It is not often that you find people who achieve the pinnacle of one’s profession and live to see it. Mr.Nariman, the godfather of Indian bar is one such exception. The very name evokes awe in the minds of many who are a part of the bar and it without any surprises also includes judges who are on the other side of the bar. My first experience of him happened when I was present in the court during his arguments against the proposed NJAC in Supreme Court. I must say there is a quality to his voice and tenor that made me think of Richard Attenborough for a moment. In comparison to the commanding opposition of the Attoney General Mr.Mukul Rohatgi, it was a mellifluous performance that one does not get to witness very often. It is sad that this incandescent voice of the bar is fading due to old age. Naturally as an aspiring member of the bar I picked up this autobiography of his at my first opportunity. With some unexpected eagerness, with which I generally am not associated with for biographies, I started reading the genius of a lawyer’s life. The first few chapters of the book fulfilling my expectations was about his personal life, written in an interesting way laced with sufficient humour to interest the reader. From these pages it is clear that he is from a somewhat well to do background. His professional pedigree too is from the best of stables in the country, chambers of Sir Jamsedji Kanga, of which other stalwarts of the profession like Palkhiwala, Seervai too are a part of. It is actually surprising that even at this age he remembers many interesting incidents at the bar that he fondly reminisces in this book. This part of the book moves without many surprises but with much more gentle humours making it a fast paced interesting albeit not so exciting read altogether.

The real turn in the whole book comes at the stage of his life when he accepts the post of Additional Solicitor General of India and shifts his residence to New Delhi. It happened during the time period when the whole country was at the cusp of radical change of times that will take it into one of most turbulent times that independent India is yet to go through. It was when he was holding this position that the ‘phony’ emergency, as he calls it, was declared in the country, leading to him resigning the post as a form of protest. Considering the then prevailing circumstances when there existed no security even for one’s own life, it was one of the bravest moves that this country has witnessed. As a matter of fact his resignation invited the much needed public attention to the negative effects of the emergency. This particular chapter gives some interesting insight into the mind of the man who mustered the courage to take such a step.

One of the opportunities that Nariman seems to have missed is to appear in the famous Fundamental Rights case (Keshavananda Barati Vs Union of India). His participation in that matter, apart from being a valuable contribution in the case, would have spiced up the reading a little more. The life of a towering personality like him will inevitably touch upon certain watershed moments of Indian judiciary for it is him who played an active role in crafting the outcome of certain number of those pages of history. The subsequent chapters of the book take a definite turn in its tenor and content when he starts to delve into few of those instances. Fraught with controversies even to this day, his decision to defend the Union Carbide in the massive litigation initiated after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy is one such instance. Interestingly he seeks he seeks to justify his stance through this book. Prior to the litigation his reputation for the cause of human rights was internationally celebrated, no less due to his decision not to continue in the post of law officer when the emergency was declared. His reputation in this regard also caused to raise many an eyebrows when he appeared as the lead counsel to defend Union Carbide. In this chapter he explains at length the reality, for much information available to the public are emotionally prejudiced. This chapter in particular helped me no less in understanding several questions that many lawyers are posed in their professional life. Much of the detractors of this decision of Nariman were emotionally opinionated judging him unfairly. But through this chapter he puts up a formidable defence explaining his stance rationally. He has even reproduced two letters (one by renowned Professor Upendra Baxi) that were addressed to him questioning this decision of his. Even prior to reading this book I had several doubts that existed over the role that a lawyer plays in any judicial proceedings. Two extreme forms of reasoning can be had for this question. In one form he is seen as someone who can appear on behalf of anyone that he pleases and in the other he has to judge the cause before entering his appearance. Gandhi, as a lawyer chose the second path. He rejected any cause which he believed is not just. This reasoning of Gandhi is somewhat irrational, for he judges upon the cause of a person even before he is afforded an opportunity before the court. The detractors of this decision of Nariman too sound the like. This reasoning may somewhat put the lawyering as anything for money profession, but the role of a lawyer in judiciary itself calls for it. I personally am not able to see any incongruity in this reasoning and I find it to be rationally robust. As this subject needs separate detailed critical examination I shall refrain from digging further on this. Apart from justification or rather explanation that he offers for his stance in this controversial case, he also offers many judicial solutions to work out of such intricate situations which create difficulties both judicially and emotionally. It does seem to look a little out of place since he himself was and always has been in a veritable position to make such changes. In one page he even offers somewhat of an explanation to this as well, albeit not so convincingly.

The next important chapter is where he narrates his experience as a nominated member of Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of the Parliament. How much ever he seems to have loved it and portrayed it to be a very useful stint as the member, one cannot escape the feeling that his membership was not of much consequence. This is definitely not a surprising when considering the fact that he is nominated member without any party affiliations. Within the political landscape that is fraught with ulterior political motives in every move made, there is little that a sole member can do without the support of major parties on the floor. At its very best his membership did indeed offer the infusion of intellect in the debates held on the floor, sufficing the purpose of his nomination for the membership.

Throughout the passages one can witness the passion that this man holds for this profession. It is hard to miss that in those seemingly autobiographical passages is hidden the man’s eagerness to deliver the message about the ideals for which the profession of advocacy stands for. Hidden is his lament over the disgraceful fall of standards. Nevertheless, more than his reminiscences about the yesteryear members of the bar, who upheld the ideals of the profession, the man himself stands as an exemplar for the wannabes. One thing that I sorely missed in the book is the absence of any interesting information about his maverick of a son Rohinton Nariman. It would have been interesting, personally, to know a little more about the life of Rohinton, whose trailblazing performance as a judge in Supreme Court is raising the standards in the Indian judiciary. All in all this is an extremely interesting read and well serves as an inspiration for aspiring lawyers and lawyers alike.

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