Revealing the personalities behind India’s legal personas
This being a festive season, India Business Law Journal thought it would be interesting and entertaining to shed some light on the character of some of India’s best-known legal eagles. Is your lawyer a biker? A collector of classic cars? An astrologer? Perhaps even a chef?
Well, read on and all will be revealed. For while lawyers may disguise themselves in dark suits and black courtroom gowns, their true identities can be much more colourful.
What better way to escape the confinement and humdrum of an office than to explore the magnificence of the great outdoors?
If he’s not in court defending his clients’ trademarks, Chander Lall, the managing partner at Lall & Sethi, is out looking for the world’s greatest adventures. An indefatigable athlete who will try his hand at anything, Lall has done it all: skiing, hand gliding, scuba diving, paragliding, sky diving, rock climbing, mountain climbing, kayaking, white water rafting, water skiing and zip-lining.
A deep-sea diver with an advanced certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, Lall has plunged into the deep blue waters of Bali, Thailand and Cancun, drawn by the tranquility and beauty of life underwater. This IP lawyer has kayaked through the fjords of Greenland and across Lake Hovsgol in Mongolia and climbed the peaks of Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta and Parang La.
If he’s not scaling the peaks of an exotic land, you may find Lall cycling around his hometown, Delhi. A member of the Delhi team in the 1982 trial games before the Asian Games, he used to participate in the city’s 200-kilometre road races. “I still cycle to work and have an electric car to take me to court,” says Lall.
Seema Jhingan, a partner at LexCounsel, makes time for sporting activities during holidays with her family. “I enjoy adventure sports such as rappelling, water sports and paragliding and indulge in them with my sons,” she says.
Aparajit Bhattacharya is an avid scuba diver. “I just love the blue sea and white sands,” says the partner at HSA Advocates.
Also enthralled by the great outdoors is Ravi Bishnoi, one of the founding partners of SRGR Law Offices. Although passionate about running marathons and hiking, Bishnoi finds river rafting most exhilarating. A few months ago, he signed up for a Grand Canyon rafting trip that is on National Geographic’s list of the top 20 ultimate adventures. He has also descended the Tons river, one of the most technical runs in the Himalayas, and the mighty Brahmaputra, one of the longest rivers on the planet. “It is amazing fun,” says Bishnoi.
Who says you have to travel far to get your heart rate up? Vinod Dhall, the managing partner of Dhall Law Chambers, looks no further than Delhi’s sprawling greens every weekend for a round of golf. A member of Delhi and Noida Golf Clubs, Dhall follows the game enthusiastically.
Luthra & Luthra senior partner, Vijay Sondhi, meanwhile, gets his heart pumping with a strenuous game of squash.
Ranji Dua, another Delhiite, and the managing partner at Dua & Associates, has been passionate about cricket, table tennis, football and tennis since his school days. In his youth, he represented the state of Punjab in table tennis and was the captain of the Delhi University tennis team that won the All-India Inter-University championships in 1973. On weekends, Dua makes time to practice his powerful backhand deliveries and menacing overhead smashes,
Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, a partner at Khaitan & Co, lives in the chaotic and crowded metropolis of Mumbai, but he and his colleagues can always find a field big enough to score sixes and fours in India’s favourite sport.
But cricket under the sweltering sun isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea. Akil Hirani prefers breezing through Mumbai’s glistening harbour on his days off. “It is very calming to be on the waters and leave the hustle and bustle of law practice and busy Bombay life behind,” says the managing partner of Majmudar & Co.
More comfortable with a paintbrush than a racket is Gunjan Paharia, the managing partner of Zeus IP. Although daring enough to sky dive whenever she has the chance, Paharia also indulges in calmer pursuits, such as painting.
Sunita Sreedharan, the managing partner of SKS Associates, strikes a similar balance, enjoying trekking, dancing and swimming along with oil painting.
Amarchand Mangaldas’ managing partner Cyril Shroff discovered his artistic abilities only recently. After three years of working at charcoal sketching, he produced a book of 18 sketches to commemorate his son Rishabh’s wedding in November. His fine lines capture the ceremonies and rituals of a Hindu wedding and are accompanied by passages explaining the symbols and meaning of these traditions.
If you meet Bhumesh Verma, a partner at Paras Kuhad & Associates, you may find it hard to believe that he likes to sing. A reserved, soft-spoken person, it’s almost impossible to picture him on stage. But looks can be deceiving. Verma’s theatrical streak stretches back to his school and college days where he delivered speeches, recited poetry, sang popular melodies, skilfully debated and also mimicked his teachers for fun.
