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Zeroing in on a book to utilise my last available credit on Audible, a recommendation popped up – God Save the Hon'ble Supreme Court. Authored by the great Fali S. Nariman, it was a matter of plain fortuity for me to have started listening to that particular audiobook merely a few hours before the sombre news broke. As luck would have it, the next morning brought with it a barrage of notifications – 'Eminent jurist Fali S. Nariman passes away'. It felt oddly personal and even disheartening.

My mind instantly went back to Mr. Nariman’s incredible autobiography Before Memory Fades. With his brilliant acuity and wit, Mr. Nariman began by quoting G.K. Chesterton: “Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of the opinion that I was born on 29th May 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington.” In his words, therefore, he had been ‘reliably informed and brought up to believe’ that he was born on the 10th day of January, 1929, at the General Hospital far away from mainland India in Yangon (then Rangoon in British-India Burma). Born during a very disruptive period of geopolitical realignment in Rangoon, it is likely that the first memories of a young Mr. Nariman would have involved the World War II that had just broken out.

Within a week of Japan’s declaration of war over the Allied Powers in 1941, Rangoon was targeted with incessant bombing. The rampaging Japanese Army’s invasion forced the Narimans to shift out from their home to a town up north – Mandalay. From there, the Narimans were forced to embark on a gruelling migration involving a long, twenty-one days’ overland journey through dense forests and mountainous terrain to reach Imphal. They were compelled to use all conceivable modes of transport including a bullock cart, a country boat, and barefoot as well. It would not be far-fetched to then say that the Japanese invasion of Burma during the horrific World War II had a huge role to play in India gaining a truly towering and indomitable personality in Mr. Nariman. As he would later point out on multiple occasions, Mr. Nariman’s arrival in New Delhi marked the first turning point in his life – ‘landing as a refugee from Burma, uprooted from hearth and home.’ Experiencing such adversity, uprooting and readjusting to a whole new way of living at the brink of teenage must have had a significant impact in shaping Mr. Nariman the way it did and preparing him for the challenges life would inevitably throw at him.

In what would seem synchronised in many ways, both – Mr. Nariman as an individual and India as a nation – entered a new phase of their lives and existence in the year 1947. With his enrolment in the prestigious Government Law College in Bombay, he spent three years enriching himself with the wisdom of its part-time lecturers Nani Palkhivala (India’s courtroom genius), Y. V. Chandrachud (India’s longest-service Chief Justice) and Jal Vimadalal (one of Bombay High Court’s finest judges), who were all practising lawyers at the Bombay High Court in those days. It was through the lectures delivered by these three behemoths of law that he imbibed not just legal knowledge but – more importantly – an enduring love for the law as well.

The next turning point in his life was when he joined the Bombay Bar in 1950 and secured a position with Bombay’s (and perhaps, India’s) most prestigious chambers of the time – the Chambers of Sir Jamshedji Kanga. Rubbing shoulders with accomplished and astute geniuses like Sam P. Bharucha (later Chief Justice of India), H. M. Seervai (India’s best-known constitutional lawyer), Khurshedji H. Bhabha and Soli Sorabjee (two years Mr. Nariman’s junior from GLC Bombay), Mr. Nariman learnt the tricks of the trade that held him in good stead over his seven decades-long career in law. Among the many briefs that he handled, a particularly special one for Mr. Nariman was a Suit before Justice Tarkunde in the Bombay High Court of 1960s. It was special to him not because he was commended by the judge for his stellar performance as a young lawyer, but because his mentor, Sir Jamshedji Kanga, appeared with Mr. Nariman in the matter. It was to be the last case that Sir Jamshedji Kanga would ever appear in. (In a fascinating coincidence, the coming year 2025 commemorates the 150th birth anniversary of Sir Jamshedji Kanga.)

Among the many wonderful qualities that Mr. Nariman will always be known for, the ability to look within, calling a spade a spade with courage and standing firm with one’s inner belief and values is what came to define him. In protest of the Emergency imposed in 1975, Mr. Nariman did not hesitate once before submitting his resignation from the post of Additional Solicitor General. At that point, he was an experienced advocate of 46 years, reaching the pinnacle of success in the profession, serving as the only Additional Solicitor General at the time, with the promise of the job of Solicitor-General in the near future. To have had all that within reach and yet choosing to resign from the post was a testament to the unwavering character and courage. He did not hesitate to do what was right, even if it came at a cost.

Although his autobiography, in my opinion, is a must-read for aficionados of the legal profession, the manner in which Mr. Nariman has penned the concluding chapter, aptly titled ‘The Finishing Canter’, is particularly beautiful. Quoting his mentor Jamshedji Kanga, Mr. Nariman wrote: "The riders in a race do not stop short when they reach the goal. There is a little finishing canter before coming to a standstill. There is time to hear the kind voice of friends and to say to one's self, 'the work is done'. But just as one says that, the answer comes: the race is over, but the work never is done while the power to work remains. The canter that brings you to a standstill need not be only coming to rest. It cannot be, while you still live. For to live is to function. That is all there is in living." Incredibly powerful words to have lived, or rather 'functioned by'. With honesty that is inspiring, Mr. Nariman further adds: "At this ripe old age, besides family and staff, what sustains me are two things. First and frankly, the possibility and the thrill (even now) of winning a difficult case ('The race is over, but the work is never done while the power to work remains!') and second, the affection of all my colleagues at the Bar (young and old) whose company I greatly value and enjoy."

It is to this wide pool of affection being showered upon the great stalwart that I lend my voice as well. Regarded as the foremost legal luminary of his era, Mr. Nariman’s poised demeanour, strong character and love for the law shall continue to inspire many generations of lawyers, young and old. While our community and nation mourn the loss of a paragon of righteousness, courage, independent thought, and fearless self-reflection, the legacy of Mr. Fali S. Nariman’s ideas and principles shall remain etched in both our memories and our hearts.


In The Fullness of Time

The Unparalleled Legacy of Mr. Fali Sam Nariman

Mar 30, 2024
Kumar Ritwik

About the Author


Kumar Ritwik

Kumar Ritwik is a judicial clerk working in the Supreme Court of India. Earlier, he was practising in the High Courts of Delhi & Patna and has worked with the Election Commission of India in the past. Feedback & suggestions are welcomed at:

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