26 April 2021 9:07 AM GMT
Popular perceptions of Supreme Court judges fall into two brackets. Some view them as being hallowed, demigod figures who possess the power to change fortunes with a stroke of their pen. Others, belonging to a more cynical school of thought, may see them as repositories of hierarchical privilege, whose opinions are out of touch with ground realities. Both perspectives lose sight of...
On April 24, 2021, we lost our beloved Sir, Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar. While obituaries have rightly commented on how the nation has lost one of its sharpest legal minds, we have also lost someone who was a friend, family, and mentor to us - all at the same time. We would like to take this opportunity to reminisce on our experiences clerking with him, and the joy he added to our lives, as shared below. Although any words we write will fall short in capturing what he meant to us, we hope to memorialize the unsurpassable legacy that he left behind, through this tribute.
He hated to see his law clerks worried, upset, or stressed out. He always tried to convince me to take up opportunities for myself, citing my doctor parents. "For you, you should be your own boss. Who cares what others think or do? Did your parents sit there saying hoooooh Lilavati Hospital is so big? No! They are their own bosses!"
Some advice from Sir to all young lawyers reading this: "don't take tension, don't compare yourself with others, if you work hard and keep staying on the good track nothing will stop you - luck will come."
Nupur Raut (2017-2018)
For me he was an exceptional human being in every possible way. He was my second father, and my first father in the legal profession. He was, he is, and he will always be my guiding light. Nupur and I were the first law clerks when he joined as a Supreme Court Judge. His staff members, including the law clerks, were treated like family. From 4, K. Kamraj Lane to 11, Moti Lal Nehru Marg, we created many memories, but never thought that these would come to an end so soon.
He always advised us against taking shortcuts in life, stating that they never gave a long-term result. "Work hard and it will definitely pay off", he would say. He taught us many important things regarding litigation. He never followed anyone's path and tried to create his own path. I remember the last day of my clerkship. He told me, "RAJEEV, work hard, with honesty and sincerity, and do not take any tension. When problems come, solutions will definitely come from somewhere. Don't compare yourself with others. Whatever you are, you are. What others think about you should not affect you." I am speechless right now. He was a fatherly figure to me and I will try to follow whatever I learnt from him.
Rajeev Ranjan (2017-2018)
The lessons of humility, compassion and love that I learnt from Justice Shantanagoudar having worked closely with him, will always be etched in my heart. He truly considered his Law Clerks and interns nothing less than his own children. He wanted us to treat him like our father's brother and see his family like ours. The first advice he gave us was to step into the shoes of a judge of the Supreme Court and work with that zeal, confidence and commitment. More than us merely doing work for him, he was adamant that it should become a learning exercise having some small element of introspective learning about the law or life, which we would discuss extensively on.
Our evening walks, his love for Kerala and Kerala cuisine, the prasad from Thirupati Temple that he brought us after his every visit, and the mentorship that he gave me, are all lasting memories for me. I am blessed and grateful that he was present at my convocation ceremony, and to have received his blessings the day before I enrolled as a lawyer. A great judge and human being, he will live on in our minds forever.
Govind G. Nair (2018-2019)
I joined Justice Shantanagoudar's office in the middle of the Court year and was nervous about re-adjusting to a new office. It took all but 5 minutes with Sir for the nervousness to evaporate and be replaced with a feeling of meeting an old friend. Sir always made the office feel like home, with a constant supply of tasty snacks, often dining with the law clerks and interns and even letting us stay over to attend the Republic Day Parade. Sir always had anecdotes and life lessons to accompany each visit to his office, forging bonds that extended beyond professional relationship. I learnt more from the 6 months with Sir than I did from 5 years of law school, and will always look to him as one of my first mentors in my professional and legal life.
I also recall re-visiting Sir's office after my term had ended to request him for a letter of recommendation for my Masters applications. I thought Sir would be busy and not want to waste too much of his time, but Sir went above and beyond, sitting with me for hours on a Sunday, read, re-reading and editing my letter. I am at a loss for words for how grateful I am to him for this because I would have never reached where I am today if not for his kindness and blessings. The legal fraternity has lost an exemplary human being and I will truly miss him a lot.
