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Sohrab E. Dastur

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On the occasion of Mr. Dastur’s “Golden Jubilee” in the profession, we pulled out an old article by Mr. Dastur which continues to be as inspiring as ever. Mr. Dastur talks of his humble beginnings and how he succeeded in the profession through dint of hard work & perseverance after being inspired by other stalwarts. There is an invaluable message in the article for all professionals

On account of the delay in penning this piece pursuant to the persistent request of Kahn Narang, I find that it is today almost 34 years to the day when I was enrolled at the bar (7th August to be precise).

When I joined the Chambers of R.J. Kolah, the general advice which all new aspirants received was that the profession was overcrowded. Today my advice to a new entrant is that with the creation of so many Tribunals, Commissions and quasi-judicial authorities, there is unbounded scope for a person with reasonable intelligence, a little more common sense and the capacity to take pains. The great change between now and, say, 30 years ago (and undoubtedly 50 years ago) is the desire in the profession whether of chartered accountancy or of law (and even of medicine) to increase the `turnover’, which is a term that causes so many interpretation problems insofar as S. 44AB and S-80HHC are concerned!


In 1959 the tax work in the High Court was to a far greater extent with solicitors. Today, there are several specialist advocates on record. Insofar as the former, and particularly the bigger firms were concerned, briefs were invariably delivered to the then two leading counsel in the hope that at least one of them would be present. I remember that on one occasion a third brief was delivered to a junior and ultimately after the hearing was over, the solicitors concerned requested the junior to lower his fees because already considerable expenditure had been incurred by the client on two seniors leading him!

Talking of fees, when I joined the profession, a fee of 2 GMs (Rs.30) for a conference of half an hour was the normal and recommended fee for a junior. The other day in clearing some mess I found two unpaid dockets of 2 and 3 GMs and I thought it was good to keep them as mementos rather than having them encashed.

In my first year of the bar, to be precise from 7.8.1959 to 31.3.1960, I earned exactly Rs.30 Even this brief was meant for another Counsel. He was (fortunately) not in the library but I was when the matter suddenly reached hearing. So overjoyed was I at this bonanza that I took a very good friend, who had joined the bar at the same time as I did but was doing much better, to the Regal Cinema and in the process spent Rs.1-5-0 each on two tickets and I don’t remember how much on two ice cream. One thing is sure; a unit of the fee earned at that time gave far more satisfaction than 10,000 earned today!

When I joined the bar, the general advice drilled into one’s ears was that one must be available in the library during court hours for just these chance briefs and thereafter must always be at Chambers or in the library till, at least 7.00 p.m. as it was only then that briefs rejected by the other counsel may come the way of a fresh junior.

An ironical fact of legal (and perhaps all) professional life is that when one is a `fresher’ one is denied briefs which he thinks he deserves, needs and can handle but when one become senior, one is begged to appear in matters which one feels a raw junior could handle with equal aplomb. So also in life when one is learning to swim, very few people come forward to help, but when one reaches the shore there are a horde of admirers. As one rises the grateful affection is for those Chartered Accountants and Solicitors who had briefed well in those days.

One way in which a junior can make his presence felt is by writing in professional journals and participating in seminars or delivering lectures. Fortunately, rather early in my professional carrier, I was given opportunity at the Western India Regional Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and the Bombay Chartered Accountant’s Society to expose my alleged knowledge. One of the first occasions was when I was asked to participate in a refresher course, wherein lectures were held every week. My father, who was perhaps one of the most regular and avid attendees at such meetings, came home from one of these lecturers and raved about the fact that a young Chartered Accountant who is no longer young but has now scaled the pinnacle of professional success, had delivered a lecture without a jot of notes in which he regaled the audience with copious reference to case law and the exact citations in the ITR (we did not then have the proliferation of so many other tax journals, magazines and reports). I took it as a personal challenge and was most gratified to find that my father (who did not believe in applauding when his sons participated) told me, as we were going home, that my performance matched that of the young Chartered Accountant!

