Book Review: Before Memory Fades

Book Review: Before Memory Fades

Ravikiran Shukre_JudicateMe


This Blog is written by Ravikiran Shukre | Column Editor


BOOK: Before Memory Fades.  


PUBLICATION: Hay House India.

EDITION: Seventeenth Reprint 2017 edition.

PAGES: 459

I recall a quote given by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam after reading this brilliant autobiography; Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, “Excellence is a continuous process and not an accident”. Before memory fades by Fali S. Nariman is a revelatory, comprehensive and perceptive autobiography. The book is axiomatic, self-evident which tells us about the life of Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman of the Supreme Court. Over the years Fali S. Nariman has attained the status of a pre-eminent advocate whose views are not only heard but also respected.

Born on the tenth day of January 1929 at the General Hospital in faraway Rangoon, to a Zoroastrian, or Parasi family as they are called, Fali Sam Nariman, ‘Baba’ to his parents, had to leave for India and take refuge when Japanese bombed Rangoon in December 1941, during second world war. Fali was sent to Bishop Cotton School Shimla, then to St. Xavier’s College of Bombay for his BA (Hons) and finally to Government Law College Bombay for his LLB. Nariman started his career at Payne & Co. as a trainee and thereafter joined prestigious Kanga Chamber. While describing his chamber Nariman said – “When you mention a famous racehorse, they always ask you, ‘from which stable?’ The stable is important. It establishes the ancestry and the breed. When you name a lawyer who has done well, people ask: ‘From which chamber?’ The chamber is important. It establishes the hierarchy and cultural tradition in which the lawyer has been reared.” Prestigious Kanga’s chamber which apart from Sir Jamshedji B. Kanga boasted luminaries such as Nani Palkhiwala, H.M. Seervai and Soli J. Sorabjee. It was Sir Jamshedji Kanga who helped Fali understand that “The Art of Advocacy – is to make simple what is complicated and vice versa”.

Fali still recalls those early days in the Bar when he would occasionally get a brief in the form of “Brief for Consent Decree” on which he would mark the magnificent fee of one gold mohurs, though the customary fee was two gold mohurs. For junior like him, a consent decree brief would take at least three appearances in order to convince the judge. In the other occasion when Fali was just a year old in the Bar, Nani Palkhiwala had an entrusted him with an appeal under the Bombay Land Requisition Act. Nani had an engagement before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, the matter reached the court, before Chief Justice Chagla and Justice Gajendragaadkar. Fali told the bench that Mr. Palkhiwala was appearing in another matter before ITAI and would be coming in some time. Then Chief Justice Chagla asked Fali whether he knew the matter. This turned out to be a golden opportunity for Fali to prove himself, and he read the facts and the legal provisions. While he could see the solicitors and clients who were sitting behind him wringing their hand in despair, Nani arrived before Court just when the Judgement had been delivered. Nani interrupted but Chagla who never liked interruptions when he was delivering judgements, said: “I don’t think Mr Palkhiwala, you can add anything more to what Mr. Nariman has so well presented”. These are some of the early memories in the Bombay Bar which Mr. Nariman still recalls and cherish.

Before Memory Fades is not just a book but it is a commentary on the most important court cases like Shankari Prasad[1] (1951), Sajjan Singh[2] (1965), Golaknath[3] (1967), Kesavanand Bharati[4] (1973), ad Minerva Mills[5] (1980) which laid down the fundamental basis of the Indian Constitution. Nariman explained how Judiciary dealt with the amendments and held Fundamental Rights as a Part of ‘Basic Structure’ of the constitution which can ever be amended. Nariman recalls most touching and family sentiments, when he was offered High Court Judgeship at the age of 38, but he declined the honour because of the financial reasons. Thereafter, his daughter Anaheeta told Bapsi (Nariman’s wife) “Mummy, please tell daddy to accept; I promise I will not spend too much money and will cut down chocolates and sweets because I would like him to be a judge”. Years later, Anaheeta presented Fali a cartoon picture which reminds Nariman of “The Judge You Might Have Been”.

Lastly, this book is a spirit of liberalism reflected in the willingness to seriously address rival points of the view and a scholarship that is worn very lightly… All in all, a compassionate work written by someone who comes across as a compassionate man.


[1] Shankari Prasad V. Union of India [AIR (1951) SC 455]

[2] Sajjan Singh V. State of Rajasthan [(1965) SCR (1) 933]

[3] I. C. Golaknath & Ors. V. State of Punjab & Anr. [(1967) SCR (2) 762]

[4] Kesavananda Bharti V. State of Kerala [AIR (1973) SC 1461]

[5] Minerva Mills V. Union of India [AIR (1980) SC 1789]

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