Rohinton Nariman began his journey to adulthood with an unlikely scenario. He was going to do one of the most challenging things in his life, something he had been preparing for a month. Few can realize the magnitude of a task unless they have been through it themselves.
‘This is going to be a Herculean task,’ said a community member.
‘How old are you, my child?’ asked a member in the congregation.
‘Twelve,’ he replied.
‘What a darling boy. God bless you, my son,’ replied the elderly gentleman.
Young Rohinton did not understand what ‘Herculean’ meant. He had no idea of the task expected of him. He was destined to do this daunting task and, to the amazement of many, he did it. He had been expected to memorize something like the entire Rig Veda. ‘To cut a long story short, it was my initiation into spirituality. I was ordained as a priest at the very young age of twelve from the Bandra Agiary,’ he says.
However, Rohinton never chose to be one, nor was the same imposed on him. Bapsi Nariman, his mother, was instrumental in his becoming a priest. She encouraged and inspired him. She wanted him to continue the tradition. He belonged to a ‘priestly’ family (from his father’s side), but neither his father nor grandfather had undergone the rigorous ritual of priesthood. So to keep his mother’s heart, Rohinton willingly opted for the rigorous training. It was challenging to say the least.
It took Rohinton about a month’s time. He had to stay inside the agyari—the fire temple—for twenty-eight days at a stretch, only among priests, pray five times a day and face restrictions on touching any person. He was not allowed to meet his family during that period of intense training. His companions during that period were a family of very kind-hearted priests, who also had a great sense of fun, so although it was difficult, Rohinton remembers that period of his life with great fondness.
Being an obedient child, he observed the required discipline and followed all the stringent rules. ‘I was made to cram Zoroastrian scriptures in my younger days at the religious seminaries during my initiation into priesthood. Later, this type of training helped me in my professional career. It helped me remember and cite things verbatim,’ Rohinton says.
Fast forward several years later to London. ‘Amazing!’ exclaimed a passer-by, who happened to witness an interesting incident that took place on a bright afternoon.
Some eight years ago, Rohinton was holidaying in London with his wife, Sanaya. On one of their sightseeing excursions, they had visited the famous Westminster Abbey. Now, there was a board showing the line-up of the kings and queens of England. Rohinton, being fond of genealogy among royal families stood up, scrutinizing the list. There was something amiss and he knew it.
Rohinton stood behind the board and told his wife to crosscheck as he rattled off the names. ‘That one is incorrect’, said Sanaya.
‘Impossible,’ replied Rohinton.
‘Here, you can check the board yourself,’ she said.
He was taken aback. ‘It can’t be. The board is wrong,’ he said.
The Narimans decided to meet the curator to cross-check if his discovery of a factual error on the board was indeed correct. It so turns out that Rohinton was right—a testament to his brilliant memory and intelligence. ‘Thank you for bringing to our notice the error on our board,’ was the short but grateful note that Rohinton received from the curator in London a few days following the incident.
Rohinton Fali Nariman was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of India on 7 July 2014, becoming only the fifth lawyer to be elevated to the position of a judge of the apex court after almost fifteen years. ‘It’s a lifetime achievement,’ says Sanaya proudly.
The law and Rohinton—the two go together. And the journey has been quite rewarding, a journey without any fear or favour.
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