L to R: Leila Seth, Raj Salgaocar, Aradhana Seth, Prem Seth, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, Dipti Salgaocar
Remembering Justice Leila Seth from Siddharth's conversation with her for our Literature issue of 2014.
Shanghvi Salon 2014
The season finale of the Shanghvi Salon’s 2014. The conversation program initiated by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi at Goa’s Sunaparanta Arts Centre featured Leila and Aradhana Seth. Platform brings an exclusive excerpt from SD’s Salon.
Siddharth: ‘In your book (On Balance) you mentioned your sense of discomfort about Vikram’s sexual origins. So you went from feeling uncomfortable about his sexual self to now.’ (Ed: Leila Seth had just published a widely reprinted article on Section 377). And so when I mentioned this to Aradhana she said she teases you with the phrase, ‘Older is Bolder.’
Leila: She is right.
Siddharth: What do you think changed in you? From your expression of disappointment at Vikram...to now, where you are actually taking a public stand and saying, ‘I am going to fight for my son.’
Leila: Well, there are two things. One is that at the time, when I got to know it, I was a judge and I also knew at the time that it was a criminal offence. And Vikram had by that time written a book and he was a well-known writer and I thought people may try to take advantage of it.
I didn’t understand sexuality in that way. I had not been exposed to it earlier. Once I started understanding it, I appreciated what was happening. I opened my mind and my heart to face and see what is happening, why it happens. And so once I accepted it, I needed the courage to speak out. And since I was no longer a judge when I had written this article and other statements I had made, it was easier for me, because being a judge and to say that, ‘well, he is a criminal, but he is an un-apprehended felon’ is much more difficult.
Siddharth: He and many others . . . .
Leila: Yes, of course.
Leila: I would say older is bolder. When I wrote my autobiography, I was 70-years-old. If I had been 50, I may not have said many of the things I said in it. There is no doubt in my mind. Older makes you bolder. It frees you from the worry of what your reputation is, what other people will think or how you live your life. You don’t care anymore. Let people think what they think. It is a different feeling when you are older. And I think it is very important. Older does make you bolder.
Siddharth: A wonderful coda to your life is when you say that it frees you because you have lived most of your life. But a substantial portion of your life was also lived after the book. That distance has allowed you to change and rethink things and go back and revisit your opinion on certain things and express them publicly. So thank you for doing that.
Leila: Awareness is very important. I always say with everything. With the law with Rape laws or any law awareness is most important. It is only when you are aware that you can assert. That is why knowledge and education are so important. Absolutely.
Siddharth Shanghvi with Leila and Aradhana Seth
Siddharth: You know Aradhana, when you were hanging a version of this show in Bombay Vikram came down to help you and to support you. That was around the time he and I were in conversation about the launch of his book (The Rivered Earth) and we were hanging out with you. How closely do you collaborate with your siblings on you work?
Aradhana: That turned out to be really wonderful. He came just to be...He was staying with me. My parents were staying elsewhere because my flat had a walk up. We spent a lot of time together and I had been hanging my show and once it was hung I came home in the evening and he said, ‘let’s go see it.’ And I said, ‘OK! Lets go see it.’
Siddharth: That sounds like trouble if Vikram says it! Aradhana: He loved the way it was hung, but he started asking me if I had named my work! I said I had thought about it and we should do it the next day. He woke up the next morning, and it was fantastic. We went to the gallery and he pulled out a pencil, and said, ‘let’s name this like this.’ We had a sort of naming game and ritual and he asked me what I wanted to say, because they were everyday objects, and I wanted to discuss really what the feeling was. But also, I didn’t want to elevate them. So like the work Toast the toaster was toast but it was about the feeling of being toasted. Which is also the feeling within a home, a marriage, in life. And to be toasted, and to feel toast. So basically we went through the whole thing of naming the exhibits. Including naming the bar he called it, Bar Bar!
Siddharth: Mrs. Seth, if you had to add a coda to your memoir from the year that it was published, and to now, what would be the most illuminating insight that you would say that you have gained since, that you would like to add.
Leila: You know, when I was in school, there used to be a poem and I think it is the best poem:
Life is merely froth and bubble.
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own.
Siddharth: Bravo. I can see where Vikram gets his poetic grace from.
Siddharth: Finally, Aradhana, your dad is also here. Thank you for coming, Mr Seth. In some sense, he’s been a witness to all of your lives. He’s been the sutradhaar, and the one who watches each of you unravel your stories, somewhat publicly. What is the most profound thing he has said to you about conducting relationships in your life?
Aradhana: I think he is the one who taught me to love and to give. He is a very generous man with his time, with his affection, and his complete support of his family. When I first finished film school, someone asked me to make a film for Nescafe. I went and made a budget for this film, and how it would be shot and what each shot would look like in the film. It was 20 seconds long. I calculated that if I shoot it in X-amount of time I will be fine. If I go over by a day I will have the money to do it from the budget they gave me. If I went over two days, I would be in the red and I was too young and nervous to be in the red. He taught me how to take the risk to say, ‘Just do it’. He said, ‘It’s ok.’ He said, ‘It’s fine’. Also, saying he would cover me basically if I went over. And at that time each shooting day cost 20,000 per day and now each shooting day costs, roughly 75,000. But he covered me. He taught me how to take risks.
Siddharth: And also to be generous with things...
Aradhana: I will never forget, a family friend came over and admired a tie he was wearing. It was a very dapper tie and he had just come back from Europe with it. He said, ‘Why don’t you take it for your boyfriend?’ It wasn’t even for her. She didn’t take it, but I thought it was a very generous offer. These are things you remember. You don’t tell them. You take it all in.
Siddharth: Thank you, Aradhana for your time. And you, Mrs. Seth. What a wonderful conversation.
Our conversation with Leila Seth was first published in our Literature Issue of 2014. This article is a part of Throwback Thursday series where we take you back in time with our substantial article archive.