City Library – Late Leila Seth’s Private Study, Noida Sector 15A
A vanishing world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla is in the private study of Justice Leila Seth, who died four months ago (5 May 2017).
This quiet room, redolent with memory, “was her heart and head,” explains daughter Aradhana. A film-maker and photographer, she fondly recalls her mother’s expansive reading tastes. They spill over genres as we scan the shelves, covering the entire gamut from John Grisham to Mulk Raj Anand.
We’re joined briefly by Leila Seth’s husband Prem, entering the study after a very long period. He sits down for a few minutes and then leaves, uttering not a single word. “It was really mum’s space, you know, with absolutely all the books she’s ever read,” says Aradhana.
As you’d expect, there’s more than one edition of A Suitable Boy — the famous novel written by her eldest son Vikram. Racks and racks are lined with almost every book that’s been the talk of the town in the last few years. Mrs Seth found herself at virtually every notable book launch in the capital until her stroke last August.
She was 86.
Hanging on the door of the study are drawings by her two granddaughters Nandini and Anamikamaitri (they are her younger son Shantum’s daughters), but of course a huge library can’t be contained in just the study itself. Throughout this bungalow in Noida Sector 15A you find tomes and tomes dealing with law.
Leila Seth, after all, was a judge. She first became a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn, London. She went on to become the first woman’s judge in Delhi High Court, and, later, Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court.
“Mum originally wanted to be a nun,” says Aradhana, who points out that her mother essentially was a Loreto girl. Leila Seth did her schooling at the all-girls Loreto Convent in Darjeeling, and then graduating from Loreto College in Calcutta.
But Leila Seth moved into an entirely different arena, reflected by a bookshelf with massive folders marked “Child Adoption”, “Communal Harmony” and “Talking of Justice.”
There’s pile of old suitcases, right there in the study, acquired in England sometime in the 1970s, containing all manner of documents.
Now Aradhana sits in her mother’s chair, trying it out. The seat is giving her a new perspective of the room. Before, she always sat on the chair on which we are sitting.
I spy a piano just outside the study. It is covered with a black cloth. “Vikram bhayya would sometimes play after dinner,” says Aradhana. These days the novelist is at work on his new book. We don’t see him during our visit but we’re joined by an assistant, bearing a tray of tea cups. During the 14 years that Basanti has worked in the home, she’s been responsible for looking after Mrs Seth’s hand-woven saris.
“We intend to give some of them away to people dear to Mum,” says Aradhana. But before that, each and every sari will be photographed.
What about the books themselves? And the study?
Aradhana pauses. She feels it can’t ever be somebody else’s room. “Her living room can be many people’s room, but her study was hers… I think this will stay as it is.”
Souvenirs of a life