Age had dimmed neither the vigour nor intensity of Fali Nariman

His stentorian voice and forceful delivery, unassailable logic, deep knowledge of the law, assiduous preparation backed by a reputation for unwavering integrity made him an opponent to dread

Updated - February 22, 2024 12:53 am IST

Published - February 21, 2024 02:34 pm IST

 Fali S. Nariman was many splendoured in what he did, so it is impossible to paint a complete picture of the man and his work. File

Fali S. Nariman was many splendoured in what he did, so it is impossible to paint a complete picture of the man and his work. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The country and its legal profession suffered an irreparable loss in the early hours of Wednesday when Fali Sam Nariman crossed the bar to move to the Almighty’s court. He was 95, but age had dimmed neither the vigour nor intensity of the man. His last book was published just a few months back, his article in the Indian Express on the sidelining of Justice Muralidhar co-authored with Justice Madan Lokur and this writer is recent, and his interview with Karan Thapar on the Article 370 case still fresh in memory. “Old lawyers don’t fade away, they just lose their appeal” is a humourism in legal circles, but Fali neither faded nor lost his appeal to the many who loved and respected him.

Nariman was many things and so it is not difficult to write about him. He was many splendoured in what he did, so it is difficult nay impossible to paint a complete picture of the man and his work. As an advocate he was head and shoulders above his peers. His stentorian voice and forceful delivery, unassailable logic, deep knowledge of the law, assiduous preparation backed by a reputation for unwavering integrity made him an opponent to dread. But he was fairness personified in his duty to court and profession, and while he could bring down senior lawyers with ease he was kind and encouraging to juniors. Decades back, when in the Ram Setu case I opened the environmental arguments against the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel before the Chief Justice’s Bench, Nariman was lead counsel for the Govt. When I finished he said, loudly, “Now that is the way a case should be argued”. I prize no encomium more. Since then I have received many kindnesses from this hero of mine, including a sparkling introduction to my book Mediation: Practice and Law.

He was far more than the best lawyer. He was a prolific writer, and his books on law and justice carry a lightness of touch with the depth of mastery from years of engagement and reflection. He was one of the best public speakers, lacing his speeches with anecdotes, wit, and wisdom. Much sought after for public interviews, he was both accessible and articulate. And he was the public intellectual par excellence, who kept standards of probity at a premium. Above all was his attitude to power. He cared a hoot for the power of power, and for those who wielded it wrongly. He delivered two notable slaps in the face - one for Mrs. Gandhi’s government immediately after the Emergency was proclaimed when he resigned as Additional Solicitor General, and another for the Gujarat government after the attack on Christians when he returned its briefs. He was the tallest lawyer in the country, but he never became the Attorney General, no prizes for guessing why.

There is a clarity of mind that comes from exercising the faculty of plainspeak, which is lost to those who fail to speak when they should. Nariman didn’t mince words, he didn’t spare persons who needed to be called out. He called a spade a spade, not a flawed diamond. And the higher the office holder, the sharper the phrase. But anger was less acute than disappointment. For he wasn’t focused on running down a person, his cross hairs were fixed on issue and action and consequence. Secular India had no better champion than him. Parsi himself, born in Rangoon, early years in Bombay, he knew the intrinsic value of the mosaic that this country is, and he abhorred the unichrome. In St. Stephens College case he helped to bring in the law to protect minority educational institutions, and he deeply deplored the failure of the Court to scotch the controversies around places of worship.

He was one of a very select group of those who stood out boldly and strongly, in conviction, attitude, thought, and speech - the League of Extraordinary Legal Gentlemen. With his passing, the candle dims. While our farewells are lacerated with grief, we must remember however that the best tribute we can pay, and the best testament of our love and respect for him is to hold fast to the traditions he exemplified. If we do that, the Old Warrior will rest in peace.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.