Things that in almost anyone else might have been faintly ridiculous—carrying a silver cigarette case; getting a barber home every morning to shave him with an old-fashioned razor kept, of course, in a special tin box; putting in a keg of draught and a beer-tap at his home bar—he did with élan, grace and unapologetic relish. Abhay Abhyankar was the quintessential bon vivant: food, drink, work, play, theatre, music, travel—he loved it all. Most of all he loved his family and his friends, and his family grew year after year as it included ever more friends.
Professional rivalries in law tend to get sharper as careers advance. Few are completely immune to rancour and professional jealousy. Abhay was that rara avis: singularly unambitious for himself, and possessed of a bewildering largeness of spirit and heart, able to take unbridled joy in the good fortunes of others. The opposite of schadenfreude—delight in the misfortunes of another—is perhaps mudita, a term from Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhism: to rejoice in the joys of another. No other word better captures the essence of Abhay Abhyankar.
He loved his work as a lawyer, but his success was his own, achieved neither by promoting himself nor put down others. Stories of his generosity are legion: one junior tells of the time when Abhay could not make it to court, and the matter was argued by the junior. When the fees came in, Abhay passed them on to the junior. Weekend trips to his cottage were incomplete without an armada of friends and constant fretting about who would like what special dish, with what particular ingredient and prepared in just such a way.
People misread his self-effacing temperament and gentleness, and success and recognition came later than they should, at a time when he was already reeling under the illness that would eventually claim him. Fate dealt him an unfair share of cruelties, any one of them enough to break a lesser man. There must have been days of indescribable despair and bleakness. Not once did they reflect in his dealings with others, in court or outside. No one ever heard from him an ill word about another person. There’s good in everyone, he held, and life is too short to bother with anything else. Of life’s many ironies perhaps none is more incomprehensible than the passing before his time of one man who so completely revelled in life itself. The inevitability of his illness did not dim his spirit. To the end, he lived his life to the fullest, a day at a time.
He died a few days before Diwali. Perhaps this is how he would have wished it: for us to carry on, to savour every moment. But for his many friends, and his family, every Diwali from now on will be just that much less brighter.