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Soli Sorabjee: A Tribute

Salman khurshid
8 May 2021 11:57 AM GMT
Soli Sorabjee: A Tribute
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The passing of Soli Sorabjee brings down the curtain on an important life at law as indeed an era. His friends and admirers have recalled the remarkable contributions made by him to the development of law, particularly in the area of civil liberty. Many have spoken of his love of jazz, gourmet of good food, poetry, and literature, the art of mimicking, a gracious guide to young...

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The passing of Soli Sorabjee brings down the curtain on an important life at law as indeed an era. His friends and admirers have recalled the remarkable contributions made by him to the development of law, particularly in the area of civil liberty. Many have spoken of his love of jazz, gourmet of good food, poetry, and literature, the art of mimicking, a gracious guide to young talent, master of persuasive speech, steadfast before every court, but one critical dimension has been sadly overlooked. Soli had friends across the political divide even in times of rigid divisions. He accepted becoming the Attorney General of the BJP government because of Arun Jaitley's persuasion. But his friends in the Congress did not mind. Right to the end, in the long list of condolences that were conveyed upon his demise, there were very personal tributes paid by senior Congress leaders. This was more than just a formal gesture; there was genuine respect for Soli.

Not many people recall that Soli Sorabjee appeared in the Ayodhya matter before the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court on behalf of the Waqf Board briefed by Zafaryab Jilani and Abdul Mannan a crusty, seasoned, betel leaf chewing civil lawyer. They briefed Soli Sorabjee and Siddharth Shankar Ray intermittently, depending on their availability. Whenever I met Soli in the corridors of the Supreme Court, he imitated Mannan in a gruff voice, "Soli saheb, aana hai, abki case zaroor sunega court!" Of course, the case dragged on and Soli drifted away. By the time it got to the Supreme Court unfortunately other lawyers had been engaged. But to combine being briefed for Babri Masjid and being the Attorney General of the BJP government is no ordinary matter. Would that not make him truly a 'man for all seasons'?

So, if one were, to sum up Soli Sorabjee it would be in the words, a gentlemen's gentleman. But he belonged to times when it was possible to stride the ideological divide, to oppose the emergency restriction on civil rights, and resist any attempt or excuse to curtail freedom on any pretext in supposedly. Understandably he was never slow in taking up causes for free speech and expression. Presumably, amongst the best judgments, he has procured from the constitutional courts the top ones are on that topic. Firm as he was in his beliefs, he was never seen in court or in the media using harsh words or aggressive demeanor. Given his liberal disposition, there may well have been an occasion to temper the government position but must have remained discreet and never became a matter of uncalled-for public debate.

The elan and gentle grace Soli carried himself with speak volumes of how modest true knowledge is and indeed must be. Many outstanding lawyers have emerged from his Chambers and will undoubtedly make conspicuous contributions to the law but how many will wear the mantle of his grace in these times when competitive spirit at the Bar has turned to stop at no station of propriety. A new generation of lawyers will inevitably inspire and be held in awe, for nature abhors a vacuum but how many of us will nurture the qualities to be loveable and be loved by our peers. The presiding deity of the school of 'grace at all times' has withdrawn from our midst but fortunately left behind warm memories and distinct footprints in the sands of human experience. A tribute to the departed soul as indeed a great service to the institution of law that he cherished and embellished would be to do law the way he did.

In his last interview, Soli spoke of his love for jazz and musicians. They are different from other people because their music gives them special personal freedom to discover themselves. It may be that to Soli life was a symphony and each note meant something deep. Those of us who had the privilege to be a part of his orchestra, as associates and friends, have the strains of 'when the Saints go marching in' flashing in our minds as the maestro takes a final bow. But surely even in Heaven Soli will have a front seat at the concert that never ends. His meticulously planned birthday bashes at the IIC, the last of which was repeatedly postponed due to COVID-19, will now shift to Heaven, that is if they celebrate birthdays there! But Soli will be dearly missed on Earth. One can only wonder if he will miss us there where freedom no longer has to be fought for.

Views are Personal

The Author is a Senior Lawyer at the Supreme Court of India & Former Union Minister of External Affairs, Law and Justice

 

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