My friend, Imtiaz Ahmed, left us all on 29 April after struggling with Covid-19 for several days. One does not imagine the death of any living person easily or indeed be pushed to do so. As I look back, his special presence, the self-assured demeanor, the gentle cynicism, not easily persuaded about bird-brained schemes that people bring, devoted to Aligarh Muslim University and its alumni, quick to expand on elusive religious doctrines, attentive to prayer— nothing about him indicated that a virus of all things could get the better of him.
He leaves behind a loving, grieving family and innumerable friends from Azamgarh, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Farrukhabad, and the legal fraternity across India. Of course, in Imtiaz Saheb's demise as indeed of the thousands of others, we are left with the perplexing, niggling pain that we have brought this upon us and lost talent that would have served India for long.
Throughout the pandemic last year, I saw little of him as we were all closeted in our homes. This year, he insisted that I visit the Court premises once the Bar Library and the canteen were reopened. As usual, he generously insisted on paying for the cold drinks; long ago I had given up trying to claim my right and duty as Senior Counsel over his determined generosity. A few days later he came to my chambers for a virtual hearing that went off satisfactorily. Unlike his normal practice, he did not leave hurriedly and instead opted to stay on to chat about various matters including the threat of the pandemic. And then I was told that he had been infected.
We were in touch on the phone even when he was on Oxygen supplement and we were looking for matching AB+ plasma. But sadly, every effort of the medical team ultimately failed. He has gone away but must indeed be proud, wherever he is with his Maker, of the unflinching courage and devotion shown by Naghma, his beloved lawyer-wife who shared legal appearances as indeed a wonderful home along with the boys, Zargham and Faraz. How suddenly their world must have stopped with one telephone call from the ICU is heart-rending. Even in the grief one feels, I cannot but vividly see Imtiaz Saheb holding forth to an ethereal audience about mismanagement of Indian polity!
Imtiaz Saheb had once hoped to become a judge, but only fleetingly. Although two Chief Justices of India actively pursued the High Courts recruiting from the Supreme Court Bar, there remained a feeling that periodic appearances before the concerned High Court were necessary. There might have been a momentary disappointment but he loved the Bar so passionately that it is difficult to imagine his bidding goodbye. It is therefore very strange to think that he has indeed bid it goodbye and with it his home family life, that he was equally passionate about.
Having tried many a time to invite him to events late in the evening but seldom having succeeded, I took recourse to add that once he crossed the Jamuna for home after chamber work, he was lost to this part of town. He may have crossed over for the last time but he leaves behind many admirers and a school of young followers who will not forget him, as a benevolent guide and a hard taskmaster. Our Bar is varied and vastly talented and the absence of a colleague should in the normal course be filled by others. But I believe that is not the case with Imtiaz Saheb because he had made a very special place that had a lot to do with his personality. He will therefore continue to be missed both for work and style. Many institutions and helpless persons he looked after over the years, often pro bono, will of course have a special reason to feel his absence. Unfortunately, his plans, known and discreet, will not unfold to add excitement to the routine existence he was always looking for. Amongst the many who conveyed condolence was Chief Justice Khehar who said that he recalled him as a young member of the Bar whose eyes said that he would go places.
As he was laid to rest, the pandemic protocol and the prevailing personal precautions kept the mourners to a bare minimum; many of us could not even carry the bier or put a handful of earth on the grave. Some friends he cared for dearly and others often at the receiving end of his humor joined to bid the final goodbye. In a world already turned impersonal and transactional, this pandemic has forced us into greater distance physically but hopefully not emotionally and spiritually. As we close the graves and light the pyres a hollowness remains. I can only recall the quizzical smile Imtiaz Saheb used to have whenever a much sought for SLP was summarily dismissed. And then, as though to test me, he would say, 'shall we file a review?' Well, this time, in our moment of sorrow there are no reviews or curative petitions except to bow to the Almighty and simply say, 'As the Lord pleases' instead of the usual 'As your Lordships please.'
The Author is a Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India & former Union Minister of External Affairs, Law & Justice