My senior, R.J. Kolah, was one of the most forthright and fearless of advocates I have seen. He believed in the old, and now unfortunately somewhat disregarded rule, that a lawyers contact with the Judge should be confined to the court room and not to any personal conviviality. He hated slipshod work and, therefore, some Chartered Accountants and Lawyers felt that he was `rough’ in his dealings because he was of the firm view that careless preparation of a case was unfair to the client who was paying the fees. For all his forensic ability, he was at heart innocent and quite a few people took undue advantage of his trusting nature and strong sense of loyalty. I have seen him break into tears when told of some personal tragedy having befallen a friend. He did not believe in `recommending’ juniors in his chamber because he felt that this would be unfair to other juniors in the profession, a view which I feel – perhaps in retrospect – is most logical and professionally correct. Such was his humility that when I shifted to Chamber No.5 from Chamber No. 2 in the High Court Annexe and he wanted to discuss something he would come over personally and not `send for me’. When I told him to send over a peon to summon me, he disarmingly relied that it was his work and in any case he was not accepting much professional work and was, therefore, `freer’ than I was!

Sanat P. Mehta, who also now has gone to the great beyond, is another person I remember with great affection and respect. I knew him from the days when he used to teach us the Indian Constitution at the Government Law College. His was invariably the first lecture – starting at the unearthly hour of 7 a.m. Despite this impediment, his lectures were always well attended. He was most easily accessible as a professor and as a Lawyer. He often used to encourage us by telling us of his early, somewhat brief-less years!

When I joined the bar, there were, I think, two Commissioners of Income Tax. Today, I suppose, my fingers and toes are not numerous enough to count them. Unfortunately, this all round proliferation in the administration is matched in a somewhat inverse ratio with efficiency in the Department.

A disturbing aspect as I come to the end of my travel down memory lane is the number of `stories’ one hears about judicial officers. Such `stories’ have always been there and one would be rash not to discount them. However, the ripples now seem to be making wider waves. It is true that the members of the bar often indulge in idle gossip and the bar library is a place where disgruntled lawyers give vent to their feelings. However, the occasions when one feels that an appeal has been won which could not really have been won judicially and vice versa are increasing. I sincerely hope and would like to believe that the old adage that there cannot be smoke without fire is not necessarily and invariably correct.

Reproduced with permission from 25 BCAJ Sept. 1993 page 694 & I.T. Review August Sept. 1996

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9 comments on “Sohrab E. Dastur
  1. SIDHARTH JAIN says:

    Salutations Mr. Shorab,

    Being pillar of the profession on which temples like ITAT are build upon, may you continue to enlighten the other co- brethren, not so-senior.

    CA Sidharth Jain
    Delhi

  2. CA Anant N Pai says:

    Nostlagic .

  3. P R Shah says:

    Heartiest Congratulations to
    Maharaja of legal profession. Not under the shed of any one. Great by own self. Brother of great chartered accountant Jal Dastur and son of greatest Chartered Accountant of All time Erach Dastur…!!!!

  4. vswaminathan says:

    Dear Soli

    ON THIS MEMORABLE OCCASION, BEING PROPELLED DOWN MEMORY LANE, I AM IMPELLED TO FONDLY REMEMBER WITH NOSTALGIA THE LONG ASSOCIATION,- THOUGH AS A PROFESSIONAL BUT MYSELF VERY MUCH A JUNIOR BOTH IN AGE AND EXPERIENCE, -WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO HAVE HAD WITH YOU ‘FOR OVER 30 YEARS’ , WAY BACK TILL OVER A DECADE AGO.

    WITH REVERNCE AS EVER

    Yours ‘affectionately’

    ‘Swami’

  5. It is a treat to accompany through the memory lane of legends in profession like you. Any way how many of your stature are left now? The passing references made to the present state of judiciary and administration, are really disturbing and one can not , particularly who have seen good olden days, remain silent witness. God bless ……….

    Such sharing of experiences and guidelines from people like you are a great source of inspiration to may budding CA professionals. I am quite hopeful, the olden golden era and glory of profession shall return one day.

  6. CA.Shweta Ajmera says:

    Thanks for inspiring us

  7. Rajesh Gadhi says:

    Inspiring… and Inspiring…
    A Article from bottom of the GREAT HEART… !!!

  8. Daniel says:

    Truly inspiring Sir, Your Great but seem Humble, a RARITY 🙂
    Thank You.

  9. Lalitendra Gulani says:

    The way he described certain aspects of legal profession is commendable. I believe the subtle nature of the candid expressions coupled with his insight gained from decades of experience make him a person truly worth listening to.

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  1. […] the verdict of the Supreme Court in Vodafone International vs. UOI. Eminent Senior Advocate Shri. S. E. Dastur was the Chairman of IFA India in its formative years in […]

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