Nani Ardesher Palkhiwala (1920-2002) was a leading constitution and tax lawyer in India. His cases alone contributed to the upholding of the Indian constitution by the country’s courts.
Born in a middle class Parsi family, Nani rose to the highest level of advocacy. Among Parsi families, there is a tradition of using the business name as their sir name. Nani’s forefathers used to make fine palanquins (پالکی). The Palhiwala suggests the business of his forefathers.
Nani’s father was the owner of a small laundry. Such was the level of perfection in his work that many foreigners living in the city preferred his small laundry over big ones. Upon their return to their native countries, instead of taking their dirty laundry with them, they would leave it with Nani’s father and instruct him to dry clean it and then courier it to their countries. From his father, Nani learnt the art of perfection in the business.
Nani was a man of diverse abilities. He was voracious reader, a captivating orator, a humble man who did charity silently and a fine lawyer whose advocacy would cast spell on the judges.
According to Nani, his number one enemy was the time. He planned everything meticulously. He would enter the court just before his case was about to be called. He entered the airport just before his flight was about to leave. He would run from one court room to other. Such was his obsession with the time management that once his wife, Nargesh, had to be admitted in the hospital for the knee surgery. Nani had to live with her in the hospital. He got his hernia operated, while availing the time he had to spend in the hospital with his wife.
Nani was the highest earning lawyer of India. He minted money and generously donated it to charitable organizations. In 1975, he silently donated Rs 20 millions to a hospital providing free eye care services to the poor. The hospital administration named the new wing of the hospital on his name. Coming to know about it, he hurriedly travelled to the state where the hospital was situated and told the administration not to do so.
In cases of public welfare and interest, he would charge his clients really heavy but would not receive the money in his account. In Privy Purse case, wherein Prime Minister Indira Gandai withdrew the privileges to rulers of princely states, he charged the rulers of princely states Rs 100,000/- per day. Instead of pocketing the fee, he told his clients to deposit the amount in the account of a charity organization under their names. The charity organizations never knew that Nani was behind the huge amount of donations coming in their accounts.
Nani’s expertise was tax law. After every budget, Nani would hold a session for general public wherein he would explain to them the features of the budget in a layman’s language. The audience which started from 800 people ultimately swelled to 100,000. Nani had to book a cricket stadium to accommodate the audience. The audience ranged from salaried clerks to potbellied seths who wanted to know the consequences of the new budget on their lives and businesses, respectively. Nani had the elephantine memory. He was never seen with his notes. He addressed extempore. His memory never failed him from stating budget statistics or recalling paragraphs from citations in the court room.
Nani was an outclass orator. He had a serious stammer during his childhood. With sheer will power, he managed to control it. His manner of addressing the court was direct and brief. When he wanted to assert some point, he would tell the court that what would happen if the court didn’t accept his assertion. Nani’s arguments were so persuasive that judges stopped dictating the orders in the court. They would wait for a few days so that “the spell that Nani had cast on them broke”.
Advocacy was his ambition. He was offered the coveted seat of Attorney General of India but he refused. He was also offered to become the judge of the Indian Supreme Court. Such was the clarity of his mind that he curtly refused the offer instead of asking for time to think over it.
He travelled all over India and abroad for court work. It was joked about him that he had spent more time in the air than on the land.
He was very humble. He firmly believed in Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta (Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds), the basic tenants of Zoroastrianism.
Nani never discussed any lawyer or any judge. He never entered into any argument with any lawyer outside the court. He never interrupted the opponent lawyer during the latter’s arguments.
He firmly believed that a lawyer is never too old to learn. Young lawyers with no case work would often drop at his chamber, seeking his advice or wanting a little encouragement. He would tell them, “God pays to a lawyer, but not on every Saturday”. – Hamid Rashid Gondal Advocate.