Mr. H.M. Seervai, the then Advocate General, said :
On behalf of the Bar I associate myself with the deeply moving and well deserved tribute which My Lord the Chief Justice has paid to Sir Nusserwanji Engineer who was a distinguished solicitor, a distinguished advocate, a distinguished Judge, a distinguished law officer and a great gentleman.
My Lords, starting from a humble beginning he achieved great distinction in his academic studies, becoming a Dakshina Fellow in the Elphinstone College; and he never forgot the duty which he owed to education and his munificence enabled a school to be established where poor students, boys and girls alike could receive boarding and lodging and a first class education.
His career as a solicitor in one of the leading firms in Bombay, Messrs. Payne & Co., was meteoric. Not only the judgment of Mr. Strangman but also that of Mr. F.E. Dinshaw persuaded Sir Nusserwanji to take the plunge of getting enrolled as an Advocate O.S. without the requirement of an examination, and the High Court readily granted him that distinction. Very soon he made his mark; in 1936 he became a Judge of this High Court for two years, and I have always felt that in him we had a model Judge. There were great Judges with a greater or quicker grasp than his; but nobody within my experience embodied in himself the essential qualities of a Judge to the same extent - willingness to listen, complete freedom from levity and a firm desire that no case should be lost because a young counsel was unable to make out his case. I ventured to write to him on his resignation as a Judge that it would have done his heart good to hear the regret expressed by the junior members of the Bar that he had not continued as a Judge, for in his resignation they had lost a friend.
In 1942, as My Lord the Chief Justice has said, he became a law officer under circumstances which caused a certain amount of resentment. But he behaved himself in that great office so unobtrusively that very soon all feelings of resentment disappeared and he came to be liked as one of the ablest Advocate Generals in Bombay. In 1945 he assumed the office of the Advocate General of India and I think, my Lords, it would be true to say of him that he always rose to the office to which he was appointed, and the pages of the Federal Court Reports bear testimony to his great capacity as Advocate General. Law Officers are not free to take part in litigation as though it was a contentious litigation between private parties, because the traditions of a great office mould every law officer and a certain amount of detachment and independence is required of him. My Lord the Chief Justice has rightly stressed a most important aspect of his career. As the senior most law officer of the Union of India he thought it his duty to conduct the I.N.A. prosecution undeterred by any winds that blew; and it is common knowledge that he so conducted that prosecution that it was felt that he had done what was expected of every law officer - presenting the case fairly and fearlessly without showing any anxiety as to the result.
What the law office lost in 1950, the public gained, and the pages of the law reports in Bombay bear testimony to the fact that he was engaged in every important case, and instead of being a law officer of the State, he became in substance an advocate for the citizen who supported unpopular causes. My Lord, there is one aspect of Sir Nusserwanji Engineer which is not generally known, for he was an unassuming man, but during the last eight or ten years of his life he was severely afflicted by arthritis and was in constant pain, though he disclosed no trace of this pain when arguing in Court. Once in this very Court one of the Judges asked him to take his seat, for he appeared unwell; he graciously declined the invitation explaining to me later that once you took to sitting down, you would lose the capacity of standing up and arguing.
My Lords, that indomitable will was always there. Though he ceased attending the Court, he was in great demand from all kinds of people for advice which he freely gave in his chamber. It seems to me that in this way he carried out the ideal which a great Poet has put before us:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them : "Hold on!"
That indomitable will remained with him almost till the end of his life, and even during the last eleven months when he was confined to his bed as a result of an accident.
It is difficult for those who have come in close personal contact with him to speak of him, but every time I met him, I noticed his kindliness, his ripe wisdom and a keen interest in public affairs. At the advanced age of 82, he thought it right to file suits against public charities to vindicate what he thought was a public wrong.
I would like to say a few words of sympathy and condolence to his devoted wife and to his bereaved family. My Lords, they were a very devoted couple, and Lady Engineer has hardly moved from his bedside for the last eleven months. It must be some comfort to her that in a place where his life was spent, both the Bench and the Bar join in honouring him as a great advocate, a great Judge and a very great and good man.
Courtesy: The Seervai Legacy
by Feroza Seervai