If one happens to look for a lawyer with foresight and one who is also a great planner then none can be a better choice than Arvind Datar. He is also one who is ready to accept change and move on rather than wait for the tide to turn.
While a surgery kept him from following in his father’s footsteps and joining the merchant navy, an intestinal twist washed away his dreams of becoming an engineer. Instead of becoming despondent, Arvind went on to pursue a B.Sc. (Hons) in Physics and Mathematics in Bombay. An avid debater, he was also spellbound by Palkhivala’s lectures in Bombay. Where else could this lead him to if not law? So on completion of his under graduation course he joined the Madras Law College and completed his law degree in 1980. Simultaneously, he also pursued the Cost Accountancy Course with the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants in 1982. It was while he was doing ICWA that he enrolled at the Bar.
This was the time when the planner in him stepped in. he decided to practice civil law for a year, then specialized in tax laws for three years and thereafter set up his own practice. Yet, the journey was not easy. In fact, once he started his own practice, he had to take to writing and teaching, as he did not have too many clients. Remembering his early days, he says, “Those days you got about Rs. 50 for a two-hour lecture and about Rs. 200 for an article. In two years, I wrote 77 articles.” Till date he was written more than 150 articles in a number of journals and newspapers. He has also delivered several guest lectures at premier institutions such as the National Law School of India University, Bangalore; ILS Law College, Pune and School of Excellence, Chennai. He has also been a guest speaker at Cambridge University and at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
In addition to articles, he has also authored several books such as Datar’s Commentary on the Constitution of India (2nd edition), Guide to Central Excise-Law &Practice (7th edition), Guide to Central Excise Procedures (2nd Edition). He is the Editor-in-Chief of Ramaiya’s Guide to Companies Act and the Chief Editor of the tenth edition of Kanga and Palkhivala’s Law and Practice of Income Tax. Apart from these he also co-authored a book with Soli Sorabjee on the legal journey of Nani Palkhivala titled, The Courtroom Genius. He finds it very difficult to combine his busy practice and meeting his writing commitments. Unlike some authors, he is unable to write for a few hours daily and has to, therefore, give up or drastically reduce his practice for a few months every time a new edition of any of his books has to be completed.
While his written works are mostly centered on law, his interest in reading could not have been more varied. Having become a fan of Lan Fleming’s James Bond series in college, he says, “I’ve yet to come across any other spy series that has been as interesting and has the same panache as the James Bond series.” He also enjoys books on management, self-help and biographies.
His other love is travel, which by virtue of being a lawyer and knowing the court holidays in advance he has the liberty of planning four to six months in advance. “My wife and I Love to travel to unusual places and we try to take a holiday every summer and during the Dussera holidays,” discloses Arvind. Having greatly enjoyed their visit to Rajasthan and the Kabini Forest Reserve near Mysore, he says, “We have now decided to focus on travel within India.” Yet in the same breath he also adds, “The most satisfying overseas trips have been to Japan and the Alaskan cruise.”
If you might think that planning everything in advance makes Arvind staid and boring then you need to think again. “Arvind can beat anyone in a game of Antakshari,” divulges wife Himani. An avid old Hindi film music buff, he would listen to the jukebox when on holidays. Besides, there is the ready staple of Vividh Bharati and Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala. He also has a limited interest in western classical music.
Himani and Arvind were married in 1983, a year after they were first introduced by common friends. Himani, a student of economics and demography, had gone to Pune to complete her Masters in Economics and Arvind had gone to the city for the Golden Jubilee celebrations of his school, the Shri Shivaji Preraratory Military School. “We got along like a house on fire. There were no awkward moments. It felt as though I had always known her,” says Arvind of their very first meeting. Himani echoes her husband’s thoughts, only adding, “We were very sure that we would never take shortcuts in life. He has lived up to that promise. He is very committed to integrity and honesty in his dealings.” Arvind also adds that his wife has been very patient with him, even when he is unable to spend time with her for days on end when completing a new edition of one of his books. The Datar’s match was surely made in heaven. At present Himani is Honorary Secretary of the Guild of Services.
Arvind also gives part of the credit for his success to his parents, who never pressurized him but gave him the liberty to choose his own career. Arvind did the same with his own children. Daughter, Saraswati, who was recently married to an IT Professional, Akshay, is a communications major. Son, Hrishikesh, is an alumnus of the National Law School, Bangalore, and has started his own legal consultancy website www.vakilresearch. Com. Today he has more than 130 employees working for his start-up.
While Hrishikesh has taken the road less trodden, Arvind started his practice with N. Natarajan and Ramani Natarajan and later worked with the leading tax firm of M/s Subbaraya Aiyar, Padmanabham and Ramamani. He owes an enormous debt of gratitude to his senior and doesn’t hesitate to share the lessons he learnt from them which have stood him in good stead all his life. They had taught him to never quarrel with a judge and said, “Remember it is your client’s life; for you it is only your bread and butter.” These are words that have inspired this Senior Advocate, but his own words in the three-volume commentary on the Constitution of India are no less when it comes to inspiring the youth in India to take up law.