Leah Thomas (2018-2019)
Sir loved us law clerks like his own children. From making sure that the girls were escorted while walking to the metro station if alone, to ensuring we never stayed late at the office, he was also looking out for us. No little detail escaped his notice—from tiny errors in proofreading to our discomfort in inadequate lighting (which even prompted a whole redecoration of the clerks' room)! He made the office a safe space for us, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Sir's legal acumen was matched by a strong sense of justice, and although we didn't always see eye to eye, he won most of our legal squabbles. More importantly, he taught me to see perspectives beyond my own narrow judgment of right and wrong, while also providing me every freedom to speak my mind, about work or otherwise.
Sir was as fun-loving as he was hard-working, and wanted us to live like that too. He loved a good laugh, even at his own expense. He would regale us with stories of his early struggles—only to encourage us to never give up, and to always work diligently and honestly. He inspired me to do my best, and will continue to do so forever. I love him and will miss him sorely.
Malvika Kaushik (2018-2020)
It is with great shock and sorrow that I have received the news of the untimely demise of His Lordship, Honourable Mr. Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar. I was privileged to work as Law Clerk cum Research Assistant at His Lordship's office. His Lordship's impeccable knowledge, righteous interpretation of law and fine sense of judgment inspired me to push further beyond my limits and become a judicial officer. His Lordship's deep understanding of law coupled with empathetic and compassionate nature was very much evident from the working environment and culture that existed at His Lordship's office. His Lordship has always motivated me to strive for excellence and work to the best of my abilities. His Lordship's dedicated tutorship and unrelenting discipline formed the bulk of my life's foundation. I pay my tribute to the divine soul and will always try to follow the footprints laid down by His Lordship.
Mimoh Yadav (2018)
He is someone who treated us (Law Clerks) as his very own children, from making sure we always ate on time, to buying us new clothes for Deepavali since we were away from home. He always made us feel comfortable and homely. I fondly remember the life lessons he imparted through stories and anecdotes at the "snacks table" almost every evening, post court hours and before we got onto our files.
One evening when Justice Shantanagoudar and I went for a walk to Lodhi Garden, apart from all the fun and jokes, he told me the importance of always preparing a brief note for every matter that I were to work on after I started practicing as an advocate, by briefly listing out the important facts, contentions and the points to be relied on, along with page references. I very recently argued my first matter and did exactly that. It certainly helped me feel a lot more prepared and confident. I feel so grateful to have learned so much from him, not just as a Judge, but also as a wonderful human being and mentor.
Aditya Prasad (2019-2020)
One of the first things Sir said to me was, "We will work here as a family, OK? Just be happy, that is the most important thing. Everything else can come later." He was a big proponent of work-life balance for his law clerks, a balance that was unattainable for him as a Supreme Court judge.
The things that will always stay with me are his passion for life and his infectious laughter. He was very down to earth, and did not like the feeling of being a judge outside the work context. He once told us of the time he visited a war memorial in Kargil with his wife and daughter after being elevated to the Supreme Court. The army official in-charge had been informed about his visit by Sir's security staff. When Sir arrived there, a set of armed guards was waiting to give him a formal gun-salute. "I was dressed in casual clothes. I did not know that guy would do something like this! I felt so embarrassed!", he said, as he broke into a chuckle.
Ashwin Pantula (2019-2020)
Sir often called me 'Mamta' instead of Megha. Mamta was the name of a former staffer. When we enquired as to the reason for the mix-up, he said, "You are very kind and you take care of others. Hence Mamta suits you." It was one of the rare occasions someone had defined me beyond my grades or productivity. That was Sir's USP – someone who always looked for the potential in his law clerks. He was more like a father figure than a "boss/employer". Even in court, he would always encourage junior lawyers to argue independently.
