Wednesday 22 October 2014

Naanum Oru Tamilar

I do not believe in rebirth. But if there were rebirths, I was certainly a Tamilian in one of my previous births. Whenever I go to Tamilnadu I feel I am going home, and feel at home there. I have lots of friends in Tamilnadu, and Tamilians have always given me a lot of love and respect, which is because of the kindness and generosity of their hearts. When meeting a Tamilian I often say :" naanum oru Tamilar " ( I, too, am a Tamilian ). and I mean it ( though I am also a Kashmiri, an M.P.ite, a U.P.ite, a Bengali, a Rajasthani, an Oriya, and a Punjabi, because of the association of my ancestors with those places ).

  While studying in Allahabad University, where I was from 1963-1967, I got this idea of learning Tamil, probably because I thought I should know my country, and Tamilnadu was furthest away in the south. So I joined a Tamil diploma course in the Allahabad University ( apart from pursuing my regular studies). My Tamil teacher was one Prof. Ranganathan, and he always wore a white turban and put on a tilak ( naamam) on his forehead. I remember the first words in Tamil which were in my Tamil book : " Tamilar Veeram " i.e. the bravery of the Tamil people.

 After I finished my studies in Allahabad University, I decided I needed to know more about Tamilnadu. So in !967 I went to Annamalai University in Tamilnadu, and joined a one year spoken Tamil diploma course there  ( I was told it was discontinued some years after I had left ).

   I remember that on approaching the University, there were vast stretches of water on both sides of the approach road, and many cocoanut trees.

  My Tamil teachers were Mr. Raja, and Mr. Shanmugam Pillai. When I went to Annamalai University after I became a Supreme Court Judge in 2006 I was told there that Mr. Raja had disappeared somewhere while he was alive, but I met members of his family.

  I was in Kambar Hostel. One of my room mates there was Venkat Subbu Reddy, about whom I had put up a previous post on facebook. He was from Pondicherry, and he later became a teacher, but has now retired, and looks after his farm. He had met me when I was leaving Tamilnadu to take over as Chief Justice of Delhi High Court in October 2005, and again when he came to meet me in Chennai this year.
 When I went to Annamalai University after becoming a Supreme Court Judge, I went to Kambar Hostel. The news of my coming had obviously reached the hostellers, who greeted me with loud cheering when I arrived.

  At Annamalai University I often used to go to the Chidambaram Temple , which is about 2 kms. from the University,on foot with some friends. I played a lot of football, my favourite game, in the University.

  Much later, I became the Chief Justice of Madras High Court in November 2004. At that time the High Court was in a very bad shape, for reasons which need not be mentioned, and I determined to set it right.
 My flight from Delhi was reaching Chennai at about 2 p.m. on a working day,and I telephoned the then Acting Chief Justice to request all the Hon'ble Judges of the High Court not to come to the airport to receive me because it would not be proper for Judges to leave their Courts during working hours. However, a large number of lawyers received me at Chennai airport. The Hon'ble Judges called on me in the evening after Court hours.

  I was given a warm welcome in the High Court, and in my speech I quoted from the Tirukkural, some verses I had learnt in my Tamil diploma course in Allahabad.

 On the very first day of my joining the Madras High Court, after the Court hours, the Registrar General of the High Court brought an old lady with white hair into my chamber. She could not speak English, and kept moving her hands indicating that there were small children in her house. The Registrar General told me that she was an employee of the High Court who had just retired after about 35 years service, and her son, who had small children was unemployed. I immediately told the Registrar General to give her son a job in the High Court

 When I went to Madurai, where a bench of the High Court had been set up a few months earlier, I was again given a warm welcome in the High Court. In my speech I referred to the famous Tamil epic Silappathihaaram of the poet Ilango, about which also I had read in my Tamil diploma course in Allahabad and  Annamalai University. I said that Kannagi had burnt the entire city of Madurai because injustice had been done to her husband, and therefore if you want to have peace and prosperity justice must always be done.

  During the lunch interval on the very first day at Madurai, two lawyers brought a young woman to my chamber, who was crying. The lawyers told me that her husband, who was employed as a class 4 employee in Tirunelveli district court, had recently been killed in a bus accident, and she had two small children with no means of financial support. She was an M.Ed. and so I called the Registrar of the Madurai bench and told him to give her a class 3 ( clerical ) job in the High Court. Her name is Kalavathi, and whenever I go to Madurai she meets me.

 I have already said a lot about certain matters relating to the Madras High Court in my previous posts ( one of which created a lot of controversy ) and so I need not repeat it. I may only make a passing reference to the Madras High Court Museum and the Tamilnadu Mediation and Conciliation Centre which I got set up, as well, as the Madras High Court Guest House, which I initiated, and which was completed after I had left.
 Even after coming to Delhi my association with Tamilnadu, and particularly Tamilian Judges and lawyers, has remained strong. Many of my recommendees are now very senior Judges of the Madras High Court, and I  am told they are keeping the flag of the High Court flying high. Even now I am always concerned about the welfare of the judiciary in Tamilnadu.

 In the Supreme Court my knowledge of some Tamil was helpful, and I often used it when a Tamilian lawyer was arguing before my bench.. Once, Mr. K. Parasaran, a very senior lawyer, and former Attorney General of India, was arguing before my bench. There was nothing in his case, so I told him in Tamil " Okaarung " ( which means, please sit down ). Had I said that in English he may have felt offended, but since I said it in his own mother tongue he smiled and sat down.

 In the Supreme Court I found one Tamil word very useful, and which I sometimes used after a Tamilian lawyer had finished his argument, " Tallupadi ", which means " Dismissed!".