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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016

In the words of Mr. H.M. Seervai, the then Advocate General,

My Lords, on behalf of the Bar I associate myself with the moving tribute paid to Sir Jamshedji Kanga by My Lord the Chief Justice. In this very hall, Sir Jamshedji Kanga paid a deeply moving tribute to Mr. Inverarity when he passed away in 1923 and it seems to me that the concluding portion of that tribute is applicable to Sir Jamshedji Kanga himself and expresses the thoughts and feelings which are uppermost in our hearts today. Quoting a poet he said:

Now is the stately column broke,
The beacon-light is quench'd in smoke;
The trumpet's silver voice is still,
The warder silent on the hill.

What a voice and what a light has gone out with Sir Jamshedji ! And how instinctively, as My Lord the Chief Justice has said, did we turn to that stately column for unfailing support in times of need and distress! Sir Jamshedji Kanga had a passion for the law. He served it with a single minded devotion for sixty-five years attending his chambers till December of the last year. To him Law was sacred and neither the impatience of a Judge nor the pleadings of a solicitor or an advocate would induce him to mis-state the law. This reverence for the law was reflected in his respect for the Bench; and it was a moving sight to see the old man of ninety-two years insist on standing up till Justice Stewart Potter had left the common room; and he explained his conduct by saying that was the respect due to a Judge.

I never saw him as a Judge, for he was a Judge of this Court in 1921-22, but I know that the pomp and pageantry of office had no attraction for him. He spoke repeatedly to his devils of the words of Sir Norman Macleod: "Give me a table and a chair and I will decide cases anywhere you want me to". Though his tenure of office was brief he achieved a unique distinction. Three of his important judgments, which were reversed by the Court of Appeal, were restored by the Privy Council, stating that he had accurately laid down the law. He stepped down from the Bench to become the Advocate General of Bombay-a post which he filled with brilliance and distinction for over twelve years. Advocates General have unpleasant duties to discharge and unpopular measures to defend. But he discharged his duties with steadfastness and with fairness which earned the respect of friends and foes alike. When he left that great office in 1935 few things gave him greater pleasure that to receive, as he was boarding a ship, a telegram saying "heartiest congratulations on your brilliant and distinguished tenure of office as Advocate General-Bhulabhai".

I joined his chamber in 1933 when he was Advocate General, and I was with him for twenty-one years. I saw him at close quarters. I worked for him, and the dominant impression that he left on one's mind was that of formidable powers, used with skill, judgment and resource. He read fast and thought quickly. He caught a point before it was half uttered. He had a profound knowledge of the law, for his phenomenal memory retained what he had once read, and he could recall at once and reproduce it when it was wanted so that I have never seen him taken by surprise in a Court of law. But all these things were backed by a power of concentrated work which the noisiest chamber in the Bombay High Court was unable to shake or even to touch. I have heard his great arguments, some in this very hall, because in those days Advocates General used to conduct important murder cases, and his arguments disclosed two valuable assets which he possessed in addition. He had a singular detachment and fairness in dealing with problems and one incident lingers vividly in my memory. As he was preparing his great argument against the first Prohibition Act, one of his juniors said "There is no problem of drink." Sir Jamshedji replied "You are wrong. There is a serious problem. Drunken men and, even more, drunken women are a horrible sight. You may however say that prohibition is not the solution." The second great asset was that to him an important case was a living thing, and was not a matter of reading a brief, annotating it, and then setting it aside. It engaged all his faculties during waking hours and he confessed that at times it disturbed him in his sleep. But the argument when it came was vivid and clear and his simple and orderly narrative made it irresistible to Judge or Jury. He did not attempt oratory for he had an innate suspicion that fine words are at times used as a substitute for clear and precise thinking.

My Lords, his generosity to the juniors who appeared with him was proverbial. If there was credit to be gained or advantage to be secured Sir Jamshedji stepped back and let the juniors have the credit. If the matter threatened to get out of hand and discredit was to be obtained he stepped in front, took the blame and burden on himself.

But My Lords, the man was greater than the advocate, lawyer or judge. The priestly turban which he wore was the fulfilment of his father's wish that his son should remember that first and foremost he was a priest: and the son always remembered. He was deeply devoted to his mother, and during the last years of her life he gave up his evenings at the Club in order to bear her company at dinner. On his brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces he lavished his affection, and our thoughts turn to them at this moment, though they must feel proud at the long and distinguished life which they were permitted to see at close quarters.

My Lords, there is only one more thing which I would like to say and that is to describe the peculiar atmosphere of his chamber. It was an extraordinary atmosphere. If you did not want to work or wanted to chat, or gossip-about the share bazar or about current gossip-you were free to do so. But if you were willing to work he was extremely generous. He acknowledged both to the solicitor and to the Court the debt which he owed to his juniors. The long years of waiting at the Bar would have been unendurable but for his nature which radiated vitality and charm. In his room there was always sunshine. He delighted in the success of his juniors, though he modestly put it down to his chamber being a lucky chamber. But they knew better. For to them he was both an example and an inspiration, unspoiled by success, modest and unassuming in manner, retaining, in spite of all his great powers, the simplicity and candour of a child.

My Lords, till December last year the conferences which he held and the powers of memory which he showed amazed people who went to his chamber. From January he was unable to come to the Court, but one thing which he said to all visitors who went to him was "I feel a little weak, but I think of going to the chamber tomorrow". There were two places which engaged his affection most and they were his home in which he had spent seventy-six years of his life and the Court in which he had spent sixty-five years of his working life.

My Lords, as one of his devils I find it difficult to speak of him, for the debt which we owe to him is one which can never be repaid. There is only one way in which we can try to repay it a little and that is to ask ourselves every time whether the way in which we conduct ourselves at the Bar would meet with his approval, and would be in consonance with the exacting standards which he laid down for himself. Four months ago when he was very ill, a member of the Bar who went to see him found him reciting long stanzas from Milton with relish- stanzas which he had learnt sixty or seventy years ago. And it seems to me that a few words of that great poet, in Paradise Lost are apt words to describe his great career:

Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal,
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth or change his constant mind.

* Source: The Seervai Legacy by Feroza Seervai

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