Having him join us for evening snacks used to be the highlight of my day. For a first-generation lawyer, hearing him share his struggles, and his insights into the legal profession, was immensely valuable. Though I had no family in Delhi, I never felt homesick in his presence. When my co-clerks organized a birthday celebration for me, he enthusiastically played Musical Chairs with us, and made us dance to Kannada songs! He frequently asked me to give "light-hearted" movie recommendations. He retained his light-hearted personality even in the face of overwhelming personal difficulties last year. I hope he's having his trademark jolly laugh wherever he is.
Megha Mehta (2019-present)
From the first time I met Sir, it was hard to not get taken in by his kind and affectionate nature. He made office effortlessly feel like home. No matter how much work he had, he always found a way to make us feel seen and cared for. When I'd sometimes go into his office to drop briefs, though Sir would be deep in his reading, right before I made my way out, he would look up with a warm smile and ask "How are you?" and off we would go onto discuss the events of Court from the day.
Through the numerous anecdotes from his early days at the bar and the Bench, which he narrated with wit and humour, he taught me more about life and the law than anything else had. His mantra was work hard, be kind and honest, and good things will eventually come. Always ready with encouragement, his words are etched in my mind. Wherever he is, I know that he will always be watching over us with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
Nikita Garg (2019-2020)
My favorite memory of Sir is from my first day at work. It was my first job, everything was new, and I was nervous about stepping out of law school and into the workings of the Supreme Court. The effort Sir made to not just put me at ease, but actively make me feel like an integral part of the office surprised me. He made sure to tell me I should treat him like a father figure, and gave me an important piece of advice I still find difficult to follow – that the only thing that matters is that I enjoy the job, whether it be at the Supreme Court or elsewhere. True to his nature, he always insisted that we come to him with our worries, professional or personal. He had the unique ability to always and naturally care about the little things – never forgetting to ask me how I am doing before jumping into complex discussions of the law on a matter, how that enrolment application went, or whether I forgot to have my meal on a hectic day of work.
This attention to the inane details of his law clerks' lives, even over the last few months, as he struggled with his health while managing his responsibilities as a judge - is something that we will all remember him fondly for.
Hrishika Jain (2020-present)
Before the term started, I visited Sir at his Bangalore residence. While asking me about my background and life in general, he was thrilled to learn that I had grown up in Bangalore and laughed heartily as he quizzed me on my (broken) Kannada. He told me that as a fellow South Indian, I'd never go hungry in his house as I could always get myself a plate of "Sambar Anna". I remember thinking to myself that I was incredibly lucky that my boss was not only a fine legal mind but also a kind and genuine human being. In the months that followed, Sir treated us law clerks with utmost warmth and respect. Over the last one year, due to Covid, we were working remotely and Sir mostly communicated with us over the phone. He'd begin every conversation with "How are you?" and end it with "take care". It showed that he genuinely cared about his law clerks as people. He placed a lot of confidence in his law clerks and truly treated us as equal legal minds.
Once when I had done some research on a matter and expressed my opinion to him, he politely disagreed and asked me to read up further. The next morning, he phoned me to say that the opinion I had expressed to him was indeed correct. He even went on to unabashedly say that "I was wrong, you were right!" It is his genuine concern and humility that made him such an easy and delightful person to work with and learn from.
Medha Damojipurapu (2020-present)
I remember Sir as a person full of warmth, life, love, and care. I met him for the first time in February 2021, more than six months after I had started working for him as a law clerk. However, he was in constant touch with the clerks and would always give me a ring whenever I faced difficulties in my personal life. He sent me repeated messages telling me not to worry about work when I had to undergo a surgery. He looked out for us in ways that went beyond his call of duty. I recall with fondness my first day in office. He met me and said, "Be comfortable. We are all one family. Call the kitchen if you want to eat anything." Ram Bhaiya (from the kitchen staff) had called me thrice that day asking if I wanted something to eat since Sir had been constantly prodding him to provide me with good food. Our afternoon conversations would always begin with him enquiring if I had had my lunch; similar to what my father does. He wholeheartedly meant it when he said, "I am your Chikkappa."
Nivedhitha K. (2020-present)
Also Read : Remembering Justice Mohan Shantanagoudar Through His Judgments