The Legal Anachronist: A Tribute to Tehmtan Andhyarujina

For those close to him and the whole legal community, Tehmtan Andhyarujina was our lodestar who guided us through choppy waters with his calm and composed demeanour.

Tehmtan Andhyarujina, who passed away on March 28 in Mumbai after a brief illness, was the product of the fiercely proud and fabled Bombay Bar of yore. Despite being selected for the prestigious Indian Foreign Service in 1958, he decided on a legal career instead and joined the chambers of H.M. Seervai, who was then advocate-general of the erstwhile Bombay state. The die had been cast and Andhyarujina’s decision was to prove providential. For the better part of the 1960s and 1970s, Andhyarujina appeared alongside Seervai and played an important role in formulating and advancing arguments on behalf of many state governments in several landmark constitutional cases, including the Parliamentary Privileges case (In Re: Keshav Singh) and the Fundamental Rights case (Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala).

Moored by Seervai’s unwavering fortitude and rectitude, which had a searing influence throughout his life, Andhyarujina unsurprisingly left an indelible mark of his own on the legal profession. Apart from appearing in many important constitutional cases as a leading senior counsel, he was the advocate general of Maharashtra from 1993 to 1995 and the solicitor general of India from 1996 to 1998. In fact, his comprehensive legacy and contribution to the evolution of constitutional law in India was recognised and felicitated by the Supreme Court on the occasion of our Constitution Day a few months ago.

However, Andhyarujina was not merely a constitutional lawyer par excellence. He was, more importantly, a forthright and pucca gentleman from an era when the bar had high and lofty standards. Speaking of Marcus Aurelius (the great stoic philosopher and the last of the five good Roman emperors) George Long once wrote that a man’s greatness did not lie in his wealth, status or even intellectual capacity but in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right regardless of what others may think or say. Andhyarujina exemplified how that philosophy worked in modern day life.

There were a few qualities that were never in short supply in his chambers – diligence, integrity and the desire to be thoroughly prepared in a matter. He had exacting standards and all of his juniors quickly learnt that there was no shortcut to success; a lawyer had to earn that through sheer hard work and graft. Moreover, his eye for detail and meticulousness was legendary. In all matters in which he was engaged, notes would be prepared, briefs thoroughly marked and cases annotated well in advance regardless of the client’s status or the value in dispute. Clients and instructing solicitors preferred to brief Andhyarujina simply because you could always expect him to fight the good fight. For many of us, this would be the closest we could ever hope to imagine how the legal giants of the ilk of M.C. Setalvad, C.K. Daphtary or Seervai conducted themselves back in the day.

I was privileged that my early years at the bar were under his tutelage and I could therefore see Andhyarujina at close quarters. My own impression was that his hue and moral compass were largely inspired by the magical incantation of the three words belonging to the Zoroastrian faith: humata (good thoughts), hukhta (good words) and huvarshta (good deeds).

Andhyarujina was good-humoured and down-to-earth. He listened intently to lawyers instructing him, regardless of their seniority, because he did not suffer from the hubris that one is ordinarily accustomed to when dealing with a senior counsel of his stature. This made him such a pleasure to work with.

I also recall how Andhyarujina indefatigably strived to fill the unforgiving minute whether as an active law practitioner or a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He would quite often, at the end of yet another busy day at work, recite a verse from the Gospel of Matthew, which clearly resonated quite deeply with him:

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

He was also quite fond of the oil painting ‘L’Angelus’ by the French painter Jean-François Millet, a copy of which adorned one of his chamber walls in Delhi. The painting depicted two peasants who appeared to be bowing in a field with a basket of potatoes at their feet. It immensely appealed to Tehmtan’s finer sensibilities to visualise the pair saying a prayer at the end of an honest and hard day’s work marked by the ringing of the bell from the church tower of Chailly-en-Bière, which could be seen on the horizon.

Given his self-effacing and gracious nature, several of Andhyarujina’s personal qualities have not disseminated into the public domain. For example, he represented a plethora of educational, religious and charitable institutions throughout his lengthy career. However, he would do so gratuitously, regardless of their financial capacity, because he considered their cause to be noble and altruistic. He also donated generously, but discreetly, to several charitable and not-for-profit organisations. I recall that there was in fact a certain school in Lonavala which had been the beneficiary of a number of his personal books and other items over the years. But these were not matters that he liked to freely discuss with others.

Andhyarujina will however be remembered for his succinct, candid and incisive advocacy and the forthright manner in which he conducted himself as an officer of the court. The significant number of times he was appointed by the Supreme Court as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in complex constitutional cases (particularly in recent notable cases such as the criminal defamation case, the passive euthanasia case and the setting up of the regional court of appeals case) is a fitting testament to the fact that his discerning legal acumen inspired confidence in the court. In an era plagued by judicial corruption, legal improprieties and muddled thinking at the bar, there was clear blue water between Andhyarujina and many of his contemporaries.

In recent years, Andhyarujina spoke about some of his biggest pet peeves – the falling standards of the legal profession, judicial activism and the tenuous foundation of the doctrine of basic structure. Given his pedigree, legal grounding and values, it was however easy to understand why he was disenchanted by a system which appeared to be in turmoil and abject disarray.

Andhyarujina will be sorely missed by his near and dear ones as well as the whole legal community. He was our lodestar, who with his calm and composed demeanour guided so many of us through choppy waters. As we bid him a heartfelt farewell and it slowly dawns upon us that we will never see him again, profound grief and sorrow fills my heart as I recall the poignant words of the Australian poet,, Henry Kendall, from his timeless poem The Last of His Tribe:

For his eyes have been full with a smouldering thought;

But he dreams of the hunts of yore,

And of foes that he sought, and of fights that he fought

With those who will battle no more —

Who will go to the battle no more.

Ashish Chugh is a partner of an international law firm and is based in Singapore. 

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