By Ritvik Lukose
I write this the day after we learned that Shamnad has passed on. He was so many things to so many of us – an inspiring teacher, a brilliant lawyer, a fearless voice, the embodiment of IDIA, a visionary, a friend, a mentor, family.
The last time I was with Shamnad was in July 2019 at Agamishala, in the lush green surroundings of Marari in Kerala. Shamnad when he was with us as a group was full of energy, big smiles, big hugs, and stories – so many amazing fantastical stories. I want to share one of these stories. The story of how Shamnad became a lawyer.
This is a poor rendition of the original (as I remember it). How I wish more of us could have witnessed its telling from the man himself. He was a master storyteller, full of dramatic flourish.
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The story begins with a young Shamnad studying at the National Law School, Bangalore. His tuition fees are taken care of, but he needs to work to pay for the hostel, food and living expenses. He works with a trial lawyer in Bangalore. He did it to earn some money and wasn’t sure that he wanted to practice himself.
On the day of his graduation, Shamnad sits at a local watering hole, while his dad picks up his degree, down the road. He’d set his sights on the civil services and joining the International Foreign Service (IFS).
Shamnad returns to his village in Kerala to prepare for the civil services exams. He realises he isn’t getting anywhere and has become a stand-in for his father, at every wedding, birth, house-warming. Tired of the never-ending social obligations and frustrated by lack of good study materials, Shamnad decides to go to Delhi.
Shamnad reaches Delhi in winter and shacks up with a friend in Patparganj. Money is still a problem. He scrounges on meals and does what he can to make every rupee count. At least he is studying intensely and making progress on his civil services dreams. That’s when he meets Neha (name changed), who lived one floor below.
Neha works the evening shift at a five-star hotel in Central Delhi, and so is home most of the day. Shamnad and Neha began spending a lot of time together. After 6 months of independent study for the civils, Shamnad is at the fag end of his savings.
He decides to take an entrance exam to qualify for a scholarship and free coaching being offered by Jamia Milia for Muslim students. Shamnad asks Neha if he can borrow her scooty to go to the exam.
Neha then asks Shamnad why he wanted to be an IFS officer. Shamnad in his direct way said he wanted the prestige, the perks of traveling and staying abroad. Neha replied saying that Shamnad was not the diplomatic type and that the allure of perks would fade away.
She told Shamnad that she loved the way he was unafraid to speak his truth, and seemed to love the law. A stubborn Shamnad hears her out but does not relent on his IFS plan.
Shamnad woke up the next morning and picked up his bag to head to the exam. The door wouldn’t open! He pulled, pushed – nothing worked. The door was locked from the outside. After rousing the neighbours and breaking the lock, 45 mins had gone by. He ran down to get the scooty – the tires were flat. He was not going to make it to the exam.
Shamnad was livid. Six months of preparation. When Neha came home later in the day, he told her what happened. She looked him in the eye and told him that she had locked him in and taken the air out of the tires.
“You should be a lawyer, not an IFS officer”, she said. She spoke to him about what she saw in him – his love for the law, his passion for people and causes, his authenticity. He was too angry to listen, but some of it seeped through.
It took a few days. He realised that Neha’s act was one of love and courage. He’d always loved the law – especially intellectual property and the public law subjects. He calls a friend who was working with an IP firm. She tells him about Anand and Anand.
This was the time before email. You had to go to the office and physically present your resume. His friend advised Shamnad to only give his resume to Praveen Anand, and not to hand it over to the receptionist.
8.30am the next day – Shamnad reaches the office of Anand and Anand, even before the receptionist. When the receptionist arrives, she tells Shamnad that Mr. Praveen Anand will directly go to court, and will be in the office by 5 pm. Shmanad says he will wait. The receptionist asks for his resume. Shamnad politely insists that he will give it directly to Mr. Anand.
5.00pm in the evening – The receptionist tells Shamnad that Mr. Anand has gone for a client meeting and that he will be in the office around 8 pm. Shmanad waits. The receptionist again asks for his resume. Shamnad politely insists that he will give it directly to Mr. Anand.
Its 8 pm and Mr. Anand reaches the office. He is informed that there is a young man, who has been waiting to meet him since 8.30 in the morning and that he also refuses to show his resume to anyone but the boss. An intrigued Praveen Anand begins the meeting. Shamnad shows him copies of his articles and IP related projects from law school.
Through the quality of his writing, strength of argument and clarity of concepts, Shamnad does enough to show, that despite his commie streak and rakish smile, he has the promise to be a useful lawyer. The job is his, and Shamnad will embark on his career as a lawyer in a few days.
The scooty is back in working condition. Shamnad takes Neha out to celebrate.
Shamnad would have made an impact as an IFS officer. But just imagine a world where Shamnad did not become a lawyer! How poorer we would be as a legal community and a society. It took a locked door, courage and love to bring out Shamnad the lawyer.
Through IDIA, his courage and love, Shamnad has opened the doors for so many lawyers, who will go on to have a tremendous impact. Shamnad lives on through IDIA and the IDIA scholars.
One way in which I have decided to pay my respects to Shamnad, is to make a contribution to IDIA. Here are the details, if you would like to do the same: http://idialaw.org/indian-donor/
The article was first published on Ritvik’s Linkedin profile here.