May 1, 2021 7:48:17 am
Written by Ranjit Malhotra
It is hard to describe such an iconic personality. It is hard to believe he is gone. I still remember his warm smile, the twinkle in his eyes the last I met him on his birthday celebrations at India International Centre (IIC) in March this year. His sense of humour was sparkling till the end. Every meeting had a learning curve and you could always turn to him for wise counsel. He was a very affectionate person, but he never hesitated to speak his mind. It was either black or white.
Over the years, every time my elder brother Anil and I went to Delhi, which was quite often, we would meet him at IIC. It was his second home, where he held a room (No 42) as its life trustee, strictly on payment, even after remitting the office as its president.
Last year in February, I gifted him a copy of the just released Festschrift in Honour of Nani A. Palkhivala. He was thrilled to see it. I also read out Mr Palkhivala’s letter written to him on assuming the office of Attorney General. The 31-year-old missive brought tears to his eyes. I have seen him so overcome with emotions.
It was fun to travel with him, especially overseas. There was no place on the map he hadn’t visited. He knew central London like the back of his hand. One of his favourite haunts was “Daunt Books,” on Marylebone High Street. He loved the chimes at the entrance of Selfridges. Flooded with invites from eminent jurists, he would go well armed to the UK with his Harris tweed cap and jacket, as also the muffler. And every year, he would organise dinner at the Royal Overseas League, the IIC of central London. Though he enjoyed Scottish shortbread, the Shrewsbury biscuits from the legendary Kayani bakery were his all-time favourite with his cup of coffee. I remember when I went to Ho Chi Minh city for a conference in 2016, he told me to get prawn crackers.
Our travels were dotted with memories. In September 2007, Sorabjee, a Senior Judge of the Supreme Court and I travelled to Nairobi to attend the Commonwealth Lawyers Conference. An overzealous protocol officer from the Indian embassy, who received the Hon’ble Judge, grabbed his passport and disappeared for the next hour. Sorabjee was in splits, telling the judge that he was stateless.
Once when we were at the Hague to attend the International Law Association conference in 2010, he fell unwell. But regardless of his health, he ensured his vibrant participation. I still remember how when we returned to Delhi, he patiently awaited my luggage at the carousel even though his had arrived earlier with business class passengers, and then instructed Yadav, his trusted driver and handyman, to drop me at IIC.
Until very recently, he visited IIC almost every day. The staff there were immeasurably fond of him. A visit to IIC without visiting his room 42 was unthinkable. He enjoyed the updates and the light banter. Whenever we met at different places at different periods in his life, we could always pick up threads of uninterrupted memories from the past. The last time I met him before his birthday at Room No 42 in IIC, he reminded me that he hadn’t been to Chandigarh for a long time. He loved visiting Chandigarh and staying at the Taj, which pampered him. When late Mr. H.L. Sibal was alive, my elder brother Anil would drive Sorabjee down for a sundowner with him. And the two would talk only about Lahore.
The void by his departure can never be filled. Our grief will only increase with time. He was a fatherly figure, a friend, philosopher, and sage counsel to all associated with him. I will deeply miss him.
The author (firstname.lastname@example.org) recently contributed a chapter in the Festschrift released in honour of Mr. Soli J. Sorabjee on 9 March.
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