Musings At Law- XXV
Chief Justice M N Chandurkar and Mr. Justice M Srinivasan were in attendance. Firstly, the Bench was surprised that a venerable Sampathkumaar was defending the cause of such a crass publisher. Secondly, they were surprised that Mr. Sampathkumaar was inclined to produce ‘proof’ of the allegations. Then, when the Bench queried him, as to his stand, Sampath replied. “Mi Lords, Admittedly and undeniably, my client is in contempt. He is guilty to the core. Equally, truth is no defence in such proceedings. That makes it harder still for Your Lordship. Not my client. While so, I offer a solution.” As soon as he said it, the Contemnor made a Sashtanga Namaskaram to the Court/Judges.
Sampath continued, “This physical prostration is no apology. I agree. But it shows that my client feels remorse.” (Then he quoted a verse from Bhagvad Gita to illustrate his stand- the two Judges and Sampath being well versed in the Gita, had a beautiful exchange on the content of the verse. The English version, “Nothing is permanent. When the pot of sin overflows, something happens to restore order”. The entire atmosphere which was vitiated and fouled up by the allegations, was enlivened by a rich spirituality- Being Sanskrit illiterate, I am unable to beautify this piece with the original version.
Sampath, “In furtherance to his unconditional apology, he shall publish the article yet again, with a bold Caption that what was said below, was totally false and the author/publisher was sincerely regretting the same. If need be, the contemnor shall do so, in running it, for two editions, so that he suffers loss of face and revenue as well.”
Sampath said it with a straight face. Chief Justice Chandurkar could not resist a noisy laughter, which we had never been exposed to, from him ever. Chief Justice, “Mr. Sampathkumaar, here we are seeking an unconditional apology from your client and you are aware of the legal position and offering it as well, so that we can erase this chapter, as dark and unworthy, and you are offering a solution that would repeat the infamy, not once, but twice over, and you are seeking Court sanction too. Your mischief is exacerbating the contempt (he said it with a smiling face). Obviously, your client is on advice to express remorse, but not feel it.”
Sampathkumaar, “Mi Lords, I am sorry if my expression of remorse was misunderstood. The intention was to punish the contemnor and hitting him where it hurts, the publication, and may serve the cause better. But truly Your Lordshsips has got it right from the flip side. So be it. My client shall publish an apology in such form and content as he is directed to.”
Thus ended the saga with a direction to the publisher, to publish a full page apology for the contempt he had committed. If you read between the lines of Sampath, you can glean the devious underpinning to it, and his anxiety to drive home the ‘truth’, which was not a defence in such proceedings, needed to be exposed, as sunlight was the best disinfectant in the judicial firmament. I only wish I could share the private exchange that Chief Justice M N Chandurkar and Mr. S. Sampathkumaar had after the culmination of these proceedings, which I am privy to, but surely not inclined to go public with, ever.
One can go on and on with such anecdotes. The purport of this piece is not to wax lyrical. But to drive home the point that one did not have to be the most brilliant mind to make it big, in the profession. One needed only application of mind and willingness to listen and learn. And willingness to work like a mule, 24×7 with honesty, integrity and ethics, at the core. Then apply them craftily to serve the cause of the client. The profession was meant for a ‘living’ of the professional, no qualms. But it ought not be seen as parasitical, to live on the miseries of the clients. The larger purpose of resolving the disputes, must be the ‘look out’ of the lawmen. Sampathkumaar was the foremost among them, and therein lies the nub of his successful career. The attributes needed, it seems, are simple. That is why probably most of us miss the wood for the trees and struggle.
What separates the successful professional from the hardworking, and not so successful, was not being at the right place at the right time alone. But catching the bull by the horns and riding it as well. His respect for his Senior, the legendary Mr. H M Small, bordered on deific. He always said only because Small had ‘blind faith’ and was an ‘irresponsible delegator’, he let his colleagues a.k.a. juniors blossom, and the firm get the best out of them. He followed it to a tee, and the proof of the pudding, is in the legion of successful juniors that he has let come through his assembly line. Trust begets Trust, he always said, and lived that way, till the last.
To end, I cannot but recall the instance of Mr. Vedantham Srinivasan filing a suit before the High Court for recovery of his fees, from a client in relation to arbitration proceedings. A tough cookie this Vedantham, given to laughter and ridicule, arising from his conviction, was a difficult customer to handle in the witness box, as plaintiff, cross examined by the redoubtable Mr. O V Balusami, a tricky attorney, with eye for detail.
None could have handled Vedantham more adroitly than Mr. Sampathkumaar, as his counsel, and steering the suit to a resounding win. The suit proceedings, pedestrian at most times, enlivened by these characters was a treat to behold. To conclude the testimony, Balusami suggested to Vedantham Srinivasan in the witness box, “I put it to you that your suit is totally baseless and your claim for fees is misplaced,” Vedantham: “Rubbish”. Sampath: “Dey, Vedantham- Ennada Ithu- What is this?” Judge: “Witness, that is not the way you answer a senior lawyer. I take offense to it. Vedantham: “The answer is No. Having sworn to tell the truth as a witness, I could not resist the response- Rubbish.” Even the Judge joined in the laughter in the court. Incidentally, Mr. Vedantham Srinivasan meticulously executed the decree, only to part with a major portion of it to help the cause of a son of the defendant. That was him.
“One unmistakable take away from these Musings, to me, is that the characters were passionate about their profession and the unalloyed joy they felt in practice. I feel jealous on the why and how, as I relate to the present”, was a mail from a friendly puisne judge. How true! It was Robin Marlar, the cricket writer who often said, “Mine is the only profession where I am paid to watch I love”. Our own Raju Bharathan and N.S. Ramasami (Cardusian) were in the same league. That is why what they wrote resonated with the readers. Sampathkumaar and Vedantham Srinivasan, were one of a kind or two of the same genre. Even for myself, in their midst and company, one eagerly looked forward to entering the court halls, and intellectually tangle with the presiding officers, every single second, minute, hour and day of the week . There was a zing in our step. And it was reflected in our performance too. It was no mundane Monday week, one dreaded to face. Now? To each his own. I say no more.
It is a pity that Vedantham and Sampathkumaar are no more with us. The maker appears to have lost the appetite and the art of making the likes of them anymore. What a pity? One can be proud to have kept such company, even if one may not have imbibed any/many traits. Just having been with them and able to recall such memories may suffice, to last a lifetime.
“A man has freedom of will to act and it is not correct that actions are difficult and often futile. However, it is folly and vanity to ascribe the achievements of one’s life as entirely due to one’s efforts, because the result is always conditioned by certain circumstances and contingencies over which one has no control”- Chief Justice M C Chagla.
On to the Epilogue….
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)