“Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet. Let it not be a death but completeness. Let love melt into memory and pain into songs. Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest. Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the […]

“Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.”
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore

I cannot do better than open my eulogy with the immortal words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, uttered ex tempore in a national radio broadcast shortly after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on 30th January, 1948, “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.” Fali Sam Nariman, whom I affectionately called “Uncle Fali”, the undisputed leader of the Indian Bar, is no more! I really do not know what to say or how to say it. At such a time, it seems vain to try to express one’s feelings..they are all too overwhelming!

I had the privilege of knowing Uncle Fali intimately for more than 50 long years and his taking leave of us, despite his advanced age of 95 years, is a matter of personal tragedy for me. I always looked upon him with the utmost reverence as a warm and sensitive father figure! Uncle by his personality, his example and his ready helping hand over so many years had endeared himself to all of us in a truly magnificent manner. He was a perfect gentleman, a graceful, gracious and well meaning soul with a golden heart and a well disciplined health freak who was always in the pink of condition! I believe he went for his daily unfailing evening walk in the park adjacent to his residence even on the day before his death! One of the most remarkable qualities he possessed was his complete lack of prejudice and the warm welcome which he spontaneously gave to anyone and everyone who visited him at his residence and to young people and new and novel ideas. Right from the very moment I met Uncle for the very first time, I conceived a deep and abiding admiration for his razor sharp intellect, his tireless zest for work, his superlative literary skills, his discernible pertinacity, his innate simplicity and his disarming personal charm. Uncle was an exceptional person with a brilliant and wonderfully elegant mind. He was the perfect combination of intellect, integrity, spirituality, humanity and humility. None of us could enter his presence without being aware both of his warmth, grace and dignity and of his handsome “Prince Charming” looks, reminiscent of English aristocrats of days of yore, and effervescent smile. He was always dressed immaculately, complete with bespoke tailored coats, blazers and suits, Tam O Shanter berets, and well clipped suspenders! He was a veritable rock of principle, not starry-eyed about the law but conscious that it reflected deep values that we abandon so recklessly at our own peril. Very much like my old departed friend and well wisher Lord Alfred Denning who lived a full and meaningful life of more than a century, Uncle combined “a love of liberty with a passion for justice.” And his contribution to the development of the law in all its diversity has been absolutely phenomenal. Here was a Fali; when comes another”?

Uncle Fali always considered me as his own son and was never tired of lauding what he always described as my “encyclopaedic memory”, my passionate mimicry of Jawaharlal Nehru’s speeches and my effortless command over the English language and my easy familiarity with the nuances of western classical music. I will never ever forget the long, relaxing, leisurely walks Uncle and I used to often take in the idyllic Lodhi Gardens in Delhi (landscaped by Lady Willingdon, wife of the Governor-General of India, Marquess of Willingdon, and re-landscaped by the prodigious American architect Joseph Allen Stein!), in an Elysian environment with his beloved wife Aunt Bapsi (I used to always call her “Aunt Bapsi”!) and his ill tempered, fearsome dog Bobo in tow.

If I were to share my myriad reminiscences and the unforgettable memories and incidents connected with Uncle Fali in my mind, I can keep on writing and yet I will fall short. And yet, in a moment of helpless nostalgia, my mind irresistibly goes back to some of the innumerable magical moments I had the privilege of sharing with Uncle over the years :
1.After I joined the profession, I used to often accompany my redoubtable Guru and Senior Asoke Sen, whom I fondly called “Asoke Mamu”, to Uncle’s immaculately groomed Chambers in the Bombay High Court during the lunch recess to savour the tongue tickling home cooked Parsi delicacies that Aunt Bapsi used to not only personally prepare and bring over to the Chambers in wicker baskets but serve all of us in style with her own graceful hands like the proverbial cheerful ministering angel. The sheer quality and variety of the food and in particular the Lagan Nu Custard and sandwich ice cream (that far surpassed the creations of K. Rustom of Churchgate fame!), and Chicken Farcha and Khaman na Lavda, were simply mind boggling. Even though we used to invariably stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel on Apollo Bunder, a stone throw’s distance from the High Court, Uncle’s lunchtime fare prepared by Aunt had an irresistible centripetal appeal and was to us ambrosial. The extra-ordinary “Navsari” cuisine with its distinctive ‘khattu-mithu’ flavour was a veritable treat for a young struggling lawyer like myself whose gastronome senior was never tired of telling him, “The lighter the lunch, the better is the performance in court. This rule does not apply to a versatile Parsi lawyer like Fali blessed with a gourmet wife like Bapsi! Never tell anyone that you have attended the Chambers of Asoke Sen…tell them you have attended the stables of Asoke Sen where you were whipped to perfection on the sparsest of lunches.”

