In this fascinating personal account, eminent senior advocate, Sohrab E. Dastur walks down memory lane and reminisces about his own senior. One incident that stands out is where Sohrab Dastur was tempted to join Industry after he got a ‘fascinating’ offer and changed his mind only after he was severely reprimanded by Rustom Kolah
To write about a personality like Mr. R. J. Kolah in whose chamber I cut my teeth at the bar is difficult because so many memories and thoughts come flashing back. I first saw Mr. Kolah in 1957. On a visit to Delhi for an all-India debating competition, we decided to visit the Supreme Court which was then in Parliament Building. The Court was hearing a challenge to the constitutional vires of the Bombay Labour Welfare Fund Act. We heard a most persuasive argument from a man of medium height and spare build who was later identified as Mr. Kolah. The judges heard him with rapt attention, a phenomenon I witnessed repeatedly thereafter.
After I passed the examination for “the office of an Advocate of the High Court at Bombay”, as the qualifying examination was then known, I had to decide on the “line” to pursue and the chambers to join. Having been (now, as it happens, very fortunately) turned down by one chamber, my father and I approached Mr. Manek (Botty) Mistry of Messrs. Kalyaniwalla & Mistry who was a great friend of Mr. Kolah. He immediately rang up “Rustom” and I could hear the voice at the other end say that he should ask the “boy” to see him the next day at 9.45. Kolah (at Bar, the juniormost advocate is supposed to refer to the seniormost by his surname) had a place in the chambers of Sir Jamshedji Kanga, which chambers were then located on the ground floor of the High Court on the left hand side as one entered the High Court from the gate near the University. The interview was brief. He accepted me saying how could he turn down a request from “Botty”. He later confided to me that I could have come through my father because he remembered him from his days with Payne and Co. in the late 1920s, when he used to visit the liquidators’ office and my father was there as an auditor. When I recounted this to my father he was surprised that Mr. Kolah still recalled those few meetings. He told me that Kolah used to come from Payne & Co. always wearing a “Parsi cap.” This was but one illustration of Kolah’s phenomenal memory – for cases, facts and faces. Whatever be the size of the brief and howsoever complicated the facts, he never made detailed notes and sometimes just jotted down a few dates. He said that one should not become “notes bound” because one then tends to get tied down to the “plan” and one does not “go” with the judge as one always must. This was in marked contrast to a neighbour, when we were in chamber No. 2 in the High Court, who used to mark his briefs at the first reading in pencil, then in blue, black and red ink. There was a problem when the matter was adjourned for the fourth time!
Read more ›