“Singing is still my passion,” says Verma. “Chevening scholars batch of 2000 still relishes the most authentic midnight renditions of Ek Chatur Naar from the Hindi movie Padosan.”
Another crooner, who sings only occasionally now, is Lalit Bhasin, the managing partner of Bhasin & Co. “Since my school and college days I had great interest in Hindi light and classical music and used to sing at college functions and music competitions,” he says.
Amarjit Singh, meanwhile, reveals: “If I had not joined the legal profession I would have been a singer or politician.” The managing partner of Amarjit & Associates studied music as a lead subject in high school, winning awards and accolades in inter-school and inter-university singing competitions. “I used to sing Punjabi folk songs and old Hindi film melodies,” he says.
Although not an artist himself, shipping lawyer S Venkiteswaran is a lover of music, performing arts and culture. Venkiteswaran is the vice-chairman of Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha, a performing arts institution in Mumbai. “There are regular music programmes there, and we have a library of over 100,000 concerts available at the click of a button,” he says.
If you can’t paint a masterpiece, you can always buy one. At least Vijay Sondhi, who cannot resist collecting paintings, pens and watches, believes so. “My collection runs into hundreds and I still can’t stop myself from picking one that catches my eye,” he says.
Shardul Shroff’s weaknesses are books, DVDs and art. The managing partner of Amarchand Mangaldas has an extensive collection of crime thrillers, biographies, and books on astrology, management, religion and alternate medicine, as well as Archie comics. “As children, my brother and I collected several hundred comics, which are now loved by all our kids,” says Shroff. “Pallavi [Shroff] and I also share a passion for Indian art and have built up our collection over several years.”
When he isn’t scrutinizing the clauses of a contract or examining the intricacies of new legislation, Sudhir Ravindran is probably admiring the detail on one of his decorative antique weapons. Ravindran collects antique swords, knives and firearms, many of which adorn the walls of his home. He also has “a less expensive” hobby of collecting flags belonging to various countries and parties, both political and non-political.
It seems appropriate that ML Bhakta, whose surname translates as “dedicated” or “devoted”, should have a vast collection of Ganeshas, the Hindu elephant god. The senior partner at Kanga & Company calls this his passion and “almost an obsession”, which began at the tender age of four. Bhakta’s collection comprises over 500 images and statues ranging in size from two to 100 centimetres.
The Ganeshas, purchased from Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Nepal, are made from materials such as wood, alabaster, crystal, ivory, sandalwood and semi-precious stones. “Whenever I am away from Mumbai, I look for Ganesh in some unusual form,” says Bhakta. “I also have Ganesh idols manufactured outside India, in places like Japan, China, Italy and France.”
Pursuing a less saintly and arguably more hedonistic path is Neeraj Tuli. Smoking a good cigar is one of this lawyer’s favourite pastimes and, luckily for him, a hobby easily combined with many of his other interests. Tuli, who is the managing partner of insurance boutique Tuli & Co, is quite the connoisseur. Although Cuban cigars are a natural favourite, he is happy to let new tastes linger on his palate.
“My current favourite cigars are the Romeo Churchill Short and the Montecristo Petit Edmundo,” he says. “But I am experimenting with some non-Cubans with odd sounding names. A friend of mine has just presented me with some ‘Gurkha’ cigars, which are intriguingly named the ‘Beast’. Good draw and burn, mild flavour … but not quite up to the all-round quality of the Cuban cigars yet.”
Diljeet Titus owns what is perhaps one of the most magnificent collections of them all – a jaw-droppingly beautiful array of vintage cars, hidden away on the outskirts of Delhi. Housed in The Titus Museum of Transportation and Collectibles – India’s only private museum of classic cars – Titus’s antique treasures include a 1933 Minerva, a 1934 Rolls-Royce seven-passenger sedan, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and a bright pink 1959 Cadillac Series.
“I also collect antique furniture, books, Osler chandeliers, carpets and photographs taken in India between 1840 and 1947,” says Titus. “In fact, anything old!”
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, it might be worth calling on one of the legal profession’s photographers to do Titus’s antique beauties justice. For Priti Suri, the proprietor of PSA Legal, a camera is almost as important as her keys.
“I am constantly amazed by the scenes of the world and love to capture them on my camera – be it nature, historic monuments, Buddhist temples, museums, monasteries and definitely people,” says Suri, who practices Buddhism. “I am deeply intrigued by different and ancient cultures, the emptiness of vast open spaces and feel a strong sense of connection with the mountains.”
