Leila Seth, sitting next to her son Vikram, was holding fort and forth in the session, Inheritance and Influence. She spoke about her two moments of extreme worry with regard to him. I was upset when Vikram came home one day to announce that after 15 years of studying economics, he wanted to become a writer, said Leila, in comfortable hindsight. I told him to take up the World Bank job offer, work for five years and then get a pension from them and then start writing. Friends and family would ask Leila what her children do. Considering my daughter was making films, my elder son pottered about in the garden hut, and Vikram was forever upstairs writing, they realised that Mr and Mrs Seth were the only ones who worked in the family, she said to loud laughter.
Leilas other worrisome moment over Vikram happened when he told her about his homosexuality. Yes, I was upset. But when I was 16, I had read a novel about two lesbians, The Well of Loneliness by British author Radclyffe Hall. I felt deeply moved by the pain of a love that couldnt express itself. That book helped me deal with Vikrams homosexuality. On getting a confirmation from Vikram himself that he was now single, the moderator, journalist Sanjib Roy, asked Leila whether she would help find a suitable boy for her son. She told the audience that he did have a special man, and earlier even a special woman, so she was sure that he would find love again.
In the last session of the last day of the Kolkata Literary Meet, the Grand Old Lady of Literature, Mahashweta Devi, regaled the audience with her memories of Rabindranath Tagore during her times at Shantiniketan. She was there in school during the years between 1936 and 1938. I would see him quite often. I told him once, Dont write so many books... To which Gurudev asked me, Youve read all my books? The young Mahashweta shot back, What to do? My father keeps buying all your books. Incidentally, a panelist in the same session, author and diplomat Pavan Varma, not quite a known Tagore scholar or aficionado, had to leave early as he had to attend the Kolkata launch of Suhel Seths book.
INTO THE HEART OF DARKNESS
A day after the black-out at the venue where Imran Khan spoke, the organisers were still figuring out what the fuss was all about. Tridib Chatterjee, secretary of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild which organises the fair, had explained on TV that they had turned off the lights to bring the over-long programme to an end. There was apparently a session with filmmaker Mrinal Sen and actor Madhabi Mukherjee after the Imran Khan session. Sen and Mukherjee were, according to Chatterjee, waiting outside. This explanation turned out to be rubbish for two reasons. One, the guild itself issued a press statement on Monday evening that no switch was flipped but the black-out happened because of the electrical line tripping. Second, Mrinal Sen, when contacted, said that he was nowhere near the Kolkata Book Fair that evening. Oh, and Chatterjee had also mentioned that Imran was tired. That explains why he was cut off by darkness mid-sentence and why he went off immediately after the session to deliver a speech on Tiger Pataudi at a Kolkata hotel.