The Ashok Desai I knew: A tribute

On 13 April 2020 Supreme Court advocate Ashok Desai, a legal luminary and former Attorney General of India, passed away in Mumbai. He was 77

Anil K. Rajvanshi Apr 15, 2020
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On 13 April 2020 Supreme Court advocate Ashok Desai, a legal luminary and former Attorney General of India, passed away in Mumbai. He was 77.  

I met him for the first time in late 1981. I had just come back from the US and was visiting his younger brother Anand who lived with him in Mumbai when he asked me to join for dinner.  

So that day I was ushered into Ashok’s study at his Mumbai home where intense discussions were on how to oust then Maharashtra Chief Minister A R Antulay, who was under a cloud for corruption. Others present in his room were Govindrao Talwalkar, the former editor of Maharashtra Times and Arun Shourie the former editor of Indian Express and later a Union cabinet minister. I saw history in the making since the strategy of Antulay’s ouster was plotted that night.  

That night Ashok Desai also regaled us with anecdotes and stories of Antulay when both of them were law students in London.

Ashok and his wife Suvarna were very close friends of my in-laws. He was also a classmate of my wife Nandini’s aunt Gauri Deshpande, a famous Marathi writer. In 1982 Ashok and his wife Suvarna visited our home in Phaltan after the birth of our elder daughter Noorie. 

Ashok was a very warm-hearted and helpful person. Not only did he help us in legal matters but in other ways too. Knowing my interest in solar and other renewable energies, Ashok would occasionally send me articles on the subject published in journals and magazines from all over the world. Because of his eclectic reading habits he used to subscribe to them. Getting those informative articles in the 1980s in the rural town of Phaltan was a luxury.    

Ashok was an erudite scholar and used to enjoy reading my writings which I used to send him regularly and he replied to quite a number of them. The last email I received from him was on 8 January 2020 when I had sent him news about my All India Radio broadcast on Mahatma Gandhi. Whenever I visited Delhi I used to call him and talk on the phone now and then. The last time I met him was four years ago when I and my wife Nandini had gone to his home in Defence Colony in Delhi for high tea. He was in great spirits and we talked at length about the affairs of the country.

Ashok wanted to give a painting of Gautam Budha as a present for Nandini’s father Bon Nimbkar and asked us to pick it up from his house. Ashok was an ardent Buddhist and he lived his life according to the teachings of Buddha. The painting was beautifully packed by his wife Suvarna that we hand-carried in the flight from Delhi to Pune.

His passing away at a relatively young age of 77 is a great loss to the legal profession of the country and to us personally.
     
(The writer is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Phaltan, Maharashtra. He can be contacted at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)

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