The biography is an immensely absorbing read.
by Santosh Bakaya
Published, and meticulously edited, by Readomania, Sunita Singh’s book ‘The Making of a Chief Justice of India: Life and Times of Justice Kamal Narain Singh’ is very well written and, through its pages, we witness Justice Kamal Narain Singh’s journey from the corridors of the District Court of Allahabad to the highest seat of justice in the Supreme Court of India and also catch glimpses of a country in transition.
“Baba, what was your secret to success? He took a long pause and replied, ‘I worked very hard, but I was also very lucky. I have seen people brighter than me, struggle in the profession. A lawyer has to be equipped with not just knowledge of law, but also with the power of resilience.’” This is what Justice Kamal Narayan Singh’s son, Justice Devendra Pratap Singh says in the foreword of this immensely insightful book.
“To me, this seemingly innocuous sentence from the man, lying feeble in a hospital bed in the twilight of his life, with an ability to look back at his extraordinary life with an uncluttered view sans any vanity, speaks volumes of his pragmatic spirit and perfectly sums up the struggles of a lawyer or judge.”
In these 190 pages, Justice Kamal Narain Singh comes across as a fair and reasonable parent, an indulgent but strict grandparent, and a loving husband, devastated by the death of his partner which tore asunder seventy-four years of loving togetherness, in February 2021.
Yet, the man was resilient enough to control the entire funeral proceedings, at the age of ninety-five, sitting in a wheelchair, as the author, his youngest daughter, tells us: “He went to the crematorium and performed the last rites of his beloved wife. He could not leave her till the end, he said.”
Embellished with some photographs from the Singh Family Archives, the book is a delight to read. One photograph shows him with Pt. Nehru, another shows the Singhs in conversation with Smt. Vijaylaxmi Pandit, in yet another picture, he is with C. Rajagopalachari.
The front cover blurb by Padma Vibhushan Dr. Karan Singh, politician, philanthropist, philosopher and poet refers to the book as “an interesting and very readable biography.”
Sunita Singh, a bilingual writer, tells us that her paternal grandmother was often teased for her dark skin; when one of the women scoffed, “your complexion is like mud”, she retorted, “That is why a kamal (lotus) has bloomed from my womb.”
Growing up in a large joint family, where family bonds were powerful, and strict discipline prevailed, we see the boy Kamal climbing trees and swimming in the village pond with friends, and in a spurt of spunky mischief inadvertently diving into a pan in which jaggery was being cooked, and in the process scalding both his hands, which took a long time to heal.
Later, he impishly told his friends that he had got those marks while fighting a tiger in the forest. Such interesting snippets and effortless narrative flow make the book very readable.
He had his primary education from a school where they sat on jute floor mats and wrote on wooden takhti (slate) with a kalam (reed pen). After the sixth grade, he was sent to another school 25 kms away, where he stayed in the hostel for some time and later shifted to a private lodge.
A voracious reader, it was during this time that he was deeply influenced by the vision of Bapu and Nehru, and regularly read Young India, a weekly journal, started by the Bapu in 1919.
We go on to see Kamal Narain Singh gradually joining the bandwagon of Congress volunteers who were supposed to follow the path of ahimsa and always speak the truth. During this time, he started working with Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, highly impressed by her indefatigably fiery spirit.
By the time Vijay Lakshmi got married, Motilal Nehru had become a proponent of Swadeshi and he insisted that all wear khadi for Vijay Lakshmi Pandit’s wedding. And ordered even the bride to be draped in a khadi saree. Khadi being very coarse, could not be dyed pink, which was the traditional colour of weddings for Kashmiri brides. This predicament was solved when just a few days before the wedding, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit received a very fine khadi saree, woven by Kasturba Gandhi, which could be easily dyed pink.
Dev Raj Singh, his father, harboured a desire that his son should become a lawyer, thus Kamal Narayan Singh became the first university and law graduate of the entire Raja of Manda clan. Shifting to Allahabad, he was admitted to the prestigious Ewing Christian College for his intermediate course.
Anand Bhawan, which was the hub of many political activities, attracted him and he started frequenting it. By now, he had become an ardent admirer of Gandhi and was very excited when the Bapu visited Anand Bhawan, just a few months before the Quit India Movement. On a scorchingly hot day, people gathered to meet Gandhi at Anand Bhawan but were crestfallen when told that he would not be able to meet them. But suddenly a diminutive dhoti-clad man appeared on the terrace. Kamal Narayan Singh’s voice also merged with the people’s happy cries of Mahatama Gandhi ki Jai!
The book is a labour of love, every word eloquent with the admiration of a doting daughter, who ends the book with these heartwarming words: “Papa will be papa.”
It is a book which will enrich every member of the legal fraternity, especially the young students of law. Every aspiring lawyer can learn a thing or two from the extraordinary life of an ordinary boy, who, through sheer determination, dedication, diligence, and armed with compassion and an egalitarian outlook, rose to the pinnacle of his judicial career, becoming the 22nd Chief Justice of India, on 25 November 1991, albeit for a short span of only seventeen days, presiding over some landmark judgements and staying away from the temptation of being a populist judge.
All in all, the biography is an immensely absorbing read.
Santosh Bakaya is an award-winning poet, novelist, short story writer, biographer, TEDx Speaker, essayist, creative writing mentor, internationally acclaimed for her poetic biography of Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu.