soli sorabjee

(9th March 1930 – 30th April 2021)

It is very difficult to put into words the impact of this man in my life. It is difficult to know where to begin. Our paths would never have crossed had it not been for one fortuitous occasion where the man I called the ‘the Great Man” was invited to talk on public interest litigation to a small group of lawyers who had banded themselves under the title “Commonwealth Ethnic Barristers Association” at Briefs in Lincoln’s Inn, London on a summer evening. I was the secretary of this society and was told we would be hosting this man and that I should ensure we did CEBA proud as some respected legal luminaries were going to be attending to hear him speak as he was a highly respected lawyer in India.

My introduction to the Great Man was so memorable that I have to share it with the readers. As I was serving samosas around the room I offered him some. Rather than taking one his opening line was “Are you a Parsee?”. Though I was slightly taken aback, I replied I was not. To which he replied “You should be a Parsee , you have a Parsee nose”. Not knowing whether I should feel insulted or not I retorted “Well I am not, and I have a Hasan nose”. That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that spanned 3 decades.

Soli was a remarkable man. There will be a lot of articles written about him and his achievements, his work as Attorney General of India (twice), his passion about the Rule of Law, Human Rights, his support for public interest litigation and his Soliloquies that appeared fortnightly in the Times of India (which he faithfully had posted to me in London) to allow me to keep abreast of the events and the humour in which they were delivered. Gosh how I miss them. But our friendship was cemented on our passion for food and in particular lamb chops.

Soli became not just my friend, but a friend of my family. He invited me to India and introduced me to his family and ‘a few’ of his friends. I was honoured to be on his birthday list as he would move heaven and earth to ensure that the elusive visa for a Pakistani (as I was a dual national holder) was supplied to me in time to attend the amazing parties he would host in Delhi on the 9th of March. On one occasion I was honoured to be sitting on the dais with the President of India! Soli was very nervous as he wanted to make sure that I had not done anything to reignite any neighbourly rivalry. I took huge delight in teasing him on the subject.

There are so many memories of Soli that I have but one for which I am forever grateful to him is when I was thinking of getting married and wanted him to ‘vet the man’ he was delighted and when I went a step further and asked him if he would be my best man (an unusual request for a girl), he answered with alacrity that he would take the requisite 3 days off from the arguments he was making at the time in the Supreme Court in India and fly over to London to make the speech.

My last conversation with him was on his birthday when I sent him a voice message on his son Jahanghir’s phone, reminding him that I was expecting him in London in the summer so that we could share some lamb chops again. I am told he smiled when he heard that. To me Soli will simply be for me the Great Man who I will sorely miss.

Ayesha Hasan