My student, who was waiting in the departure Lounge of the God’s Airport, has finally taken his flight to never come back. I am probably the only person alive who has the honour and privilege to say that Ram Jethmalani was my student.
When I became a journalist and started covering the legal beat, one name which I heard the most was Mr. Ram Jethmalani. He was famous for his knowledge of law, court craft and doing things which no one else would do. During the hearings in famous Jessica Lal murder case, my association with Mr. Jethmalani grew stronger. I used to sit in the courts of Justices R S Sodhi and P K Bhasin to listen to his arguments. As a lawyer, Mr. Jethmalani almost always had the prognosis of the outcome of the case but he tried his best to put forward his arguments.
How I Became Ram Jethmalani’s Teacher Ji
I started interviewing him more and more. Not because, I needed a bite, but because I started learning a lot from him during our informal interactions. He treated me like a kid who would ask him “uncomfortable questions” and he would answer those without flinching. He would often tell me off-camera that he was an expert in hijacking the conversations to a context which he wanted people to know.
He told me that he considered himself a “sinner” and God gave him more wealth, name and fame than he deserved .
This was a time when social media was still at its nascent stage. I would tell him that he needed to start using social media and he immediately asked me, “Will you be my teacher? Will you teach me how to use social media and internet?” I had no option but to say yes. I used to go to his house twice a week to teach him how to use the internet. If I got late, he would tell me, “Teacher Ji, I am waiting for you for half an hour and you are late.” I used to tell him, "learn to respect your teachers" and he would immediately respond “learn to respect my time”. I was his teacher but for me, he was my Dronacharya from whom I learnt so much.
It was fun teaching him Internet and Social Media over a glass of single malt at 7 pm sharp. One of the most difficult things to explain to him was what a “browser” was. I told him that browser is like a train. As trains visit different stations, browser takes you to different websites. And he immediately understood.
Mr Jethmalani started using Twitter and used to interact with people there. Once, a person told him on Twitter that his wife was threatening him with a 498A case and Mr. Jethmalani immediately responded, “Tell them you have seen me”.
“I am a Sinner, I Got More Than I Deserved.”
As a young journalist, I was always angry with him for taking cases of corrupt and crooked but he told me “the greatest injustice which a society could do to its citizens is to deny them fair trial”. He was a strong believer is the principle of “everyone is innocent till proven guilty”. He took hefty fees from “allegedly corrupt” people but he would proudly say “ I charge money from only 10% of my clients”.
I had several occasions where I had discussions with him on various issues including religion. One such conversation had so much impact on me that I almost changed the way I thought about God. During a book launch Mr. Jethmalani said, “God has been unfair. If I meet God, He will have tough time. God will ask me why don’t you have much faith in me and I will reply that You left very little evidence that You exist.”
Later, he told me that he considered himself a “sinner” and God gave him more wealth, name and fame than he deserved whereas so many people who pray every day suffer so much. He told stories from Bible, Quran and Ramayana and gave his own interpretation. He told a story from Bible to explain how the profession of advocacy started. For him, the biggest religion was bringing smiles on the faces of people and I could see he did it every day.
A Lawyer Should be an Architect and Not Just a Mason
My interactions with Mr. Jethmalani would continue. One he said to me, “Sumit, you are my favorite journalist”. I replied, “Till no woman reporter is around” and he immediately retorted, “Well, I am a man and I plead guilty”.
When I decided to become a lawyer, he gifted me a book with his signature on it. His book became the first one to be placed on my shelf. He was among the very few people who supported my decision to become a lawyer after spending a considerable time in journalism. He told me “If you want to be a good lawyer, be an architect and not a mason. You must have knowledge not only of law but history, current affairs, politics, theology and much more”. Thanks to him, I developed interest in Theology and History.
When I met him in July 2019, he could hardly recognise me but even then he said “God bless you, beta”. That was a blessing from a student to his teacher, which I will remember and cherish forever.
(The author is Central Government Counsel (Senior Panel) at Delhi High Court. He tweets @Sumit_Nagpal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)