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A WORD FROM HOME

On Christmas eve, Leila Seth and her son, Vikram Seth, came here for drinks. Leila had the distinction of being the topper in the Bar examinations in England, and on her return to India, she became the Chief Justice of the high court of Himachal Pradesh. Her son, Vikram, is the acclaimed author of The Golden Gate and A Suitable Boy. He is a world-renowned calligrapher as well.

He has a fine collection of poetry and an opera libretto. He has made his home in England and visits Delhi every year to see his parents. He also calls on me. I cherish his visits because he is full of warmth. A month ago, he gave me a copy of his latest publication, The Rivered Earth. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. His writings have the supreme quality of unputdownability. I give a few examples:

“Spring Scene in Time of War”

The state lies ruined; hills and

streams survive,

Spring in the city; grass and leaves

now thrive.

Moved by the time the flowers shed

their dew.

The birds seem startled; they hate

parting too.

The steady beacon fires are three

months old

A word from home is worth a ton

of gold.

I scratch my white hair, which has

grown so thin

It soon won’t let me stick my hatpin

in.

“Youth”

There is no fire like passion

No grip like hate,

No snare like delusion,

No river like craving.

“Old: Six Ages”

My eyes look back at me

and say

Where were these wrinkles

yesterday?

Where are the friends you

used to know?

Who is this stranger —

foolish, wise —

Who stares at you with your own

eyes?

“Dead: Six Ages”

No breath to give or

take

No love to feel or

make,

No thought or speech

or deed,

No fear, no grief, no

need,

No memory, no view,

No four, no three, no

two,

No one, no entity

To be or cease to be

“Fire”

Mother give me the

moon

I want it as my toy.

Mother I want it soon

Or I’ll be Papa’s boy

No, I won’t plait my

hair.

I won’t go out to play

I will sulk on the

ground all day.

I won’t come to your

lap — so there!

Nor will I drink this

milk from Surabhi, our cow.

Mother, I want the moon —

and I want it now.

Here in this bucket filled

with water it scatters.

But that one there never

shatters,

Cold in its silver fire,

Climbing higher and higher

I now know, Mother

You only love Balram, my brother,

Who loves to drive me wild.

He says you bought me,

that I’m not your child

No, don’t sing me a tune.

Mother, give me the moon

The moon, the moon.

Mother give me the sun;

The horror, the horror has begun.

For ten years now my father has

been dead.

This is his heritage, here in my sick

head.

Who will rid me of my fear?

Regina would, her health and

strength and cheer —

But she has gone and never will

return.

Now everything will burn.

The orphanage has been consumed

by fire.

No body is the wreckage of desire.

I burn, I burn away.

I’ll lie like this for years, helpless

and old and grey

I didn’t ask for life, I never sleep

No mother, do not weep;

Help me to end my endless night.

The sunlight on the ice, this

morning light.

I am cold, it is done.

Mother, give me the sun.

The sun, the sun.

Vikram Seth might well be the second Indian after Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Backside humour

Men look at a woman’s backside and say: “What an ass!”

Whereas women look at a man’s face, and more often than not, say: “What an ass!” Same comment, different ass-essments.

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)