Notes on life and law by the timeless— Soli Sorabjee

The conclusion of the proceedings led to light banter with Mr Sorabjee telling the chair that his age could be well pegged as 65 years. Then came the book release. It was indeed a supreme privilege to witness such an eloquent book discussion.

Written by Ranjit Malhotra

The birthday card sent out by the Sorabjee family announced with pride the celebration of the 91st birthday of the evergreen Soli J Sorabjee, and the release of a Festschrift in his honour.

The venerable distinguished former attorney general of India needs no introduction. The venue. His much loved and cherished second Delhi home. The India International Centre. This was on the evening of March 9, 2021.

Unfortunately, his birthday celebration of last year which was scheduled on March 17, had to be postponed in view of Covid-19 and he was quite disappointed about the same.

It is so hard to describe such an iconic personality like him. First of all, he is a wonderful human being. We all know of him as a jurist, man lettered in law, immaculate orator with a sparkling sense of humour peppered with such silken finesse.

Those of his friends who are closely associated with him cherish his compassion and empathy for mankind. Many music lovers dote on him as the jazz aficionado. And of course, the list is endless. Can easily stretch upto Daunt’s, one of his favourite bookshops on Marylebone High Street in London, and Blackwell’s, the famous book store in Oxford if
not more.

The high point of the magnificent celebrations was a powerful lively riveting 45 minutes book discussion chaired by Justice R F Nariman, senior Hon’ble judge of the Supreme Court of India. Only two people sat on the dais of the multipurpose hall at the IIC.

The young birthday boy and Justice Nariman, chair of the proceedings of the book launch. Actually, much more than that. Justice Nariman very eloquently chiselled fond memories of Mr Sorabjee’s lifelong illustrious innings at the Bar and personal fond memories of close friends deeply associated with him from his very young college days and yesteryears.

Given the time constraints, the judicial jockey skillfully navigated cherry picking with a jeweller’s focus from the reminiscences portion of the book. The audience sat with rapt attention and the hall resonating with laughter at frequent intervals on the recall of hilarious moments in Mr Sorabjee’s illustrious journey so far.

Clearly, Mr Sorabjee also stood catapulted into the era of his glorious journey both inside and outside the court room. Bringing so much happiness on his face and occasionally he would very gently nudge the Hon’ble judge. Leading the steer to further anecdotes of golden era.

But what was so touching was the electrifying elucidation of the journey of Mr Sorabjee from his young days as a law student at the Bombay Law College and recalling the collective strength and contribution of his equally illustrious peers.

From the high octane discussion, it clearly emanated that the legends of the legal world from Bombay who subsequently in point of time made Delhi their home, were actually the real pillars of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

Much like the basic structure doctrine, consistently contributing to landmark decisions, important jurisprudence and setting in stone a very high bar for the legal world.

The conclusion of the proceedings led to light banter with Mr Sorabjee telling the chair that his age could be well pegged as 65 years. Then came the book release. It was indeed a supreme privilege to witness such an eloquent book discussion.

The preface of the book by the young distinguished author informs the reader that the said book contains his articles and speeches delivered by him over a period of time with a very meaningful caveat — “It will be a useful read for judges, practising lawyers, professors and teachers of law and my critics.”

The book actually plugs very well for a biography. Indeed, this treatise is a rich unrivalled harvest of the rich experience and wisdom of one golden generation.

Certainly, to be enlightened by this rare compendium is a must for every student of law. Young and not so young as well. Such powerful reflections will not be taught in any law school or court room.

The first 484 pages of the book are neatly divided into the brilliantly analytical work of the author looking at the following areas of law: freedom of speech and expression, fundamental rights and duties, human rights a subject very close to his heart, Constitution of India, rule of law, judiciary, democracy, Supreme Court of India and his favourite high court, Bombay High Court.

Pages 485 to 517 dwell upon the fond remembrances of our young invaluable jewel of the profoundly revered Parsi community.

Coming to the other end of the prism, there are 25 short chapters as Reminiscences running from pages 523 to 567 of the book mostly eminent personalities from the legal profession who have a close personal association with him.

The icing on the cake are the photographic memories from pages 569 to 576. Coming to the cake, the chef at the IIC had prepared a chocolate cake with a law book and a neat edible brown gavel firmly placed on top.

Before I sign off. I will plagiarise the conclusion of my small article at pages 562 – 563 of the book: “He is an unrivalled multidisciplinary sommelier of finesse. Not only a Silk. But silken and impeccable. Unfortunately, his tribe cannot increase. He is like the Ambassador car. Not manufactured anymore at all. If there were to be a Nobel prize in law, the jury would have a baked pie before them. And, I now rest my case.”

(The author has contributed a chapter in the Reminiscences part of the book)

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