The two biggest regrets of my life, amongst others (big and small), have been to have never witnessed the late ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh perform live and to have never met the great legal luminary Justice Leila Seth (not necessarily in that order). The former, still keeps me company on nights when I am feeling particularly low (and right now, as I write), the latter has made me who I am today.
Many years ago, as a young bride, my husband was suffering from dengue. Since the disease hits hard on immune system, the patient becomes very weak and the movement is restricted to ensure that platelets don’t fall rapidly; he was bed-ridden and would sleep a lot. I had taken off from office and would sit next to his bed, on the floor reading ‘On Balance’ – the autobiography of Justice Leila Seth. I always enjoy sitting on the cold floor, with my tea getting cold next to me, the slantness of autumn sunlight reducing by every passing hour.
He was sick for a couple of days and in between giving him papaya leaf water and crocin and attending to him, I would read the book. Justice Seth’s autobiography is a must read for all women, irrespective of whether they are lawyers or not. Her insight into relationships, raising children and pursuing career as a litigating lawyer changed my world view. I was still working on the corporate side and very happy with the fixed salary in the 9-6 environment. But, the challenges she overcame, as the country’s few litigating women lawyers practicing in the 1960s in Calcutta High Court and later Patna High Court, was motivating.
Like me, she was a first generation lawyer, with no one in her family remotely linked to legal profession. Like me, she was originally from Lucknow. And many years later, when I started my practice in Supreme Court, the very first day, I had gone to the cafeteria near Library 1 in Supreme Court, to see the place where she stood when the ‘emergency’ was declared and she was informed about the same. Even to this day, my favorite spot in the Supreme Court is that cafeteria where I have my morning cuppa of coffee, before starting my day or in between matters.
Her autobiography is one book that I turn to many times to find answers to legal issues or just issues of life, in general. To me it is my holy book. She motivated me in ways that I can never imagine. This week saw two cases which were women-oriented and I had the honor of filing on behalf of them, one being the famous Hadiya case and the other being the wink actress Priya Prakash Varrier. I have much gratitude for Haris Sir and Usman to have given me the opportunity to file the case; I have Justice Seth to thank also, as it is because of her that I could take the plunge of diving nose-deep into litigation.
Being a woman (and young, unfortunately the greying of hair hasn’t happened as much as I would have wanted, I blame it on my genes as both my parents in their 60s have lush black hair), I am asked many times by my clients about whether or not I can handle their case. And I remember how Justice Seth was called as Leila Babu, a term which was male-equivalent for her clients. Every time, I hear people tell me that Supreme Court is not functioning as it should, I am reminded of how she wrote that Supreme Court has upheld justice in matters where the law was bad. Whereas, the Court has to function within the framework of law laid down, Vishakha Guidelines (On sexual harassment of women at workplace) was one amongst the plethora of judgments, which many years later received legislative enactment.
I still remember how she had given an advice on relationships and said that one must never go to bed, cross with their partner. One must sort out their differences and then sleep. Also, a little known fact about her was that she had four children- 2 sons and 2 daughters. One of the daughters she had for the purpose of adoption by her brother since they were a childless couple. Unfortunately later, when the daughter grew up, she committed suicide. This incident had huge impact on both the brother and sister-in-law, who took very good care of the daughter as also Justice Seth. I can only wonder the trauma the family must have gone through. This speaks volumes about her strength and resilience.
A little known fact about Jagjit Singh is also similar. He and his wife, Chitra Singh, were the most beautiful ghazal singers. I grew up listening to them. I have seen many videos on youtube where both of them perform together and while Jagjit Singh would tease his wife and she would blush, the songs they sang together were full of love. Then many years later, when their son died in a road accident, Chitra Singh stopped singing. Tragedy can bind two very different lives together.
When I got to know about Jagjit Singh’s death, the only regret I had was why I did not buy those tickets to his concert in Siri Fort Auditorium. Each time I meet a fellow ghazal lover, my first question to them is whether they have seen Jagjit Singh perform live? The answer to it is, inevitably, YES and as I listen to that Yes, something inside me dies.
I got to know about Justice Seth’s death through my favorite blogger and writer Mayank Austen Soofie’s blog thedelhiwalla. I was shocked and regretted having never met her and to express my gratitude to her for having found the courage and write the beautiful book, that changed my life.
As I hear Jagjit Singh singing my favorite Sarakti Jaye Hai Rukh Se Naqaab’ contemplating on the next big step that I am about take in my life which is full of risks and an uphill task, I can hear him sing ‘Ahista Ahista’ (slowly, slowly). And I know that in this endeavor too, Justice Seth will guide me and see me through this stretch of life. Rest In Peace, you two. And on behalf of the millions of people whose life you both changed, THANK YOU!