GODSPEED MR VASUDEO

A tribute to our member, and Honorary Secretary of the High Court Law Library,Milind Vasudeo.

Nothing prepares us for those moments of senselessness that erupt so unpredictably. These are times that leave us with no appropriate response. The passing of our colleague and friend, Milind Vasudeo, at such a ridiculously early age, robbed us of more than it is possible to account. How does one even begin to grieve? For lawyers whose stock in trade is a lack of finality, the verdict of life and death holds a very real terror: there is no appeal, no review, no revision, not even a reason. It is an irony that would not have been lost on Milind.

Many years ago, Milind, Suresh Gupte and I were at a reading by the late Vijay Tendulkar, the renowned Marathi playwright. There was complete silence. No one spoke or coughed or cleared this throat. Tendulkar, as was his manner, read softly and dispassionately. But the words were filled with an excoriating rage and a strangely intense sadness. The effect was somehow electrifying and I never quite understood what made it so. Milind and I often spoke of that evening, and he once explained to me what it was that made it so special. The separation, he said, of form and substance, that remarkable distinction between the soft, gentle voice and the knife-edge words, gave it that impact.

It seems natural now that Milind should have seen this. In many ways, it reflected his own temperament. Even under the most extreme provocation—and there has been at least one such instance—no one has ever heard him raise his voice in court or outside, or publicly display anything but complete calm. Such equanimity in a highly stressed vocation is rare, and watching Milind turn a hostile court proved its value.

The Honorary Secretaryship of the High Court Law Library could never have been easy. Perenially strapped for finances, a common resistance to change and to every increase in the paltry fees, the rising costs of books and journals and the need to look after our dedicated and committed staff have always been powerful forces pulling in different directions. How Milind managed to keep it stable and on course for years on end is something only he knew. It is going to be a very, very hard act to follow.

And yet, beneath that calm and genial appearance lay fierce passions. There was the annual pilgrimage on foot to Shirdi, not something for the faint of heart given the road, the environment and the heat. Milind did it year after year. Then there was his delightful obsession with food. Semper paratus in that department was our Milind, ever willing to dive into the smallest byelanes of the city to find the one particular delicacy he sought. And of course he just had to know about every ingredient, where it came from, what kinds were the best, how it was prepared, and his eyes danced when he spoke about it all. There was, too, his house at Nagaon, which he always spoke of with a sort of wistfulness as if to saynow why on earth should I be standing here talking to you when I could be there?Above all, there was his family; it’s difficult to think of a conversation when he didn’t speak of them with an intense pride, especially in the children’s very real achievements. There was no hubris in this, just the indescribable joy of a father.

A couple of years ago, I saw him argue a difficult case. He didn’t succeed. Others may have shrugged and walked away. Not Milind. A while later, I saw him again in the Bar Association. He was with his client who was greatly agitated. Milind spent very nearly an hour or more with him, presumably pacifying him, explaining the situation. At one point, he just sat quietly with the distraught client, not saying a word, just being there for the man. That afternoon, as we often did, we walked back together from Court to our chambers just one lane from each other’s, and I remarked on what I’d seen. He smiled gently. “It’s no trouble,” he said. “The way I see it, it has to be part of the job. Of course litigation is unpredictable, but even if everyone knows that, losing is always hard and winning is not always easy. But win or lose, you can’t just hand a client the papers and send him the bill. Being a lawyer has got to mean more than that.”

Came 2008, a difficult year for Milind. First there was the obstructive hepatitis that kept him from court for several months, and then a series of ailments. It changed him physically to the point where some failed to recognize him, but only realized who he was when he spoke. We thought things were on the mend. He assured us they were. Why, he had even done his annual pilgrimage. Then came the news that horrendous morning. It is one of the times when one curses technology for the speed at which it conveys news no one wants or needs to hear.

Nearly a month later, shock still sharpens our grief. Even in this theatre of the absurd, there are some vicissitudes that fill us with rage. It is too unfair, too arbitrary, too unjust. Here was a man who had done nothing but good, a man who revelled in every joy that life has to offer, who had nothing but an abundant kindness and gentleness in every fibre of his being. Why he of all people should be taken from his family and friends so early is something we will never know. No appeal, no review, no revision; we are without adequate response, except perhaps this: only the good die young.

Godspeed Milind, lawyer, colleague, friend. It’s going to be a lonelier, sadder and poorer world without you.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
— W. H. Auden

Gautam Patel

Mumbai, India