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K.Parasaran- Jack of all trades; master of all he surveys

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

Kesava Iyengar Parasaran is again in the news. He is the presiding Trustee of the Narendra Modi government instituted Trust, christened as Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Tirth Kshetra. The formation is in the wake of or in compliance with the imprimatur from the Supreme Court empowering the Union Of India mandated Trust, to oversee the construction of The Grand Temple for Maryada Purushotham Ram, in now cleared, once disputed Ayodhya Ramjanmabhoomi site. Padmashri Parasaran, Senior Advocate and former Attorney General of India, appeared for the Ram Lalla, and led the team of lawyers, who managed to persuade the 5 Judges’ Bench of the top court to unanimously pronoun and resolve the 70 year old litigation, as old as India’s Republic.

All of 92 years, Parasaran’s wise counsel and calming influence had a soothing effect over the cauldron of conflicted environment during the proceedings in Supreme Court. His astuteness, and extraordinary skill in manoeuvring the tough terrain, made harder by the visceral hate filled submissions and conduct (in tearing up the Plan of the disputed site) of the Rajeev Dhawan, Senior Advocate led other side, had to be summoned to its optimum. The continued reporting of the proceedings engaged, enlivened and enlightened even the commoner. That the Supreme Court was able to stick to its disciplinarian time table was owed not only to Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s school masterly qualities, but also due to K Parasaran’s dexterity in marshalling the mountain of facts with his divinely manifested precision tools.

Recently, one had the good fortune to have a long conversation with the Bhishma Pithamaha of the legal fraternity (as the Chief Justice, Madras High Court, now Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul addressed him) during the KP@90 celebrations got up by Sastra University, Tamil Nadu, in Chennai. This was on the occasion of the Centenary of Nanabhoy Ardeshir Palkhivala on 16th Jan, 2020, to elicit KP’s thoughts on the life and times of the legend Nani for a Special Issue of a Chennai based law journal, Current Tamil Nadu Cases.

What came through was KP’s humility, when he had nothing little to be humble about, in contrast to the egoistic thunder of many pigmies who have a lot to be humble about. KP put us on notice that EGO- was defined and expanded as Elbowing or Edging God Out. The man had lived this as he believed in the presiding deity Lord Parthasarathi, a divyadesam among 108 Vaishnavite shrines, at Triplicane, Chennai. He owed his present status, position, accolades, and even brickbats, if any, to the feet of the divine. He pointed out that Nani@ was no less religious or spiritual and not ritualistic.

Such noble sons, God’s Gift to India, to borrow C Rajagopalachari’s famed tribute to Nani Palkhivala, for whatever reasons have failed, declined, unpersuaded to write their memoirs. No use eulogising these gentlemen. They need to be feted and seen as role models to emulate, in a nation bereft of such class and nobility in most who may have anointed themselves leaders. Are they any different from us? How is it they shone brighter even if hailing from similar and simple middle class backgrounds? Did they set out to specialise their craft from early days with singular focus? Or did they grope and traverse across spaces, as generalists who came to specialise in anything they touched? How did they get to become Jack of All Trades and Master of All, not none? Is there a message and lesson for the younger generation aspiring to be specialists and compartmentalising themselves too quickly and too willingly.

When the debate on generalists vs specialists was broached with KP, we had the benefit of the recent work of David Epstein- Range- Why Generalists Triumph in Specialised World, Researching deep into the hearts and minds of those who had made it big, in many a discipline, he has come up with the hypothesis, that it was a generalist who ultimately trumped the specialists, even if the specialists looked special. It is an eternal debate that was triggered to a tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell flagging off the 10,000 hours to a genius route in his Outliers. Gladwell had argued, it seemed with the comfort of empirical data, that it took years of dedicated focus of an Arjuna or an Ekalavya, to become the best in one’s business.

Epstein challenged the Gladwellian hypothesis and pointed out that Tiger Woods,who started golfing at age 2, was an exception and it was a Roger Federer, who after wading through football, swimming, basketball et al, settled down to become an all time great tennis racketeer. Gladwell was compelled to concede that his 10,000 hours hypothesis maybe wobbly and Epstein’s generalist’s superiority over the specialist may be a reality in life.

Shri Parasaran readily agreed. He said even his father was ticked in the Box of a specialist- handling with aplomb civil disputes, land, property issues, and suits and appeals arising there from. KP said, however his father was a master in tax legislation’s and his opinions cane to be approved and accepted by no less than Nani Palkhivala the genius at tax- with a magnum opus early in his life- Kanga & Palkhivala- The Law and Practice of Income Tax.

As for himself, with his trade mark modesty KP claimed that he too was bracketed as his father’s son, as specialising in civil litigations. He was not noted for his constitutional, corporate or tax ‘practice’, yet he had handled such portfolios at the highest levels before the apex court. And he said that- maybe a generalist was better placed than a specialist for he never assumed scholarship or felt overconfident, as his lack of specialisation led to his dwelling deeper than a specialist would be inclined to, on every occasion. Wow, Epstein logic and research results come true!

Epstein argues that instead of specialising too early, it would make sense for one to test the waters, as a generalist, and experience many terrains. Epstein himself was a marine biologist who researched in Antarctic as a scientist, before he became a sports journalist with a psychologist’s construct, in Sports Illustrated. Nani Palkhivala himself did not set out to become a lawyer. He set out to become a Professor of English in Bombay University, As his and India’s destiny took a turn, a lady aspirant beat Nani to the English Lecturer ‘s post. Nani dutifully hosted the lady a treat, year on year, for her besting him to the tape that mattered. Nani repaid the debt that India owed the lady. On such twists and turns is a nation’s history tied.

Nani too began as a generalist, on the original side of Bombay High Court, handling civil suits. It was his tutelage under the legendary lawyer Kanga’s chamber which tethered him to tax, corporate and constitutional practice. He became a specialist with a generalist root and mindset. No wonder Nani made good to ‘unsurpassed skills in advocacy in Keshavanand Bharathi’ as Justice H R Khanna mused.

Parasaran too has been a generalist with a specialist’s tweak, in any portfolio he came to pursue. He has stood tall in many a constitutional (Mandal Commission), corporate (LIC vs Escorts) and tax (Expenditure levy) issues of humongous proportions, just to name a few. There is not a field of law that Parasaran has not gone visiting and conquered with ease.

Take the Ramjanmabhoomi case. It was a land dispute. A civil litigation. But it took him to other areas of specialisation too. Or the Sabarimala case, which is now on, for all practical purposes, before a Nine Judge Bench of Supreme Court. It has social, religious, spiritual, faith based connects. Yet, at its core, it is a constitutional issue of immense magnitude. Parasaran handled both and continues to handle the later now, in a battle of wits of epic proportions.

As one read the news of Parasaran heading the Ramjanmabhabhomi Trust, with his own residential address as the Trust’s, one felt comforted. He piloted the Ramjanmabhoomi litigation of 7 decade vintage to safe landing with nary a ripple Pan India. Who knows, as a generalist with a specialist’s core, as A Jack of All Trades, But A Master Of All He Surveys, there could be lurking in him, a planner, an architect, why, even a mason too, to at last see the construction of Ayodhya Ram’s The Grand Temple.

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan – Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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