras in my life. (I have a couple in my practice, but since I see all their pain from their own point of view, my sympathies lie with them.)

As for the couplets, this does not seem so hard to me. I agree, Lale, that with practice it would likely come pretty easily.

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Posted by Guillermo Maynez on 31/8/2009, 19:48:44, in reply to “Re: A Suitable Boy”

I agree with Lale on the subject of Mrs. Rupa Mehra. As I said in a previous post, she would have made the Mother in Law from Hell, and I obviously consider you, Sterling, a very compassionate and tolerant person. Fortunately my mother is not anything like her, but some relatives are a bit alike.

I also agree with Lale in preferring Amit over Haresh. Lata is an intellectual girl, and the world of Amit and his family, family-bounded as it would have surely been, seems to me preferable to the arid and languishing world of a Czech foot factory.

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Posted by Lale on 29/8/2009, 11:01:29, in reply to “A Suitable Boy”

Did you wonder how Amit, Kakoli and Tapan were able to come up with those couplets, just like that?

It is possible. Sometimes when you educate your mind to do something like that, it becomes automatic and you can’t even stop yourself from doing it. I guess this is how rappers can rap spontaneously.

When I was a child, with a friend of mine (I think we were 12-13) we invented a way of speech which became so natural to us we couldn’t stop doing it. For other people this was very difficult to do it so spontaneously, but for us it was automatic.

We were switching the places of consecutive consonants. This is not possible in English, but in Turkish, it worked very well.

Our parents hated it, because we talked to them like that too. They told us to stop it, and it took months to re-train our brains to not do it.

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