‘He often said to me that he was waiting in the departure lounge of God’s gate.’
Gitanjali Gurbaxani, whose family has known Ram Jethmalani since their Pre-Partition days in Sind, recalls the legal luminary and ‘the pride of the Sindhi community’.
The world has been left more bereft with the passing away of legal luminary Ram Jethmalani on Sunday, ironically on the same day his son Janak passed away three years ago.
I have had the privilege of knowing Ram Uncle since I was a child, as the families have known each other since the pre-Partition days.
Ram Uncle started law practice at the age of 18 and continued it till a week before his 94th birthday in 2017, when he made an official statement on his retirement.
He was the son of Boolchand Gurmukhdas and Parvati, the former a lawyer in Shikarpur, Sind. After completing his school education at 13, with two double promotions, he went to the S C Shahani College in Karachi and completed studying law and got his LLB degree at 17.
It was here that my paternal grandfather Dr Ram Gurbaxani’s first cousin, principal Nirmaldas Gurbaxani, taught him law, one whom he was indebted to. Since the bar could not let him practice at this early age, he taught law for a year.
At the time the minimum age to practise law was 21, but an exception was made to allow him to practise at the age of 18.
Shortly after the days of Partition, Ram Uncle was the patient of my paternal grandfather Dr Ram Gurbaxani, and after the latter’s passing he became the patient of my parents and remained one whenever he frequented Mumbai.
I often stayed as a house guest at his residences across the country and over the years in that of his son in New York and in London.
Hearing Ram Uncle speak on some of his clients was very enlightening. While sipping on brandy or whiskey with water, it was a delight to hear of his achievements and what he was planning to do in the upcoming days.
A very humble man, 90% of his cases were done for free as he didn’t chase money. His work was his passion for which he’d fly to Pune over the weekends to teach law as an honorary professor at the Symbiosis Law School for quite a few years till 2017.
As a lawyer people called him a bit eccentric and highly opinionated, as he upset some judges by discarding their learned opinions, concluding that they contained "no issue of new principle."
Presiding over matters to do with the Nanavati murder case, Ram Uncle rose to the challenge with dignity and clarity that earned him a lot of respect.
A day in the life of Ram Jethmalani as I often witnessed in Mumbai and Pune was that he’d be up at 5.30 am and do a bit of yoga before playing a game of badminton or at times swimming a few lengths. Then he’d run through his case papers for the day and get ready, have a light breakfast and leave for his chambers. Yoga was something his daughter Rani learnt and insisted he followed, till her end in December 2011.
He was a firm believer in the early to bed and early to rise lifestyle, had a couple of drinks with water and then ate a simple ‘ghar ka khana’ meal. Weekends were different as social commitments came in, in the evenings.
He often asked Janak and me to follow this lifestyle. In the last decade he would get to our family clinic in Colaba, South Mumbai, at 8.30 am over the weekends when he was here, for acupuncture given by my mom Dr Dolly Gurbaxani. This after playing a game of badminton at the Bombay Gymkhana and hurting his shoulder, briefly.
Four years ago the Bombay Gymkhana felicitated him for being the oldest badminton player who was still actively playing the sport. Some mornings, he would swim several lengths.
At his New Delhi residence on Akbar road, he would play badminton as he had a court there and on other days would exercise in his personal gym.
The man that I would see at the breakfast table at 8.00 am was charged with energy to take on his cases as he was a human google, whose knowledge of law was second to none.
His zest for life was incomparable as he was always on the move, and was an avid traveller. He never suffered from jet lag as he was already in the time zone of the country he was going to visit by eating the meal of the day in that time zone before embarking on the flight and would follow their hours of work. On board the aircraft he’d be absorbed in reading a book or two on Kindle or the hard copy.
He was a prodigious reader. The iPad was his world; unlike most people his age who wouldn’t even know how to use a laptop, Ram Uncle was ahead of his times. His Kindle and iPad were indispensable and were his constant companion when he travelled.
The outpouring of condolences, describing him as brilliant, maverick, lively, firebrand orator, genius, ebullient, loving, adventurous, gifted and beautiful inside out, all recognise what an extraordinary man he had been, the pride of the Sindhi community.
He walked in many spheres -- political, legal, and cultural. As I said, the world is left more bereft with the passing away of such a man.
He often said to me that he was waiting in the departure lounge of God’s gate.
I am blessed to have lived in the presence of such an extraordinary man who led a gregarious life.
Rest in Peace, Ram Uncle.
I will miss having a debate with you on the nutritious contents of Marie biscuits you so loved and I detested as it may have been an energy booster and brain power food for you but it was never a great option when it came to nutrition.
Gitanjali Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based food consultant, author and food columnist.