Suitable boy version 2.3.4?

There must be multiple published versions of Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”. That must be the explanation.

suitable boyI re-read “A Suitable Boy” after many years. Okay, “re-read” is not exactly how you would describe it; I selectively read parts and flipped through others.

I can understand that when we go back to the same book after many years, we may see it differently. There may be meanings we hadn’t understood earlier, or maybe an entirely new sub-text. But can the characters of the story change drastically?

I read the book the first time around many years ago, and I don’t remember what I thought of each character. But I do remember thinking that Kabir was the hero. I can now see why I thought that. Vikram Seth makes sure you think this – he takes pains to tell you that Kabir is tall, dark and handsome. Just in case you don’t make the connection from such descriptions as “6 feet tall” and “aquiline features”, he makes sure to have at least one character tell you that he is, in fact, “tall, dark and handsome”. Oh, and he even has wavy hair. Seth doesn’t actually have some character tell you “this is the hero”, but that must surely be an oversight. Lata, the heroine, agonizes that she cannot marry him. He is unsuitable to her family, but not to her.

Now I read the book again many years later and what do I think? Kabir comes across as a somewhat self- centered and insensitive guy. He is controlling and possessive, and a little thoughtless. I am not very sure I like him, despite the aquiline features and did I mention, wavy hair ? I wonder what Lata sees in him. (Although, I must add that I love the way Seth has sketched his character).

Surely I couldn’t have liked this Kabir all those years ago. Now, I am sure my views have not changed, so I have come to the conclusion that Kabir has changed. How can this be? Maybe there are multiple copies of Vikram Seth novels, with different characters and possibly even different endings. Or maybe the solution involves multiple universes. Nah, I’ll stick to the multiple copies. I am sure there is no better explanation.

Has this happened to any of you? Have you found a book or a character to change so dramatically?


14 thoughts on “Suitable boy version 2.3.4?

  1. Always. Always. The characters change colour. And their dialogues assume a meaning that was non-existant when i read the first time around !

    And that colour, i have realised often is the colour of the situation that i am in at that point in time.

    I think so. BTW, it happens to blog posts too. My own posts, read differently to me, when i write them, about 2 weeks later and 2 years later. !


    • Do we project so many of our emotions on characters then?
      How do you read your own posts differently? That it is very interesting. Are you able to distance yourself and read them dispassionately, is that what you are saying?

  2. even within the book sometimes!
    take the same example I thought Rupa Mehra was irritating and somewhat of a comic character but as the book progressed I began to see her differently and wondered if it was my own changing perception or Seth making me do it!
    And since I love the book i shall shamelessly take up some more commentspace. The Chatterjis are wonderfully sketched, especially the breakfast scenes. I couldnt get enough of them and their doggerel verses.
    I also like begum Abida..shes terrific!
    Thanks for listening me out!

    • It’s a 1000+ page book, so there is plenty of time for our perceptions to change as Seth brings in different shades to the character πŸ™‚

      On the Chatterji scenes, I suspect Vikram had a lot of fun making up those doggerel verses!

  3. Lekhni:

    I believe that many characters in this book are composites of real people amongst Calcutta’s socialites (or the other way round; life could imitate art). It is surreal to meet some people and think oh goodness, you are the person on whom that character is based… In such a situation, the character morphs right before your eyes, so to speak, with every transaction, every cup of tea and sandwich you had with them in Calcutta Club and so on. I believe Anne Fadiman may call it “being there” reading.

    • I am sure all of them are based on real characters – given that the main ones certainly are – Lata and Haresh are based on Vikarm’s parents, Kakoli is based on his sister Aradhana and so on.. I think Vikram Seth said somewhere that only the dog Cuddles had his real name because “he could not sue”.

  4. I haven’t met anyone who’s disliked this book.
    I am with buddy on this one. Rupa Mehra starts off as the most irritating character but by the end of the book, you have looked around yourself so much that you see a lot of Rupa Mehras. I haven’t reread the book so I am not sure how the characters would shape up in that case.
    Lata is definitely one of the finest characters. I am awestruck at the fact that her character is so timeless to be set in 1950s. Of course, I know lot of people couldn’t digest her final decision but I am guessing if you reread, it all nicely falls in place. It did, just by reminiscing how her relationships shaped up. It was definitely the most logical decision. Whether it should have been logical, is debatable.

    Ayn Rand novels are the ones where the characters don’t hold up very well. They are all so volatile. I hate them sometime and love them sometime. There are no extremes when it comes to her characters.

    • I agree, I too believe that Lata did the right thing. They are such typical characters – Rupa Mehra can be any Indian mother, and Lata can be any Indian daughter. Actually, I’d even say they are not even necessarily limited to India – substitute Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice) for the two and you can see how similar they are..

  5. It’s Lekhni Version 2.3.4! Not the book!
    Sadly, it has happened to me several times that I have LOVED a book at first re-reading, and then the found that the magic is completely gone when I read it again some years later. What a disappointment it is when this happens!

    • No, no, surely there’s only one version of Lekhni ! πŸ˜› (Don’t we all like to believe we can never change πŸ™‚ )

      Seriously though, it’s amazing how drastically our perspective changes with time.

  6. You are compelling me to re-read this again. Like Kavi, I do seem to second guess my output. The color schemes on my blog are my favorite target. Movies do that to me. Many a flicks from college days now shame me — Pooja Bhatt in Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin was the ultimate. A re-run had me running for cover as my friends recounted how fida I was…

    I’m pinging people who had expressed their opinion on an article about the dwindling sparrows in Indian metros. You were one(in There is a follow up if it interests you …

  7. What a lovely perspective, Lekhni!
    The first time I read the book was when it came out, from the library, so I charged through it headlong.
    A second re-reading in 2005 was far more interesting, especially since in the interim I’d read his mother’s autobiography (A Fine Balance- really well written and most interesting), and his other book, Two Lives, both of which books enriched the background of A Suitable Boy.
    I still think it’s an amazingly rich and beautifully written book.
    I need to read it again to see if any of the protagonists have changed again:)

  8. Our perspective changes from time-to-time. It comes with maturity and the experiences we go through in our daily lives I guess πŸ™‚ I think we tend to perceive the characters differently every now and then. Sigh, aren’t we all complex in our own ways? πŸ˜‰

  9. Hmm. I generally don’t re-read books, since I tend to remember the story from the first time I read it, but even then, character changing their, well, character, I guess I am too unemotional to realize. Concepts like depth of a character generally go way over my head.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s