I think it was on the occasion of Fali’s ‘50 years at the Bar’ that Ashok Desai began his speech by saying, “Behind every great man, it is said, there is a surprised mother in law” – but quickly went on to say it wasn’t so in Fali’s case, because he knew Mrs. Contractor. He was right. Mrs. Contractor, knowing her daughter, would have known that whoever Bapsi married would have been affectionately coaxed by her to success. Many people believe (and I certainly share their view) that Fali reached the great heights that he did because Bapsi kept the ground on which he stood steadfast.
My association with Bapsi was an old and close one, and has its roots in my friendship with Rohinton, which began in 1973, when we were both in Sriram College. It was, however, in the years 1979, 1980-81, that it reached its high point. In those years I have been a guest at her table on at least 300 odd occasions, as a result of a routine that both Rohinton and I followed. Those were our bachelor days. He was working with Mr. K.K. Venugopal, our present Attorney General, and I was with P.H. Parekh. The routine that we had set for ourselves was that, at least four days in the week, I would land up at the Nariman house for dinner, eat with the family, then Rohinton and I would get into his car and go to the Machan at Taj Mansingh where we would often be joined by our other lawyer friends- Arun Jaitley, Mukul Rohatgi, Anip Sachthey and Rajiv Nayar, after which Rohinton would drop me home.
Bapsi and Fali were the most generous of hosts and, on each of those occasions, one was made to feel welcome and wanted. Bapsi was a great cook and those were her heydays. Those dinners at the Nariman House constitute some of my most abiding and cherished memories. There would often be the five of us- Fali, Bapsi, Rohinton, his sister Anaheeta and me. Fali, who would be a thundering force in court, and a terror in conference, was always jovial, relaxed, witty and supremely happy to be surrounded by his family, eating, with great appreciation, the feast his wife had put together. Come evening, somehow all the tension of the day would have disappeared as far as Fali was concerned, and it was a treat to hear him in the evening, conversing with us in his own brilliantly witty but easy way. That was certainly a house in which, except on questions of law, Bapsi would hold sway. Rohinton always used to joke that “Father may be the Supreme Court but Mother is Parliament”.
Bapsi herself was a person of fierce loyalty and very generous to all she was fond of. I was certainly one of those fortunate ones and, in the early years of my career and even before, more so even than Fali being a Godfather, it was Bapsi who was like a Godmother to me. I remember when I needed admission to Government Law College, I had gone to meet the Nariman’s in Bombay, at the Oberoi, and she spoke to Mr. Rafique Dada (now a Senior Advocate and an eminent Counsel of the Bombay Bar) who was in the room, and a teacher at G.L.C., to see that I got admission.
As I mentioned earlier, not only was she a very good cook, but she also authored a number of books on Parsi cooking, and my wife Manik says hers are the best and easiest recipes to follow. She was musically inclined, an accomplished pianist, and both her son and granddaughters have got their love for music from her. As I said earlier, she was fiercely loyal and combined it with a sense of defending the underdog. Fali used to affectionately refer to this aspect of her personality as “Bapsi’s S.P.C.A. instincts”.
As a mother, she was strict and protective; on the one hand, pushing her children to do better, on the other, protecting them if anyone was unfair to them.
To Fali, she was the perfect foil. While he was diplomatic and would sometimes keep his counsel to himself, even when he was upset, Bapsi was blunt and forthright. She guided him in many of the important decisions he made, and the decision to buy the house, in which they lived, was hers, and perhaps contrary to Fali’s first instinct.
Fali was her universe and she was his. They were a couple where the whole was larger than the sum total of its parts.
Raian Karanjawala is the Founder and Managing Partner of Karanjawala & Co