Vikram Seth joined Cape Farewell on the 2007 Art/Science Expedition. Taking almost three weeks the expedition crossed the north Atlantic to the extreme frontline of climate change, then sailed south to explore East Greenland’s Blosseville Coast.
Vikram trained as an economist. His first novel, The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse describes the experiences of a group of friends living in California. His acclaimed epic of Indian life, A Suitable Boy, won the WH Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book). He is also the author of the novel An Equal Music and the biography Two Lives, as well as Beastly Tales, a book of ten animal fables in verse, which includes the ecological tale The Elephant and the Tragopan.
"Though I dislike the cold, I find myself surprisingly often in cold places. In the autumn of 2007 I found myself sailing across the Greenland Sea wondering what on earth I was doing there.
About a year ago David Buckland, who founded and runs Cape Farewell, asked me if I would travel to Greenland with an assorted bunch of artists and scientists. Intrigued by the idea, I accepted. David, by profession an artist, had founded the organisation some years ago when, troubled by the damage that we were doing to the earth, he realised that hardly anyone (at that time) gave a damn or intended to do anything about it. It was not that the scientific evidence was not clear but that the message was not getting out into the world at large.
David had the idea of getting writers, artists, photographers, choreographers, musicians and other expressive creators involved. If they could see at first hand what was happening, what was due to be lost – most manifestly in the Arctic regions – they would almost certainly help to get the word out. And if they fell in love with the frozen north, that would add urgency to their argument.
In late September this year 25 of us flew from London to Svalbard (or Spitzbergen), deep in the Arctic Circle, 78 degrees north. (As a precautionary measure, I had packed a hot water bottle.) We spent a few hours in the small capital of this archipelago, then got on board the Noorderlicht, a 120-foot Dutch schooner that dated back to 1910.
That night we anchored in a bay; the next morning we set out in groups from ship to shore in inflatable Zodiac boats, all layered up against the cold and wet. Ko, our guide, carried a gun to scare off polar bears, who are a serious danger to careless humans in an unfamiliar environment. We got out where a glacier ended at the head of the bay. It was a stark and beautiful landscape – white, brown, black, grey, blue. Ko mentioned that the glacier had retreated several kilometres since he had first visited it 20 years ago."
Read the full article by Vikram Seth, published in the Guardian on 14th April 2008 ›
Vikram Seth 2007
"People need to know about what is being lost, and I think it is an inspired idea to get sculptors or writers or photographers or other artists to come on what is largely a scientific expedition."