What they never TEACH in Madras Law College Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan Prologue

What they never TEACH in Madras Law
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan

For one, who had avidly read Mark H McCormack’s ‘What they didn’t teach me at Yale Law School’, facing it in Madras Law College,still, cannot say, was no big deal. Forget not,that the same pathbreaking innovator, who had set up International Management Group, which has spawned across the world and is now a commercially success; had also penned ‘What they Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School’. We have our own Professional Management Group with fingers in many enterprising pie. IMG’s first customer was the great golf player Gary Player.

McCormack was a trained attorney. He turned out to be a magical management guru. Then wrote these best sellers. I was an accidental lawyer like Nani Palkhivala. There, the comparison and convergence cease. Nani wanted to be an English professor. He lost out to a lady who pipped him to the post ,to India’s eternal gratitude as C Rajagopalachari @ Rajaji said on the courtroom genius being ‘ God’s gift to India’.

When I joined Madras Law College, in 1980s, it was as if ‘a last resort of a scoundrel joining politics’. Of course,it was a political institution any which way one looked at it. The institution has contributed to the good,bad and ugly in politics. And it possibly continues. Of course, it turned out multiple judges and jurists, (as it had to for it was the second oldest law college,,as my late neighbour V K Thiruvenkatachari,-Advocate-General of Madras, sarcastically put it). Incidentally, it was V K T Chari who got me into Madras Law College working his networks.

It is quite strange to allude to ‘influence’ to get into Madras Law College. A college mate who made it good to the bench of a constitutional court, always pointed out, “While every one fought in courts over a missed medical or engineering college seat, we can be sure that no student would ever lose a wink of sleep to fight for a law college seat and so we never had to worry with such litigation genre ”. So true!

Today Madras Law College is called Chennai Dr. Ambedkar Government Law College. The 131 years’ prestigious institution was founded by the British in 1891, with the uniqueness and speciality of its location to be within the High Court Campus. This institution had the privilege of being the 2nd oldest college in the country and the first law college started in south India.

Originally named ‘Madras Law College’, it later got renamed in 1991 as ‘Dr. Ambedkar Government Law College’ in commemoration of Birth Centenary of Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, the Father of Indian Constitution.

The college has the high prestigious record of having many illustrious students – Former President of India Thiru R.Venkataraman (1987-92) , Former Supreme Court Chief Justices- Thiru Pathanchali Sastry ( 1951 – 54 ) , Thiru Koka Subba Rao ( 1958 – 1967 ) , Thiru P. Sathasivam ( 2013-2016 ), Former Supreme Court Judges- Thiru V. R. Krishna Aiyar, Thiru P.Satyanarayana Raju , Thiru. V Balakrishna Eradi, Tmt.R.Banumathi, innumerable Supreme Court Lawyers and High Court Judges. We shall get there as we go along.

Not to forget the umbilical political connect with State Chief Ministers including Thiru. Kotla Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, Thiru. C. Sankaran Nair, a former President of the Indian National Congress and many government officials, who came out of this college and campus.

In pursuance of the direction of the High court vide Writ Petition No. 11806 0f 2017 and vide G.0 No.188/2017 dated 28.06.2018 , the Dr. Ambedkar Government Law college located in the High Court campus was bifurcated and shifted to two different campuses, one of which is now located at Pudupakkam, Tiruporur Taluk, Chengalpattu District.The campus was declared open on 02.07.2018. And the other is Thiruvalluvar. Whatever happened to the ‘uniqueness and speciality of it being housed within the high court campus’!

Coming out of an academically disciplined and educationally inclined Vivekananda College,Mylapore,Madras, the expectation was different. One was anticipating long hours in the campus , serious lectures and sincere debates in classes. One was also primed to get ready to ‘research’ on knotty legal problems, as well as being busily engaged in moot courts, debates,elocutions culturals and sporting activities.

V K T Chari had put me on to the same letter and advice that Justice Felix Frankfurter sent out to a teen student Paul. In May 1954, M. Paul Claussen, Jr., a 12-year-old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter in which he wrote that he was interested in “going into the law as a career” and requested advice as to “some ways to start preparing myself while still in junior high school.” This is the reply he received:

My Dear Paul:
No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.
With good wishes,
Sincerely yours,
Felix Frankfurter

Mind you, I was not ‘interested to go into law’. Having got into the course,as a last resort,sought Chari’s counsel, nevertheless, to try and make the best of what was the only dish on the table.

( Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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