The Telegraph
Monday , February 17 , 2014
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Salute to toil & triumph
Pain prompts women to pick up pen

Their journeys were hardly smooth, at least not to become bestsellers.

One of them was bedridden for 13 weeks following an accident and started writing her memoirs, while another just took up a pen and paper in between her daily chores as a housemaid in Gurgaon.

Book lovers at the second Patna Literature Festival were quite fortunate to listen to their stories. Leila Seth, the first woman chief justice of a high court in the country, spent her initial days as a lawyer in Patna. Seth, mother of poet Vikram, who also attended the lit fest in the city, recalled how much she had to struggle even for finding the keys of the courtroom in the morning. “Those days, hardly any woman took law as her career. But I was determined to pursue it even though I had to bring up three children,” said Seth, the first woman to top the Bar exams in London.

Baby Halder, on the other hand, had a different upbringing. “One fine morning, I left my home in Durgapur (Bengal) as I could no longer tolerate my driver husband’s tantrums every night. With my three children, I took a train to Delhi. All I knew that I had to survive,” she said, chronicling her days of extreme struggle in the slums of Gurgaon.

“I got a maid’s job at a bungalow where I started reading. Seeing my interest, my employer, who I call Tatush, gave me a pen and paper and asked me to write my story. I began writing in Bengali,” she said. The rest is history, literally. Her book, Aalo Aandhari, was published in Hindi after her Tatush, Prabodh Kumar, the grandson of Hindi writer Munshi Premchand, translated from her Bengali script in 2002. From the first day itself, it turned out to be a bestseller and it was translated in 21 languages and 13 foreign languages.

“I was afraid the day I landed at Frankfurt Book Fair to launch Aalo Aandhari. But the fear was nothing compared to the domestic violence,” said Baby, who idolises Taslima Nasreen. A documentary based on Baby’s life by Anu Menon was also screened at the lit fest.

Seth’s entry to the world of literature was just by an accident at a Mumbai hotel. She could not move from her bed but penned down her memories in the form of a book, On Balance: An Autobiography. “Balancing was difficult but I tried hard to keep professional and personal lives on a perfect plank,” she said.