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Tribute to a legal icon

M V Sundararaman

Fortunate that I am to have met and interacted with Sri S G Sundaraswamy, doyen of Karnataka’s Bar, and to have worked with him, it is most unfortunate that he passed away within a couple of years of my joining his chambers. I probably got to know most about him, his exceptional work, and his legacy only after he had passed on. Over the years, it sunk into me how iconic he was when senior colleagues, office staff, and fellow lawyers would relate stories of the legendary cases that he had argued, of the vast cross-section of clients he had represented, and of the worthy causes he supported. There was hardly any area of the law that he had not mastered. There is no denying that he achieved the pinnacle of success as a lawyer; law reports bear testimony to his erudition and mastery of the law. It is a testament to his professional abilities that he was appointed by the government as Advocate General in 1971. Nevertheless, what struck me most was all that he had done and achieved—much more than just being a fine lawyer. What has remained with me are the remarkable stories I heard of his benevolence, compassion, and deep spirituality.

SGS had funded the education of countless employees, celebrated their thread ceremonies, solemnised their marriages, found gainful employment for them, and nurtured hope and life in several families. From the mail that landed in our office, I became aware that he supported student homes and hostels and had touched the lives of innumerable students, probably even without their knowledge. A long-standing client of his once told me how, when his business had nearly wound up and he was driven to despair by financial woes, SGS had stepped in and successfully conducted the long-drawn corporate litigation for absolutely no fee.

Success stories of lawyers and their grand victories are aplenty and common. So are tales of clever lawyers with sharp wit and ready repartee. But most rare is the life story of a lawyer of the exceptional stature of SGS who lived in our midst and achieved innumerable milestones far beyond his professional calling. He graced our lives with his intellect and compassion. Though several years have followed his death, his perceivable presence in our lives remains unbroken. His life is a shining example of austerity, generosity, and commitment to the law. It is said that the greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. These words could have been written, probably for SGS.

We celebrate his birth centenary this year. The priceless legacy that SGS has bequeathed not just to the countless lawyers who studied in his chambers but also to the other innumerable lives that he touched is a template for leading a simple and fulfilling life committed not just to the cause of the law but also to the service of the lives around us.

(Published 09 November 2023, 00:39 IST)

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