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Friday, April 10, 2020

Stop All The Clocks

Leila Seth wanted to be here, push back at the evil of the day, be part of the healing

Written by Maja Daruwala | Updated: May 15, 2017 3:48:00 pm
leila seth, leila seth dead, vikram seth, vikram seth mother, justice leila seth, justice leila seth dead, vikram seth mother dead, first woman judge, delhi high court, indian express Leila Seth (1930-2017).

Why does every one want me to write about Leila Seth: What do I want to share? Nothing really. She was life’s private gift to me. My private lucky chance friend: Valued all the more because she had come to me so late in my life and I into hers. I want to hold her in my heart without having to give away any part of her.

Why do we use moments of loss to acknowledge so much that we willingly ignore in life? Why does she have to be forced, through more and more words, into some devised pantheon of the greatest and goodest when it is enough to be just good. God knows it’s hard enough.

I don’t know if she was wiser than Portia, I only know she was a slow, deliberate and thoughtful judge. The first time I came before her was in a custody matter where the husband had played every dirty trick in the book to get a five-year-old away from his mother. She spent a long time with the child in chambers to arrive at a humane solution away from the bickering legal eagles. I wonder if the boy — now perhaps in his 30s — will ever realise how his life was shaped by that small kindness.

I don’t know if she was a “wonderful wife and mother”, but she left behind an adoring husband and three achieving high-minded children. I don’t know if she was a “brilliant writer”, but her lucid prose in Talking of Justice speaks to a mind passionate for justice. I don’t know if she was the very best of human beings, but the extraordinary acts of generosity and understanding in her matter of fact autobiography, On Balance, speak to a rare open-heartedness and tolerance. I don’t know if she was a “great soul” but I found no blemish. I know only that I could entrust my own innermost confidences into her keeping and know they would be kept there, safe.

Why must I heap praises on Leila for the public? Will it make her more golden than she was? It’s enough that she was golden to me. She was golden like a book of poems that holds its meaning and wisdom for you alone. Golden, like the everyday letters you’ve forgotten about that lie there silent for years waiting to flood you with the sweetness of commonplace memories they evoke only in you.

Condolences are such an occasion for trite clichés. Everyone will tell you: Someone has gone to their rest, to a better place, and we should smile “because she would have wanted me to”. Perhaps she would not have wanted me to.

Why should I smile, I want to rail. I don’t want Leila dead. She didn’t want to be dead, except in fleeting moments of discomfort with her heart’s frailties. There was still so much to do: Much in today saddened her. She hated the unchecked flood of intolerance of the gau rakshaks, the Muslim killers, the Christian bashers, the love jihadi idiots. She feared the easy impunity of the rapists and woman killers and despised the careless words and acts of leadership that do nothing to protect and much to encourage. She was deeply saddened by the Supreme Court’s retrograde decision in the Section 377 case. She feared the jeopardy the Constitution was in. She wanted to be here, to push back at the evil of the day and the narrowness of minds. She wanted to be part of the healing.

Albeit time was limited but we had plans. We were too passionate about justice not to have plans. We needed each other’s company. This was no time to die. I know, I know, I know, I know, it’s inevitable people die. We accept the event when it happens — in the fullness of time, as they say, but not the loss. The pain comes in pin pricks hot behind the eyes. She may be in a better place, she may be in no place at all. But she is not here and I want her to be.

There will be no cremation. She gave her eyes first and then her body to science — a last act of public good and principle. I wonder who will see from behind those keen, caring, kind eyes Leila left behind. She left behind so much, and left me behind — bereft.

The writer is board member and senior advisor, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

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