Legal Luminaries


Modest yet articulate, Iqbal Chagla is not a person prone to talking about his success or measuring it. His fame and success lie in his completing 50 fulfilling years in the legal profession, which was felicitated in Mumbai. “I don’t count my success with the number of cases won or awards I got or even the honorary doctorate, but in the warmth, affection, loyalty and outstanding ability of my juniors and the people I have been with all these 50 years. I bask in their glory,” he elucidates. And some of his juniors are eminent names of the legal world such as the Maharashtra Advocate General, Darius Khambata, and Senior Counsel, Janak Dwarkadas. “Sometimes I am at the receiving end from them in court,” he smiles.

The illustrious Chagla enrolled in the Bar in 1963, was invited to be Senior Advocate by the Bombay High Court in 1978 got an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Berhampur University, Odisha, on 2 May 2012 and was President of the Bombay Bar Association for three consecutive terms, from 1990 to 1999.

On his beginnings, Chagla says his inspiration has been his father, Mahommedali Currim Chagla. “I had very large shoes to fill when I came back as a barrister from London. I basked in his glory then and his achievements were my inspiration. Looking at his milestones, I feel great pride at what he did and I always wanted to emulate his values.” Mahommedali Currim Chagla was a well-known jurist, diplomat and Cabinet Minister who served as Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court from 1948 to 1958.
M.C. Chagla served as Indian Ambassador to the USA from 1958 to 1961 and then as Indian High Commissioner in the UK from 1962 to 1963. On his return, he was asked to be a Cabinet Minister and he served as Education Minister from 1963 to 1966. He then served as the Minister for External Affairs of India form 1966 to 1967, after which he left government service.
“My father advised me to see the doyen of the Bar, Sir Jamsetjee Kanga. And Sir Jamsetjee sent me to Kharshedji Babha,” reminisces Chagla. “Chamber Number 1 was the prestigious chamber and invariably someone would be a judge form that chamber. All the famous names were there such as Fali Nariman, Soli Sorabjee, Jehangoo Khambatta, Obed Chinoy, Avinash Rana and a host of others who I will not mention.”

Brought up in a democratic household, Chagla recounts that they had all the freedom to make their own choices. But his father did not believe in letting his children have undue benefits. “I went to St. Mary’s High School in the school bus as the school did not like children coming by car. My father gifted me a pack of cigarettes when I joined St. Xavier’s college. I smoked cigarettes for about 40 years and then moved on to cigars and pipes. I had a good collection of pipes which I have now put away as I have given up the habit.”

His father did not like to be addressed as Chief Justice after retirement. He wanted people to call him ‘Mr. Chagla.’ “My mother was a humble, loving woman and my father’s positions did not turn her head. She was not very well educated but was warm to everyone,” he says.

Brought up with this simplicity, he has taken life in his stride. “we did have our tough times in the beginning. My wife, Roshan, supported me in all ways. When we got married, she used to earn more than me. She was working with an American company. It was love marriage. She is a Parsi and I am an agnostic. But my father made it clear that if I converted her, he would not attend the marriage. She typed my first draft.”

The graceful man remembers how he met Roshan in London in 1963. His father was posted as the High Commissioner of India to the UK. “I met Roshan on the ship Victoria while travelling back to India form London. And we decided to sail together for life and got married in 1965.”

The couple has two children – son, Riyaz and daughter, Rohiqa. Riyaz is also a lawyer and married to Nilufer. Rohiqa is married to Cyrus Pallonji Mistry who was the Chairman of the Tata Group. “We have four grandsons. Rhoiqa’s sons, Firoze and Zahaan, are studying in Geneva. Riyaz’ sons, Rehan and Zaheer, are in Mumbai with us,” say Chagla and his wife.
Three generations in the same profession. Carrying the legacy of an illustrious grandfather and father, did Chagla want his son to be a lawyer? “No,” he says, “I tried to dissuade him as the profession has now become a business, not what it used to be in earlier times. But Riyaz want to emulate his grandfather’s values.”

There’s lot more to the man who was offered judgeship of the Supreme Court by the then Chief Justice, J.S. Verma. “In a short tenure of one and a half years, I could not have done a lot to bring about much change, so I decided to stay in Mumbai,” he elucidates.

He likes photography, plays golf, loves to travel and would love to catch up on his reading if and when he finds more time. Some of the authors he likes are T.S. Eliot and Lawrence Durrell. “I did my MA in Philosophy and would have become a journalist if I had not opted for law,” he smiles. It was his passion for writing that helped him write the Foreword for his father’s autobiography, Roses in December. “A heart attack forced my father to rest at home. During this time, we thought writing the book would be the best thing. He would speak and my wife would make notes and type them. Then one day, Nani Palkhivala saw this and sent a stenographer. Within a year, the book was ready.”

On the current judicial system, Chagla feels that judges should be given more emoluments. Their salaries should be tax-free so that their economic status is raised and with more incentives more capable people would accept judgeship in the future.
He lives in a flat allotted by India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru. “The owner, Mrs Amarsey, was very happy to let it out to my father and I am happy here.”

A trumpet at home, gifted by his wife on his 50th birthday, says, “Now that you are 50. You can blow your own trumpet,” but Chagla still likes to keep a low profile and continue working.

We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001.

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