2.Whenever I used to attend conferences at his residence, Uncle used to unfailingly make it a point to do two things – firstly keep me at a safe distance away from Bobo who used to normally sit under his study table next to his feet and more often than not snap at the feet of any unwary visitor, lawyer or client with his sharp mouselike teeth without any prior warning whatsoever; and secondly whisper into my ears, even in the midst of an intense conference, “go inside for a while..Bapsi has made something very special for you”. And I used to disappear from the scene momentarily to gorge on the cakes, puddings and other savouries Aunt used to serve me lovingly along with hot sizzling tea in Wedgewood Stonehenge Midwinter plates and tea cups! Thanks to Uncle, she always had a special culinary surprise waiting for me!

3.In the year 1985, Uncle Fali hosted a breezy poolside birthday party for his mother Banoo Nariman, who hailed from the famed Burjorjee family of Calicut, at the Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai. At the party, we not only let our hair down effortlessly but danced till the wee hours of the morning. And Aunt Bapsi planned out the food and drinks for the occasion in her own characteristically inimitable style. And no description of the Narimans can be complete without a reference to the glorious lineage of Aunt Bapsi whom Uncle married in 1955, a year after my birth. Her paternal grandfather Khan Saheb Sorabji Ruttonjee Contractor was a builder par excellence who had built the imposing Gateway of India at Apollo Bunder and the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel, including its famous architectural marvel – the central floating staircase!

4.When I attended Uncle’s daughter Anaheeta’s post wedding reception in the well manicured lawns of the Ambassador Hotel, I presented Anaheeta a dazzling piece of Dresden China porcelain featuring a Baroque couple playing chess on a table with the timeless quote of the venerable Persian polymath Omar Khayyam penned calligraphically in my own hand on glazed paper :
“Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.”
A few days thereafter, I noticed the very same piece resting atop Aunt’s upright piano in the drawing room whereupon Uncle told me nonchalantly, “Bapsi liked the present you gave Anaheeta so much that she decided to keep it for myself and place it upon her piano.” The upright piano has since gone but the porcelain figures continue to play chess atop a chest of wooden drawers!

Going back to the reception, Uncle gave me a terse order – “Ask Rajindera to stuff all the Bengali judges and lawyers with Rasgullas!” And Rajindera Kumar, the charismatic owner of the hotel and my very dear friend, churned out delectable spongy Rasgullas literally like rabbits out of an adroit magician’s hat…the likes of which put Kolkata Rasgullas to abject shame!

On the occasion of Uncle Fali’s 90th birthday, I wrote a long letter to him and wished him in the following words – “It’s indeed a long stretch between your first birthday in 1930 which you celebrated in the double storied bungalow called “Kennedy House” which your beloved father Sam had rented near the idyllic Royal Lakes in Rangoon and the 90th one, but you will realise that you have seen all the ups and downs of fate and fortune and have indeed come a long way since that first birthday! In this context, I am fully aware of the arduous overland journey you undertook to India from Mandalay at an early age to escape war ravaged Burma munching biscuits and sweets thoughtfully carried by your mother and were even chased by trampling “shambas” or elephants enroute to India. However that may be and whatever may befall, I am sure you will never forget the emotions of this day or be able to express your gratitude to the wonderful members of your truly fascinating family and your friends and comrades (both from the legal profession and beyond!), with whom and for whom you have lived your life wholly and in full measure for this superb day…May you always have enough happiness in your life to keep you sweet, enough trials and errors to keep you strong, enough success to keep you trying, enough faith to give you courage and enough determination to make each day a good day to remember. And above all may your tireless striving continue to stretch its arms unflinchingly, unswervingly and indomitably towards perfection!”

Uncle Fali will live long, mellow and gracious in the hearts and minds of all those whose lives he touched in some way or the other as well as all those like me who knew him, loved him and revered him in this world and in the annals of the tumultuous times in which we live..like those long extinguished stars whose fires still give us light! I pray to the Almighty that Uncle’s noble soul may now rest in eternal peace, bearing in mind the timeless message of the Bhagwad Gita :
“The soul is indestructible, the soul is incombustible, insoluble and unwitherable. The soul is eternal, all pervasive, unmodifiable, immovable and primordial.”