A sketch on life and times of an eminent jurist
From the Bench to the Bar, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Universal Law Publishing Co., Pp 265, Rs 395
This is an autobiography-cum-biography of Justice Krishna Iyer – autobiography because in some chapters he talks about himself in the first person, and in others, his friends, fellow lawyers or judges voice their views on him. As we all already know, he served as a Supreme Court judge, earning fame and recognition for his fair judgements, for his way of penning down the verdicts and for his mastery over the English language. It is no wonder that he has written different books on every aspect of law and beyond, displaying his deep knowledge of the subject and his dynamic and enlightened views on law and contemporary jurisprudence for use by the present and future judicial system.
Justice Iyer was born on 15th November 1915 in north Kerala and educated in Annamalai and Madras universities before beginning his life as a lawyer at Tellichery, an old town in East India Company days and known for export of spices. Called to the Bar way back in 1938, he says, “I sprang to lawyerly life with great élan and lucrative practice as a junior in the chambers of my father V.V. Rama Iyer, a leading member of the Tellichey Bar. Young in age, but with propitious opportunities to cross swords with vintage wonders of the Malabar Bar and beyond, it fell to me to spend my vernal years in versatile professional life.”
Justice Iyer got married in 1945 to Sarada with whom he “had a happy span of conjugal, intellectual, aesthetic, ideological, philosophical, spiritual and pubic-spirited community of interests and a hundred other common bonds.” He was so happy with her that he adds, “Rarest of rare is the marvel of matrimony when two souls, in all their finer facets, fuse into one and face the changes and challenges of the world with dynamism too deep to be ruptured and a cultural harmony that beats the sweetest symphony.” He pays glowing tributes to his wife Sarada with whom he built two lovely houses with “aesthetic attention.”
He started practicing law and defending peasants and workers against the exploitation by feudal lords who had full support of the colonial regime. In 1956, he was elected initially to Madras Legislative Assembly and later, after reorganisation of states, to the Kerala Assembly, where he was chosen as minister in charge of important portfolios, like Home, Law, Social Welfare, etc. He was appointed judge of the Kerala High Court in July 1968 and his speech on the occasion of assuming office was, “When my metamorphosis from lawyer to judge or its probability became known, many of my friends and well-wishers were puzzled and some were even scandalised. I was asked why did you? Did you really? I did not give any clear reply. The truth was that the Hamletial dilemma of to-be-or-not-be affected me too when I gave hesitant consent. Life is a rugged journey with its sharp and strange turns; it is an odd adventure where the exciting forenoons are followed by the mellow afternoons.”
He had excellent command over both English and Malayalam, “but there was no conceit. Whatever he had to say he would say euphonically, beautifully and emphatically. He pleaded, he urged, he demanded and he warned, using his huge vocabulary as a sabre.”
Justice Iyer, in a glowing tribute to Motilal Setalvad, Attorney General, says, “Lawyers beware. Today is bad enough. Tomorrow may be too late. Let us create a legal profession for the people as a tribute to Motilal Setalvad, who was a warm human being with a happy family life, a clean career and sensitive span and a long tenure untarnished by temptations to which many in commanding positions succumb.” He is no less in his praise of Justice MC Chagla and Justice PN Bhagwati.
Two years after becoming judge of the Kerala High Court, he became a member of the Law Commission of India. In 1973, the Supreme Court of India beckoned him where he played an important role in an era of judicial activism, public intent litigation, affirmative action though courts and a wide-ranging exercise of judicial review for which the Indian judiciary is hailed throughout the world today. Though his tenure in the apex court was relatively short, he managed to make a lasting impression on the public.
The annexure to the book carries correspondence exchanged by Justice Iyer with many eminent personalities including the then Prime Minister and others. His view on the Ram Janmabhoomi site was that the site should be excavated and if a Hindu shrine is found beneath it, then the Muslim community should willingly agree to the removal of the mosque and handing over the site to the appropriate authority in the Hindu community. “In case the finding is against the existence of a temple, consequential orders regarding possession and removal of the idols must be passed.”
When his wife passed away and he was left alone, he said, “Now that I am alone, alone among six billion humans on earth, the past slowly ebbs away and I conclude with Lord Byron, ‘What is the worst of woes that wait an age? What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow? To view each loved one blotted from life’s page, and be alone on earth, as I am now’.”
(Universal Law Publishing Co Pvt Ltd, C-Ff-1A Dilkhush Industrial Estate, Delhi-110033; www.unilawbooks.com)