When Abhinav Chandrachud started chasing eminent jurist Mr.Soli Sorabjee, Senior Advocate and former Attorney General for India, to convince him to write latter's autobiography in 2018, he didn't know that he himself will have to write it in the form of a biography a few years later. Soli Sorabjee succumbed to Covid in on 30th April 2021 leaving behind his legacy and an incomplete autobiography.
Stringing together the life of the former Attorney General of India, without him, although challenging, was not exactly impossible. The author had access to 6-7 hours of conversations with Soli Sorabjee and that could hardly be said to be sufficient for any book. Maybe an article but not a book. However, Sorabjee left behind his many conversations in the form of his continuous and consistent writings in newspapers such as Times of India and The Indian Express. These writings, Sorabjee Family Archives, and the various reported cases of Sorabjee form the back bone of 'Soli Sorabjee: Life and Times'.
The book essentially is 170 pages long followed by around 10 pages of Appendix of Sorabjee's well-loved quotes (picked up from his newspaper columns) and followed by another 100 pages of notes pertaining to various chapter. Almost every chapter has at least 130 footnotes pinning down every detail to the last T. At 170 pages though, this book is dense with facts, and it takes time to fully absorb the essence.
We see Sorabjee growing up as a lawyer through all its essential phases. From returning teary eyed after being scolded by Kharshedji in court to teaching his juniors such as Harish Salve important lessons about the profession. For instance, he expected his juniors to prepare a detailed list of dates and facts and also identify legal issues. He taught them about paying close attention to the questions of the court and the nuances of answering such questions. We find many such nuggets of wisdom for young lawyers throughout the book.
Well-loved by the court for his quality of arguments amongst other things, the author has detailed arguments from Sorabjee's important and landmark cases. I relished reading about his shift from customs and excise cases in Bombay to hardcore criminal and constitutional law cases in New Delhi that have turned into classics such as Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia case. In this case many directions were issued with regard to the factors that the courts should bear in mind while deciding cases of anticipatory bail. I particularly enjoyed reading about the SR Bommai Case. A highly contested case, where Bommai had not been given chance to prove his strength in the house through a floor-test. Sorabjee submitted before the Karnataka High Court that the Central government must disclose materials that formed the basis of advice to the President to dissolve the state legislature.
We find mention of various contentious and controversial episodes in Sorabjee's career. The author in his own words has attempted to "not try to conceal Sorabjee's flaws…". Although, Chandrachud highlights such criticisms and contentions, the author's reverential soft corner for Sorabjee is also evident as he never shares any personal/harsh criticism about what he made of Sorabjee's life and times.
The book also explores the non-legal aspects of this Parsi lawyer. His love for poems, poets, parties and pets (read horses and dogs) is well preserved. Reading about his mimicry antics will bring a smile to your face. A voracious reader, Sorabjee's library was referred to by Palkhivala too. Various pictures from the archives have been shared in the book. In one of them, Sorabjee is playing in the clarinet clad in the traditional indoor Parsi costume a muslin shirt and a pair of loose white cotton trousers. His beloved vehicle Dodge appears in more than one image. My favourite is the one in which he is 'leading' Doodal Dandy the horse in the racing grounds.
In a contrast to other biographies, the author also discusses what are in his opinion Sorabjee's shortcomings. It is uncomfortable to read them sometimes when you want to venerate someone. However, they give a well-rounded flavour to the book. The book might seem a bit repetitive at certain places - for instance while discussing about Sorabjee's win-loss record in cases and what it says about the legal system. Other than that, it is a mesmerising read down the memory lane with well researched hard facts.