“If I have another janama (birth), I would still like to become a teacher.” These are the words of N.R. Madhava Menon, who has worked for nearly six decades to improve Indian legal education, when asked about his dreams and aspirations. Menon has been instrumental in shaping many young minds and teaching them the nuances of Indian law.
Coming from a modest family in Trivandrum, Kerala, Menon was dotted with love from his mother and three elder sisters. Menon lost his father at the age of two and believes that it is his mother who made him what he is today. Born on 4th May, 1935, he believes in the ideology of ‘simple living and high thinking’. Menon’s mother, T.G. Bhavani Amma, was once told by an astrologer that he will become a judge, but Menon was more inclined towards studying science, least did he know what life has in store for him.
Menon studied biology in his graduation but there was no medical college in Kerala in the 1950s, and if one had to study medicine, he would have to go to Madras (now Chennai). Due to economic reasons, Menon could not pursue science and then life played its part. He considered the other option and that was to study law. He passed law at the age of 19 and became one of the youngest advocates of his time. When asked about it, Menon said, “It happened because I didn’t start school from standard I. I started my studies from standard III.”
Menon, who is totally devoted to shaping young minds, says practicing law was very difficult in those times as there were not many law firms. You either had to have some godfather or at least 4-5 years of experience with an ability to get clients to your seniors. It was getting difficult for him to earn money, so while practicing law he started teaching at a tutorial college and even gave his voice to few dramas on All India Radio simultaneously.
In an interesting episode, Menon revealed that he wore shoes for the first time when he went to the court after becoming an advocate. He says, “Even today I am not comfortable wearing shoes and once in Kerala I prefer to stay bare feet.” As it is said, old habits die hard, Menon has achieved a lot in his life but still likes to stay attached with his roots.
It was his professor at the law college Prof. Dr. A.T. Marcos who suggested to Menon that he would fit more in a teaching role rather than as an advocate. Further, Menon joined the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) as a lecturer in 1958. “At AMU, it was the best phase of my life. It shaped my career as a teacher,” says Menon. He was also very fond of horse riding and was the captain of the AMU Riding Club.
Menon says, “It was a big breakthrough for me as I was far ahead from other people in the department in terms of speaking English, in terms of preparation and lecturing. I became very popular as a teacher.” But his stint at the AMU ended on a sad note because of the students’ agitation against the then Vice-Chancellor. Menon recalls it as a sad ending of an enjoyable period.
In 1965, Menon came to Delhi University as a Professor and Head of Department, Law Faculty. Eminent names like Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibal were few of Menon’s students at the University.
It was the same year that he got married to D. Rema Devi, his maternal uncle’s daughter. Since then his wife accompanied him through all his journeys to different places. Menon, who has completed almost five decades of togetherness with his wife, appreciates her efforts to the core. “Her life revolved around family with no professional aspirations but she allowed and always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted,” says Menon.
Menon likes simple home food cooked by his wife, especially the white puffy idlis. In a funny overtone, Menon says that because of his working at many places, the food has also become cosmopolitan. His wife, who loves to cook, tries new dishes on him and their son, R. K. Menon.
After his tenure at the Delhi University, Menon went to Bangalore to set up the National Law School of India University. Menon was also the founding stone of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. In 2003, he was invited by Justice B.N. Kirpal, the then Chief Justice of India, to set up a judges training academy, National Judicial Academy, in Bhopal which is the only one in India. “So, though, I could not become a judge, I trained many judges of the High Courts,” says Menon.
Menon enjoys reading and writing the most as well as listening to instrumental music. Carnatic music remains his first choice but he also enjoys the soft music of the piano, violin and other instruments. He is also a regular columnist with The Hindu and The Telegraph, and mostly writes on topics of public importance.
Appreciating his efforts for founding the National University of Juridical Sciences, the International Bar Association honoured Prof. Menon with the Living Legend of Law Award in 1994. The Bar Council of India presented a Plaque of Honour to Menon for his contribution to the legal profession and the Commonwealth Legal Education Association elected him as its President for a four-year term (1994-98).