For Sawant Singh, photography is a new passion, which he began nurturing a year ago when he received a Nikon D5100 for his birthday. “I may not be the best but I have captured some interesting snaps on my travels,” says Singh. “Three of my favourites are an old man on a shikara [boat], captured on a recent trip to Kashmir; a building on my trip to Saint Sulpice near Morges in Switzerland; and a photo of Marmalade, my little neurotic cat.”
Forget one neurotic cat – how on earth does one meditate in a house bursting with the hullabaloo of three kids and 10 dogs? Saikrishna Rajagopal appears to have mastered the art of concentration amid the squealing, shouting and barking. When he isn’t playing golf, Rajagopal is channelling positive energies with yoga and meditation, a hobby that he is “trying to acquire as a discipline”.
Developing a strict yogic regime is, however, more challenging with a troupe of eager canines waiting to smother you. “Most often,” says Rajagopal, “I’m rudely interrupted by Bheem, our juvenile German Shepherd who manages to smooch me just when my kundalini seems to be on the upward trajectory.”
Anand Prasad, a partner at Trilegal, describes himself as “a keen practitioner of yoga”. But don’t let his calm exterior fool you. Once he’s perfected his asanas, you may find this thrill-seeker speeding down Delhi’s streets on his 1800 cc motorbike.
For Vishnumohan Rethinam, nothing on earth compares with how starry-eyed he feels looking up at the sky. In his spare time, this IP partner at Remfry & Sagar is a passionate amateur astronomer and a regular lecturer at the Nehru Planetarium in Delhi. He specializes in deep-sky observation and has been a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Delhi for nearly 20 years. He often has his eye on a motorized telescope with a database of deep-sky objects, but also challenges himself by surfing the night sky with old-fashioned star charts.
Also deeply connected with the stars is Shardul Shroff. Shroff practises astrology, a hobby he’s had since the age of 15. He professes such accuracy that his wife and daughters no longer ask for his predictions, fearing what they may learn. “I read extensively to update myself about the various aspects of astrological predictions and alternate divination methods like i-ching and tarot,” says Shroff.
“When I am not working, I love to put wheels on my feet,” says Lira Goswami, a partner at Associated Law Advisers. Goswami and her friend Ruby Anand, who is also a lawyer, have travelled to every continent. She admits, however, that “the dust of Africa has settled in my heart and an African safari is the best spot for me. We go back every other year.”
Dev Robinson is a wildlife enthusiast who tries to spend his leisure time in the forest reserves of India. “Wildlife conservation is a subject I feel strongly about,” says Robinson, an IP partner at Amarchand Mangaldas.
Exotic locales have always fascinated Akil Hirani, who loves combining outdoor activities with cultural exploration. One of his most memorable trips was a wildlife safari in Hluhluwe in the heart of Zululand, the oldest game reserve in Africa. “This was where Zulu kings such as Dingiswayo and Shaka hunted and put in place the first conservation laws, where today the ‘big five’ of African legend stalk the savannah,” he says.
The gardener and the chef
If you happen to meet a beaming Sujjain Talwar, chances are he’s spent some time on a therapeutic hobby otherwise known as gardening. Talwar grows vegetables and herbs on a small patch in Karjat, on the outskirts of Mumbai. “It is very satisfying,” he says. “And so is a good round of golf!”
Talwar also enjoys reclaiming and restoring old furniture – “browsing for antiques in flea markets and restoring them with a lot of help from karigars [artisans]”. His current project is reviving a 1950s armchair. “In 10 days this will look different,” says Talwar reassuringly of his tired looking purchase. “It needs to be stripped down, polished, reupholstered and fixed back.”
On weekends, MP Bharucha happily trades his court robes for an apron. Although the senior partner at Bharucha & Partners says reading is his passion, he admits that his pleasure is whipping up a hearty meal. “Every Sunday and holiday I love to experiment in the kitchen; not necessarily with a recipe book,” says Bharucha.
Bharucha says he’s just an amateur and has no signature dishes. But his modesty is belied by praise for his bolognaise, moussaka and bits and pieces of Chinese cuisine picked up from a ₹5 paperback published by the Chinese government. “The amazing part of my cooking is that when I have finished, the kitchen is not a disaster area!” he says proudly. “Someday, if the school were foolish enough to accept me, I’d like to do a Cordon Bleu course. I doubt though, that Santa will be that kind or generous in the foreseeable future.”