Poem of the Week

Why India Has No Pulse

Vikram Seth condemns the reinstatement of a colonial anti-sodomy law that India had revoked in 2009.

An Indian gay rights activist in New Delhi holds up a placard during a protest after the country’s top court ruled that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality will remain in effect in India, Dec. 11, 2013.
Altaf Qadri, AP

Through Love’s Great Power

Vikram Seth

Through love’s great power to be made whole
In mind and body, heart and soul—
Through freedom to find joy, or be
By dint of joy itself set free
In love and in companionhood:
This is the true and natural good.

To undo justice, and to seek
To quash the rights that guard the weak—
To sneer at love, and wrench apart
The bonds of body, mind and heart
With specious reason and no rhyme:
This is the true unnatural crime.

First published January 24, 2014 in The Times of India.

Why do people go to gay clubs? For wholeness, joy, love and companionhood. As commentator Nitzan Horowitz wrote: “Many people visiting LGBT venues like Pulse see them as a kind of refuge, a safe space. They go there to be who they are, free of the constant pressure that some of them endure every day. They go there to party, to dance, to laugh – to live, like every other free person.” United States President Barack Obama: “To be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live.”

Vikram Seth.

On March 20, 2014, The New York Review of Books published this poem by Indian poet and writer Vikram Seth (born 1952), with the article “India: You’re Criminal if Gay,” by his mother, retired High Court Chief Justice Leila Seth.  An extraordinary rider stated: “The above essay and accompanying poem may be reproduced free of charge by any person or publication, without permission from The New York Review or either of the authors.” Mainstream and gay publications worldwide reprinted it at the time.

The trigger was the Indian Supreme Court’s killjoy re-instatement of a colonial anti-sodomy law that had been revoked in 2009. The poet calls this “to undo justice.” His mother affirmed her love for her bisexual son and wrote: “The Supreme Court judgment means that he would have to be celibate for the rest of his life or else leave the country where he was born, to which he belongs, and which he loves more than any other.” Thus Seth divides his time between Delhi and a home in England that belonged to Metaphysical poet George Herbert, whose 17th century language echoes in this poem.  

Still, even in countries where they aren’t officially criminals, LGBT people need meeting places that are safe from killlers.

Are we Seth’s family? His “Two Lives” (2005) is a memoir about the life of his uncle and his Jewish wife from Berlin who lost her family in the Holocaust. Upon publication of the Hebrew translation, he told Haaretz: “There's a sort of similarity in the way Hindus and Jews behave... I first noticed that when I was in Israel and had a Sabbath meal. The good-byes - from the time you say good-bye to the time you actually walk out the door - took about 45 minutes!”

*Try this at home: Read Seth’s long 1993 novel “A Suitable Boy,” all summer.

*Bonus: Sister Sledge in “We Are Family"

Sister Sledge in We Are Family" YouTube