Fali Nariman: Etched In Memories

George Pothan Poothicote

28 Feb 2024 10:11 AM GMT

  • Fali Nariman: Etched In Memories

    It is just a week since we bid adieu to Mr. Fali Nariman and there is plenty written and spoken about him – This shows how much he influenced us. The loss is still sinking in particularly when you have known him closely, don't expect it and was working with him during his final days.I met Fali on a reference from one of my faculty at King's College, the late Martin Hunter. One fine Saturday...

    It is just a week since we bid adieu to Mr. Fali Nariman and there is plenty written and spoken about him – This shows how much he influenced us. The loss is still sinking in particularly when you have known him closely, don't expect it and was working with him during his final days.

    I met Fali on a reference from one of my faculty at King's College, the late Martin Hunter. One fine Saturday he was speaking at the inaugural session of a conference which I was attending. After the inaugural session, he was surrounded by people introducing themselves and clicking photos with him. I waited and when the crowd subsided, went up to him and introduced myself. He immediately asked me for my card which I didn't have, he immediately took out a paper from his pocket and asked me to write my name and phone number on it. That evening I received a call from his office asking if I could drop by at Mr. Nariman's place the next day. I was there at his place as he just returned from his evening walk, he called me inside introduced me to his wife Mrs. Bapsi Nariman and there was a generous spread of delicacies while he asked me about myself, my LLM, Martin Hunter and much more and finally while leaving, he gave me a signed copy of his autobiography “Before Memory Fades”. This was the first of many interactions and their generous hospitality over the years.

    Fali or Fali sir as he was fondly called was always warm and welcoming, had time for anyone who reached out to him, particularly with a legal query. As our former Attorney General Mr. KK Venugopal, another doyen at the bar puts it, there are only superlatives to describe him. I count myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been closely associated with him and to have benefitted from his guidance. He was a friend, guide and mentor with whom I could converse on any topic under the sun. Many of these conversations though will remain between us!

    Over the last few years, I had the opportunity to meet him as often as possible – and at least once every fortnight. Usually in the evenings after his walk or on Sundays. Our discussions were never limited to the law, we used to discuss cricket, Bollywood, politics and what was happening across world and much more.

    At his place one never felt left out and he would take care of each guest personally and made sure they enjoyed the sumptuous spread laid out. He has never said no to whatever I have asked, in-fact going a step further and guiding me or generating an idea that would actually help me. He has introduced me to numerous people across the world and he used to often mention how former Chief Justice YV Chandrachud used to introduce people into a conversation with the words “... you should be knowing.......”; and that is exactly how he used to introduce me – which gave the people around a feeling that the person he was introducing was important. It was Fali who signed my membership papers and proposed me into the Supreme Court Bar Association

    In 2015 when the Government had sought public comments on the Model BIT, it was during a casual conversation he suggested that the Law Commission should constitute an expert committee and submit a report to the Government. It was his initial idea that led to the Law Commission deliberating on the subject . He also suggested my name to be included in this committee. The 260th report of the Law Commission mentions “The Sub-Committee received valuable guidance from Mr. Fali Sam Nariman, Senior Advocate..”

    Fali Nariman was respected not just in India but world over for his legal acumen and advocacy. He was the counsel for India in the Kishanganga Arbitration where one of them (not from the Indian team), once told me that Mr. Nariman's closing submissions were a treat and they had never seen someone who could make submissions like him. For those who are unaware, he never charged a fee for the case.

    Fali Nariman led the UNCITRAL and PCA initiatives in India as the chair of the UNCITRAL National Coordination Committee (UNCCI) and the PCA-India conference Committee. I as a younger member on these committees always had loads to learn from his dedication and eye for detail even in curating a conference or capacity building exercise.

    The pandemic saw a spike in virtual conferences and panel discussions, and Fali also used to receive invitations to attend these webinars as part of the audience. He used to attend the webinars, sit through them taking copious notes, something I have seen him do during the conferences he attended in person too. This was a rare spectacle where most of us including the younger members of the bar are impatient and wouldn't sit through the deliberations or webinars leave alone take notes. Over time I learnt how these notes could be useful in our profession.

    In 2022, the PCA and the MEA organised a workshop on Investment treaty arbitration for Government officials. Fali had addressed the inaugural and valedictory sessions of the workshop and as always guided us on every aspect of the workshop. The workshop was conducted virtually and some officers wanted to meet “Mr. Fali Nariman”, so I told him about the same and he readily hosted them at his home. He always took an interest in the law students and younger members of the bar and once when someone told him about her relative who was a law student in Kerala, he immediately got a copy of his speech given at the Indian Law Institute-Kerala and gave a copy of it for the young budding lawyer. Another incident was a webinar on arbitration with a Law School, as soon as the webinar was over, he asked me to find out the number of students who attended the webinar and their names, which I did and he sent copies of his book on arbitration to be distributed to the students who attended the webinar.

    He used to ask me about what I was working on and we used to discuss the cases or legal propositions I was working on and he was always there to guide me and help me without even asking for it. These used to be casual discussions over a cup of tea or a delicious meal , and in the following days, I would either receive a call or an email with suggestions on what I should read and how to go about it in my case. One such case was when a bench of 7 judges of the Supreme Court was examining the issue of interplay between the Indian Stamp Act, the Indian Contract Act and the Arbitration Act. The Court in an order invited submissions from interested counsel and a friend of mine and I mentioned this to Fali, and when we met him a few days later he not only suggested that we make submissions, but also gave us an outline of what submissions to make and in the days that followed, he guided us on it. This is one of the many cases where he guided me similarly. There is perhaps not a case or legal issue that I worked on over the last decade, which I did not discuss with him.

    While working on cases, he was a hard task master, but the most generous and gracious in appreciating your point of view and suggestions. Whenever we went to his place to discuss cases, when tea was served – it wasn't easy to concentrate on the work and have tea. He understood that and would change the conversation to something lighter or current affairs and ask us to have our tea and explain about what was served with tea (usually the parsi delicacies) and would ensure that we didn't discuss the case or work until we had our fill, before getting back to work.

    It was always interesting to hear his anecdotes, from his travel to what happened in court and the briefings – he remembered them all including the lawyers who briefed him and what happened in particular cases, how they prepared for it etc. These were not just anecdotes but also lessons for us on how to prepare for a case. It was not just the case files, but he used to also suggest books and articles to read and sometimes certain videos to watch on the internet.

    Until his last he was reading and working. He was preparing for a Constitution bench case likely to be heard in April, telling us how to prepare, what to prepare and how to frame the propositions. I still have the notes and a sheaf of papers which I was to read and go back to discuss with him – sadly that was not to be.

    This is a loss that is irreplaceable especially to those who have known him closely. Life is mortal but those memories remain etched forever.

    Author is an Advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India and High Courts

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