PP Rao: A Gentleman Par Excellence

By ( Dr) Abhishek Singhvi *

The defining characteristic of PP Rao ( or PPji as I used to call him) was sobriety, balance and equanimity. His speech, his demeanour, his style, his idiom, his tonality, his volume, even his gait, would not change, irrespective of the provocation, irrespective of his opponent, irrespective of the judge’s query and irrespective of the surcharged nature of the surrounding ambiance. One would never expect, and never did one see, any trivialization, any hitting below the belt, any cheapness of discourse or any vulgarity of speech or conduct, all of which are ever present in our tension ridden profession and are liable to overwhelm the best of individuals. PP Rao’s inherent balance and restraint shone unwaveringly and undiluted in his personality, at least during the 40 odd years that I have seen him or interacted with him. It must have come either from an inherent inner calm and stability or cultivated by some special form of meditation, though I never got around to asking him about this important recipe.

Secondly, this defining part of his persona was a fortiori creditable, for PP ji experienced several turbulences, not least being the long, crippling illness of his wife and, to a lesser extent, the divorce of his son. It was only his inherent persona, his innately gentlemanly nature and his inner  philosophical approach that allowed him to continue to take his Ooty summer holidays, alone but dignified in solitude and immersed in simple living, high thinking and surrounded by books.

Similarly, it was this persona which led his ( divorced) daughter in law to work with, help and promote the legacy of her late father in law ( including the present publication) without rancour, ill will or bitterness ( for which she, in turn, deserves kudos). Those adjectives were as alien as planet Pluto to PPji!

Thirdly, he was one of the few senior practicing advocates in India with a genuine interest in academics. Having myself pursued the lonely furrow of a PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge and having started some teaching there before returning to India almost by chance, I could relate more easily to his academic impulses. We indulged our vicarious pleasures for academia by discussing new academic legal and non legal research, Memorial lectures, articles and speaking as much as we could at seminars and colloquia. But his eyes would always light up when the talk turned from banal cases appeared in court  to harder core academic subjects and he would be ready to miss professional preoccupations if asked to attend or participate at such fora. One week for these academic pursuits was especially reserved during the June in addition to his beloved Ooty holidays.

Fourthly, though he was my father’s contemporary, our independent relationship started much, much before my father’s demise. PPji never allowed any generation gap to emerge and discussed all and sundry freely with me. Not only was he a fixture at every legal function of mine ( including  farewells to retiring SC judges), but his attendance was remarkable and unprecedented viz approx 95% over a twenty year period! On the few 5% occasions he missed, I could expect with unfailing promptitude and gracious elegance a handwritten letter, expressing regret and specifying the unavoidable exigency resulting in his absence. Every pore of his personality exuded his genetic gentlemanliness.

Fifthly, I have not seen his genuine and inbuilt commitment to secular, inclusive and pluralistic principles vary once, even slightly or symbolically, right through his life. He remained steadfast and single minded, prepared to do Ekla Chalo on the path of this guiding polestar, irrespective of deserters along the arduous path ( and deserters there were, including some close friends!). On anchor principles, he was never opportunistic, never transient, never selective, never flexible. Indeed, he was always deeply saddened towards the end of his life and for some years leading up to his death, with the culture of divisiveness, the idiom of intolerance and the emerging ambiance of hatred. Till he came to court, this was the first topic of discussion he would start with me.

Lastly, in his chosen vocation (ie Law), PP Rao displayed old world charm and talents which all new entrants and young practitioners would do well to emulate. I had the privilege of working with him in a few cases in my early years, the pleasure of opposing him in many, many more and the singular honour of leading ( at his request) in some, over our long association of almost four decades. He would be meticulous and laborious to a fault, irrespective of the weight or importance of the brief. The list of dates was almost 100% mandatory, usually dictated personally. Every proposition, every point, was diligently identified, persistently pursued and either included in the right order or discarded, yielding a final and most comprehensive dictated note / written submissions. I don’t think he deviated from this exhaustive ( and exhausting!) process even once in his long career. He would then argue them as per his pre decided hierarchy of importance and would be unmoved and undeflected, despite interrupting or unsympathetic judges. But never once would he be rude, combative or even abrasive. Over time, judges, well versed with his impeccable manners, reciprocated.

PP Rao deserved more, much much more. He was of the old mould, gentlemanly, principled, restrained, unostentatious but solid, both in substance and in belief. That is why old is gold. He scored extremely high, indeed superlatively high, in the four core tests making up a personality viz temperament, talent, character and ideology ( as our close mutual friend Jaipal Reddy always put it). Posts, power, pelf and position do not a man define. PP Rao had in him each of the 60 seconds which made him the complete Rudyard Kipling man, making each second in the minute count.

I deem it a great privilege and an enormous pleasure to contribute this short piece in memorium to a great human being and my dear friend and elder, PP Rao.

( *Abhishek Singhvi is MP; eminent jurist; National Spokesperson, Congress; former Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee and former Additional Solicitor General of India)

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