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Wit, whither wilt?



 The first one dates back to the first date of hearing of the landmark decision of Kesavananda Bharati by the Hon'ble Supreme Court.


The legendary, Mr. Palkhiwala, who then was a young lawyer rose to argue the matter before the largest ever constituted Bench in the Supreme Court. Since thirteen Judges started shooting questions from one end to the other, Mr. Palkhiwala’s train of though was disturbed while he spent most of the first day answering the questions from the Bench and was rather perturbed.

He approached the giant C K Daphtary (fondly called CK), who was also appearing in the matter. CK was already aware of the manner in which the proceedings went on and is believed to have encouraged Palkhiwala to prepare and get ready for arguments the next morning and assured him uninterrupted audience.


The next morning, as the Bench assembled, CK got up and asked for an audience. Since he was a doyen and one of the most senior persons at the Bar, it was easier for him to seek audience.

CK is believed to have said “My Lords, yesterday, a young girl accompanied her father to this Hon’ble Court to witness the proceedings of what My Lords would be a landmark judgment of this Court for years ahead. The Judges were curious and asked him about the relevance of such a visit to the court’s proceedings.

CK continued, “and after the day’s session, the young girl asked her father “who was the young man trying to interrupt the thirteen well dressed gentlemen?”

The Court, it is believed to have given uninterrupted audience to Mr. Palkhiwala to complete his arguments and the rest as well know is reported in AIR 1973 SC 1461.


Legends of CK’s wit is/was famous.

Fali Nariman recalls one as a student of the Government Law College in Bombay, where he saw Chagla , J preside in the constitutional challenge to the Bombay Prohibition Act -- a case which excited great attention. The courtroom was packed to over-flowing on almost every single day of the hearing which lasted two weeks. He remembers seeing there for the first time C.K, the state's advocate-general, who was ably defending the case on behalf of the government. When Chagla asked him in the course of arguments about the nature of the intoxicants which were declared prohibited under the Act. Daphtary described them and, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, added: ``And then, My Lords, there are substances other than liquid refreshments which also intoxicate -- and power is one of them''.

Please see http://www.expressindia.com/news/ie/daily/20001130/ied30029.html for the whole of Fali’s article.

 And then ofocurse the famous remark “A Republic without a PUB is a mere RELIC”

 One of the stories which reached our generation is where CK was waiting in the corridor of the Bombay High Court waiting for his matter to reach the Board. His friends were getting anxious since they had planned to visit the nearby Brabourne Stadium to witness a crucial India England test.(these were the times before TV )

They asked CK how long he would take. CK is believed to have said “I will take two minutes but I don’t know about him”


In another case, CK was arguing some transporters’ case before Justice Hidayatullah. Since the Hon’ble Judge was aware of CK’s penchant for wit, he was rather cautious, but at one point of time during the hearing, the Judge is believed to have remarked “Mr. Daphtary, buses run on permits” and CK was quick to reply “but My Lord, so far as in know , buses run on fuel.”


“When CK and his wife celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at which friends and admirers were invited. After the evening became convi-vial we all called for a speech. CK, with a chuckle, said, ``You know, Cicily has been my wife for fifty long years. She has been a good wife but in a married life of thislength I must frankly confess that the first forty-nine years have been themost difficult''. Glares from Cicily” Please see http://www.indianexpress.com/ie/daily/20000331/ied31070.html for the whole article.


In another matter, the great SS Ray was arguing his matter before the Court and apparently he was out of sail for a while. His instructing counsel was briefing him while the tall counsel kept on pulling his Senior’s long sleeves. (Believed to be his habit in moments of anxiety).The Court, losing its patience, asked “What are you doing Mr. Ray?”

Quick came the reply, “Trying to make both ends meet My Lords”.


Sudden bursts of laughter spread in the Court room completely changing both the mood of the Court and the Courtroom while Sen resumed control over his arguments.


Another legend, Mr.Ashok Sen. His legacy is equally amazing, if not more. Sen’s rare acclaim, among others, is being part of the Nehru Cabinet and continue till Rajiv Gandhi’s  until he resigned in 1987 after his party's debacle in state elections in West Bengal.

Barrister Sen was believed to be so sought after that there are legends of him being auctioned at the airport. He would fly to the highest bidder’s destination.


There is also a tale of a young Calcutta Advocate who fixed up a conference with him in Delhi at 10 pm. His IA flight was delayed and he could reach Sen’s residence only at 12 midnight. He had to wait for his turn till 4 am. He was astonished to find Sen immaculately dressed at 9.30 am in the Supreme Court as if he had straight 8 hours sleep while the young Advoacte was having a tough time keeping his eyes open.


There is a tale of another solicitor evincing Sen’s Eidetic memory.

According to him, he once visited Sen for an opinion in a matter pending before the High Court. He was not in a position to afford his appearance and thus simply wanted his opinion on the issues involved and the proposed line of argument. Sen opined.


When the matter finally cane up to the Supreme Court around 5 years later, he went to Sen again, this time to brief him for appearance in the matter. Sen read the impugned order and remarked that two points which he had mentioned in so and so paragraphs of his opinion were not argued before the High Court and that according to him was the reason he believed they were before the Supreme Court.


The Solicitor, in all his confidence, believed that he had argued all the points identified by Sen but was dumbstruck when Sen’s trusted Clerk fished out the opinion rendered years ago and the identified paragraphs were the just as Sen had pointed out.


In his last few practicing years, Sen was brief by a Senior Colleague of mine who tells us a story of how they went to him because according to them the issue involved was res integra. Sen surprised them by saying that the issue was not res integra.. nd much to their disbelief, pulled out a commonwealth Court precedent of the Australian Supreme Court passed a few months resolving the exact same issue.He is known to have possessed the largest private law library.



Another colleague told a tale where Sen was at pains to convince the Court regarding the legislative intent behind certain a certain provision. After a lot of deliberation, the Judges asked Sen as to how could he be so confident regarding the interpretation and the legislative intent, when Sen is believed to have said “Cause My Lords, I was the one who drafted it”.



Many may say that this is nothing but nostalgia but sledging , personal attacks and most commonly among others , shouting down the opposition appears to be the order of the day in High Courts and the Supreme Court, is not unaffected by such decibel duels. The kind of gesture mentioned above from a senior member of the Bar to a junior is almost unheard of in today’s times.

 A friend of mine suggested a meter recording the decibel level in court so that Advocates exceeding the same in riotous passion could be promptly brought back to their civilized senses. Another one said that in that case, all we would hear continually is the meter and neither the Judge nor the Advocates.


All the above incidents are stories which have essentially travelled down the corridors and /or lighter moments shared by the legal luminaries with their juniors/client and the author is just passing them on conscious  about the possible inconsistencies and inaccuracies and wishes to be corrected where gone awry and pardoned for his pitfalls.



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