Ray and ice-cream, para and poetry

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  • Published 6.10.04

Mags was a stone?s throw from her Middleton Row hostel. In the late ?40s, she enjoyed playing truant, giving the Irish nuns at Loreto College the slip as her gang ?got drunk? on cr?me de menthe and gorged on Magnolia ice-cream on Park Street. And that?s one of the few stretches that she finds unchanged in the city.

?Do the young girls today still visit the bookshops to sneak a look at the dashing young men of St Xavier?s College?? asked Leila Seth, first woman chief justice of a high court in India, in town with her autobiography On Balance.

Her book, published by Penguin, traces her life through the difficult years after her father?s premature death, her marriage to Premo and life with their three children ? author Vikram Seth, peace activist Shantum and film-maker Aradhana.

?On the anvil for a long time now, I finally decided to get down to typing my autobiography after my grand-daughter Nandini was born,? explained Seth, who had worked as a stenographer, trained in Montessori and only strayed into law while in London with her husband.

On Tuesday afternoon, dressed in elegant green silk with a smudged red bindi, a flashing nose stud and mangalsutra, the 73-year-old travelled down memory lane, gazing out over the rain-swept greens on Palm Avenue, where she was married 50 years ago.

?I tried to locate the building, but the para looks so different, much like the rest of Calcutta, which I left in 1971,? said Seth.

She spoke of her shopping sprees and great buys at Jadubabur Bazar (?New Market was too westernised?), her love of Tagore?s poetry (?but not so much of Rabindrasangeet?), her initiation into Satyajit Ray?s movies through the Apu trilogy (?though I grew to love Charulata the best?).

Between attending a friend?s daughter?s wedding in Salt Lake and eating galda chingri and ilish maachh, Leila Seth will be at Crossword on Wednesday evening for a reading from her autobiography.