Priya S. Tandon
Justice Punchhi believed that the office of the Chief Justice of India should have primacy in judicial appointments not the collegium. When he was appointed CJI, he put his belief into practice.
From being the lone boarder in a convent school at the tender age of five to a refugee at a camp in post-partitioned India … From one amongst many in a large joint family nurtured solely by his erstwhile father to chairing the highest seat in judiciary as the Chief Justice of India … From being a farmer at heart and a judge by intellect … From being ‘Maddi’ to his parents and ‘My Lord’ to the legal world … Justice Madan Mohan Punchhi had come a long way.
Down memory lane, my misty eyes can still vividly see my father gather us all in the warmth of his quilt and tell us stories from the Ramayana. He would also tell us stories of the partition in 1947 and we listened in awe as he told us of the heroic deeds of his father and uncles as they helped save so many people from gruesome massacre.
Our simple home was a happy place. No frills, no fancies, just plain and simple basics. But love and care was in the air. My father had that formidable, no nonsense look that occasionally gave way to a handsome smile and a heart of gold. All the softness in our lives was provided by Mama, who was grace and devotion personified. She lived up to the name she bore, ‘Meera!’
The unseen strength provided by them; the umbrella over our heads is no more. As I sit in the courtyard; the rain battering my head, I miss them. The song that Daddy taught me as a little girl, ‘Qe’ sera sera … Whatever will be, will be … The future’s not ours to see … Qe’ sera sera … What will be, will be … ‘ comes as a quiver to my lips.
The vast horizon of knowledge imbued by my father imbued was beyond compare. He taught us about the concept of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, in the doctrine of “Vasudeva Kutumbakam” expounded in the Bhagvad Gita. He explained to us the Vedic concept of “Ekoham Bahushyam.” (I am one, I will be many) with ease and alacrity.
How simple it was for him to quote from the Garuda Purana or the Upanishads! The vastness of his knowledge, the enormity of his memory and the ability to sift out the best to be learnt from the East and the West, never failed to over-awe me.
The man, larger than life, has left us with memories. With his passing on, on the 17th of June 2015, I thought his voice had been silenced forever. But has it?
On the 14th day of July 2015, less than a month after the five elements that had constituted the body of my father were merged into their origins, we as a family were in the court room of the Chief Justice of India, attending a ‘full court reference’ in honour of my late father.
An obituary is a solemn affair, and so was this one. The speakers were quoting judgements given by him in varied fields of law. His dissent on the National Judicial appointments and the collegium system was given a special mention. Today, as the Supreme Court is again looking into the matter and the Parliament is looking on with a keen eye, his voice giving a dissent note, sounded large and profound. Then it dawned on me … had his voice been silenced for ever? No, his voice resounds loud and clear in the annals of judiciary for all times to come.
And as a miniscule portion of his flesh and blood, I, his daughter, can say with pride that he shall live on through us. He shall speak through his offsprings; his progeny shall live by the ideals set up by him in his glorious life.
It was the spirit of fairness and truth that always guided him. The voice of conscience and spirit of forgiveness and faith were his best friends.
I am reminded of the four goals of life, in the form of Purusharthas, taught by Sri Sathya Sai Baba that adorned a wall in my father’s office:
- Follow the master (Dharma — do your duty)
- Face the devil (Artha — be wary of the attraction of worldly possessions)
- Fight to the end (Kama — fight till the last desire is overcome)
- Finish the game (Moksha — attain the goal of life)
And now, as my father who has played ‘Judge’ for the better part of his life, stands in the court of His divine master, the Lord and Master of the Universe, I his daughter, plead his case, in the court of Divinity. “My Lord, I pray, grant peace to his soul. Give him a place at Thy Divine lotus feet, for it is there that he shall find Moksha. Oh Lord of the Heavens, have mercy … so that my father can finish his game.”