Maninder Singh and Prathiba M. Singh are the proverbial example of where love and, in their case, law transcends all. Both have been brought up in joint families and till date live in a joint family. Their home rings with the joy of 10 family members, all eating in the kitchen, food cooked by their 75-year-old mother Balbir Kaur. “She does not let anyone into the kitchen for breakfast. It’s strictly her domain. Her day begins at 3.30 am with 10 different breakfasts,” smiles Maninder. Their kitchen is bigger than their formal dining room with a table where all eat together. “This practice has come from my childhood, as we had a small home in the refugee colony; my parents had come there after Partition. All of us would eat on the floor together. Now my mother can’t walk about a lot, so this makes it easier for her to feed us.
Before becoming Senior Advocates they founded Singh & Singh in 1999. The firm which had its initial office in the basement of their home has grown to become India’s leading law firm in the field of intellectual property litigation, information technology and related aspects, as also technology, media and telecommunication laws.
To name some rewards, the firm has received recognition as ‘Best IT & TMT Law Firm of the Year, 2014’ by Legal Era, ‘IP Firm of the Year, 2013’ by Managing Intellectual Property, ‘Deal Maker of the Year, 2013’ by IBLJ, and Winner of the ‘Indian Law Firm of the Year, 2013’ by IBLJ. Singh & Singh also recently received the Indian –IP Contentious Award at the Global Awards 2013.
Talking about their journey of life, the Singhs cite that the difference in cultural backgrounds was a minor issue. Today, Bengaluru – born Prathiba converses fluently in Punjabi.
Born in a middle- class business family, Prathiba lost her mother at the age of seven. “I was brought up by my paternal grandmother, A.K. Pramila. She is my inspiration and role model. From her, I learned the art of sharing, holding relationships together and making things work at any cost. She does not know English or Hindi, only regional languages – Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. But is such a strong person. ” Prathiba wanted to become a doctor, but as she got admission in medicine outside Bengaluru and her family did not want a young girl to stay in a hostel, she ended up studying law. “I remember I did not eat for a week, I was so disappointed,” she smiles. She got a gold medal in LL.B. And then was awarded a scholarship for her masters in Cambridge University. “I was good at debates in school, so law became the natural choice once I couldn’t go outside Bengaluru to study.” This eminent lawyer was awarded the Euromoney Asia Women in Business Law Award 2012 for the Best Woman IP Litigator in Asia, and also received the 2013 Best IP Lawyer award from Legal Era. Alumna of the Faculty of Law at Cambridge, she has donated a scholarship that will allow other Indian students to complete LL.M. at the world-renowned faculty. She is the first IPR lawyer to be designated as Senior Advocate.
Her first job was at Lipton India in Bengaluru. “But the dean of the law faculty said he wanted to see me in the Supreme Court and not in air-conditioned office, so I landed a job with an IP law firm in Delhi, met Maninder and the rest is history,” she laughs. Pratibha M Singh is presently Judge, Delhi High Court.
Maninder was working with Arun Jaitley, now Finance Minister, and was an Advocate on Record. He topped that exam in 1992. They became friends while filing cases in the Supreme Court and High Court. “We did not even realise that we wanted to marry each other. Prathiba was getting marriage proposals and then we realised that we wanted to get married,” smiles Maninder.
Talking about working with Arun Jaitley, Maninder cities that Jaitley is a good observer. He does not say but watches closely all those who work with him. “He knows what is happening around him. And he played an important role in our marriage.
Initially, the family did have some inhibitions due to cultural and background differences, so one day I found Arun Jaitley sitting with my mother. He asked my mother, ‘Do you think Maninder can do anything wrong?’ and she said no, and within a month we were married. And married twice, with Sikh and Telugu rituals,” laughs Maninder.
For Maninder becoming a lawyer was fulfilling his father’s dreams. “My father, Manmohan Singh, was a CPWD contractor. He was not a trained lawyer but would do his own arbitrations, so he wanted one child to become a lawyer,” elucidates the lawyer who has studied all through in the University of Delhi and was appointed as Additional Solicitor General of India in 2014.
Hard work and honesty have been the mantra for their success. “We started with a single computer in the basement and half of it was our home. As there was no room to dry clothes, we had to break open a wall and build a window there to let sun in. We had to make the servant watch the clothes as once our clothes were stolen,” reminisces the couple.
There was a thin line between life at home and life at office. Children were always allowed to be with them in office as they wanted to spend as much time as possible with them. So they would do their homework there.
Their daughter, Manmeet, wants to follow their footsteps and study law but their son, Karamanya, is keen on engineering . While Prathiba learnt carnatic music in her younger days, her daughter plays the piano. “Our parents are like our friends, there are no secrets and hidden areas,” says Karamanya.
The duo has different reading habits through; while Prathiba likes thrillers and crime fiction, Maninder sticks to his legal journals.
In the last five years, the entire family has been travelling abroad for their bonding time. “We normally hire an apartment as that makes my mother happy. She does not miss giving us breakfast,” says Maninder. They have travelled to Hong Kong, Thialand, East and West Coast of the USA, Canada and London.
And you find south Indian fare on their table as much as Punjabi meals. In fact, Maninder is a big foodie; he likes street food a lot. And what keeps them charged is law and family.