I’m about to devour From Heaven Lake, Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet, the first book Vikram Seth ever wrote. I’ve only gotten through the foreword as of now, a foreword Seth wrote for the 1990 edition to put the contents into perspective. This is going to be an important book for me, because in the past one month or so, my reading has gone for a toss. You can probably blame it on being homeless. I have several books that I intend to read and haven’t gotten around to. I’ve chosen From Heaven Lake, for two reasons – first, I’ve never read a travel book before, second this is Seth’s first ever published book and I have a certain soft spot for the first books of great authors.
Every book is a labour of love, but surely there’s a special spot reserved for the first. Especially when you consider the space, both physical and mental, from where they came. From heaven lake came from the pen of a much younger Seth, not the spry old guy we know now, but a wandering college student who was growing his hair and not really doing what he was supposed to do. Seth was being a typical 20 something – questioning his decisions, his path, buying time, writing, struggling and thinking. The book came out of a road trip and it’s interesting to note that Seth who has a profound insight into human character, and an astounding knowledge base about everything under the sun, started out by publishing a frikking journal he wrote while on a road trip.
On the other hand, take The Bluest Eye, which in my mind set the tone for whatever fiction Morrison was to write in the coming years. I don’t like to put writers in boxes, but there’s a strong activism in everything she writes. It’s kind of fitting that she started out by exploring the wrongness of what America believed with the whole black is beautiful phenomenon. In every book that followed The bluest eye, there was a theme that was at odds with the nice things people were saying, or the judgements people were casting.
Whenever I daydream about my first published book, I wonder what it will say about me. Will it come out of pain? Will I be in a space in my life where I’m happy, or restless or content? Will I write as a woman, a lover, an orphan? (That sounded scarily Alaniss Morrissette, but you know what I mean.)
Just as Art can’t be viewed in a vacuum, the artist can never be totally divorced from his work. There is a lot of weight attached to a created work. For starters, it means you’ll forever be referred to as so and so of so and so fame. It also means that for all eternity (that is if you produce something good enough to last for all eternity) no one will read your book, listen to your song or look at your painting and not wonder what you were thinking at the time of its creation. Art can make you vulnerable and your first may end up defining you forever. And if that’s not pressure, then The Wire is not the greatest show on earth.