Writing a Good Life
M.S. Ganesh
ON BALANCE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Leila Seth Penguin/Viking, New Delhi, 2004, 464 pp., 495.00
April 2004, volume 28, No 4

Autobiography and memoir—are they the same? In the subtitle the book is an autobiography, in the author’s preface it is “a memoir”. If you go by the COD, an autobiography is the story writing of one’s own life. But a memoir is just a record of events or history written from personal knowledge or special sources of information. It is only memoirs that become synonymous with (auto) biography.But Seth transcends publisher’s punctilio and editor’s emendation and strikes her own misericord. For she is “Leila, the playful one, engaged in the play of universal energy” (p.3). Her charming smile on the dust jacket is her prelude to the music which, according to her singing teacher, “she will never learn how to sing” (p.12) (emphasis in original). She is modestly self deprecatory. If she could not sing her heart out, she could certainly write it: “I write in English because English is the only language I know well. It is the language in which—unlike my mother—I think and dream” (p.8). And, yet, perversely, of her first visit to England with her husband and their stay in a Tilbury hotel: “One thing that did give me a rather ignoble pleasure was to see Englishmen and Englishwomen cleaning the toilets and the floors.

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