'A man for all seasons': Mukul Rohatgi's tribute to Soli Sorabjee

New Delhi: ‘Soli’ as he was popularly called by friends, juniors and seniors alike has passed away, neither due to old age nor natural causes but due to this dreadful pandemic currently raging in this country.

A legal luminary who strode the canvas of Indian litigation for more than half a century will always be remembered by not only the legal fraternity but by all who came in contact with him or were otherwise aware of his legal acumen and the dizzy heights which he conquered.

He was instrumental in having argued critical and immensely important cases involving fundamental rights, like the freedom to travel, the protection of democracy, the right to life and liberty and endless more. If I were to describe the important cases in which he was associated, it would be the size of a legal treatise.

Having been born in 1930 in what was then called Bombay, in an affluent Parsi family, he joined the Bombay bar in 1953 and was designated a senior advocate by the Bombay High Court at the age of 41. After having built up a hugely immense practise there, he shifted to Delhi so as to practice in the Supreme Court around 1975-76 and was soon appointed as a law officer; first as Additional Solicitor General and then as Solicitor General by the then Janata Government. His career never looked back. His advocacy was unparalleled, laced with wit, humour and at times sarcasm.

He was appointed to the coveted and highest post any lawyer would aspire to hold i.e. that of the Attorney General for India not once but twice. Though I had interacted with him after I had joined the bar in 1978 sporadically, my daily interaction with him was when I was appointed an Additional Solicitor General (1999-2004) under his second stint as Attorney General. Incidentally, he was the first to come and wish me the best, in the chambers of the Attorney General when I held the post in 2014.

He was kind and affectionate to young and old. He never behaved as if success had gone to his head. A lawyer’s reputation is measured not only by the number of clients he or she may have had but also by the trust reposed in the lawyer by the court. The judges of the Supreme Court have always had immense respect for him and trusted him implicitly.

I am deeply privileged to have worked under this great man. He has had very many successful juniors who have risen to the top of the profession including adorning the bench. In fact a large number of judges of the Supreme Court in the last 40 years who were elevated to the bench from from the bar, would remember him for they would have engaged Sir (as I always referred to him) in some matter or the other, in some High Court if not in the Supreme Court.

A disciplined lawyer, starting conferences from 8 am onwards and winding up only by about 8 pm, he burnt the midnight oil even in later years notwithstanding his immense success.

On a personal note, I had a tryst with him, to meet in June of every year (during the court’s summer vacations) at the entrance of the famed London departmental store Selfridges for a cup of coffee and a ginger cake, he had a sweet tooth, in a cafe inside the store called Dolly cafe.

I have known his enthusiasm for jazz. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Delhi owes its Jazz scene to him. He was instrumental in holding the annual Jazz Yatra in Delhi among other things, even though he was an extremely busy lawyer.

He leaves behind his wife and three immensely successful children i.e. Zia Mody founder of AZB, one of the largest corporate law firms in India, Dr. Jehangir Sorabjee, a well known doctor in Mumbai and Hormazd a motor car enthusiast who brings out an immensely popular magazine called Autocar India.

His mischievous smile, chuckles in the corridor outside the canteen in the Supreme Court and his ability to mimic judges, lawyers and prominent political figures will be sorely missed by one and all.

May his soul rest in peace.

(The writer is lawyer, senior counsel, and was the 14th Attorney General for India)

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