Prof NR Madhava Menon, Father of India’s Modern Law Schools, Was a Mentor to Many
As long as there are national law schools in India, Prof Menon would be remembered. That is a bigger tribute to the great institution builder than the Padma Sri awarded to him by the government of India.
File photo of Prof NR Menon.
Professor NR Madhav Menon, the doyen of modern legal education in India, was an institution builder, academic leader and a gentleman to the core.
As the founder director of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, and National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, and founding vice-chancellor of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Prof Menon introduced the five-year professional law education in the country.
His demise is also a personal loss to me. He had anchored me during my youthful years of restlessness.
We shared a warm relationship and in many ways, he was like my guru.
In many ways, it was a chance meeting with Prof Menon in March 1993 that changed my life forever and helped me re-discover and re-invent myself.
Though I didn’t have a formal degree, I was always interested in the Constitution and law. And, in the early 90s, I had even considered completing law studies and practising in the Supreme Court.
I was also aspiring to become a top-ranked professor of linguistics and philosophy in one of the best universities of the world.
With already a job of an assistant professor in a constituent college of the North Eastern Hill University in my kitty, I came for an interview at the Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai.
But I had already missed that opportunity as the telegram informing me about the interview had mentioned a wrong date. Not much disappointed, I decided to dump my bag at the TISS guest house and watch a movie at a Chembur theatre.
When I asked a gentleman reading the Times of India in the guest house lobby for the direction to my allocated room, the latter asked me my name.
The man turned out to be Prof Menon and we ended up discussing about an article I had read in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) that was written by him about the quality of legal education in India.
I used to read almost all articles that appeared in the EPW and made notes and also got my work published in the weekly.
He then asked me where had I studied law and when I said I hadn’t done LLB, he was amused. When he said he was there to recruit the head of advocacy studies, I asked him, “By the way, Sir, what is advocacy?” he was further amused.
He then called someone and talked about the “interesting young man” in front of him and asked me to stay on for the interview next day. He also told that I would have to write an essay on advocacy as a part of the selection process. That turned out to be one of the best interview panels I had ever met.
At 27, I was the youngest and least academically qualified among 200 applicants for the job, but with that one essay and day-long selection process, I ended up as the one to kick off the National Center for Advocacy Studies, the first-of-its-kind in India.
Advocacy was a completely new subject for me, but Prof Menon assured me that I would do very well and my aptitude “fitted” exactly for the job. As he predicted, I worked in the field at a global level.
My first boss was Justice (retired) PN Bhagwati, the former chief justice of India. All those opportunities to meet and work with some of the best leaders in the world began with that one meeting with Prof Menon.
The last time we met at the Trivandrum Airport, we had a long discussion on issues of common interests.
We will indeed miss such people with conviction, commitment and passion to make a difference. His work will outlive him. As long as there are national law schools in India, he would be remembered.
That is a bigger tribute to the great institution builder than the Padma Sri that was awarded to him by the government of India.
He touched my life and hundreds of others. He made a difference with his life and work. My homage to the great mentor. There is much to celebrate about your life, Sir.
(JS Adoor is a human rights activist and international consulting adviser at the United Nations Development Programme)
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