BENGALURU: Harish Salve had just crossed his teens and, as a young film enthusiast, he was completely floored and absolutely bewitched by the charms of his Bollywood idol. He was enthralled by this towering personality, enchanted by his personality, his charm, his aura. There was something unusual and magnetic about him that attracted people.
That actor was Dilip Kumar.
Spellbound by his charisma, young Harish, who had already dveloped a passion for taxation and the law, would sit all day and hear the discussions carefully, with the occasional incisive interjection.
‘My father led the team, and we had meetings all day, well into the evening, when the sun disappeared into the Arabian Sea. It was absolutely mesmerizing,’ says Harish, now one of India’s top lawyers and a mature, successful and equally charismatic man, describing his initial tryst with law, and his first opinion of the towering personality that thespian actor Dilip Kumar was.
Dilip Kumar, also known as the Hindi film industry’s tragedy king, would sit all day to witness the discussion for his case -Income Tax Officer v. Dilip Kumar alias Yousuf Khan-that was being heard by the income tax tribunal on a day-to-day basis in June 1975.
Harish reminisces, ‘I would sit quietly, listening to the discussion headed by my father, N.K.P. Salve [later a Union minister and president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)], advising his client to fight and contest the appeal in the income-tax tribunal.’ The other members in the team included Ajay Thakore, advocate and tax consultant par excellence, and G.N. Joshi, the client’s trusted chartered accountant.
The team would sit in a suite at the Oberoi Hotel at Nariman Point in Mumbai. They met for almost two continuous weeks in June 1975. Harish had just graduated in May 1975, and his father had allowed him to ‘carry his files’ to the tribunal. This was to be one of India’s most famous lawyer’s first involvement with the law, his first case and, as he himself admits, probably one of his most memorable ones.
The story does not end there. ‘I appeared for the matinee idol-Dilip Kumar-at the Supreme Court. It was the day I got my sanad [the enrolment licence that enables one to practise in court]. From the tax tribunal, the case wound its way up to the Supreme Court, where I appeared for the legendary actor in an appeal filed by the tax department,’ says Harish.
As a young boy, Harish wanted to be an engineer. By the time he was ready for college, he was deeply interested in chartered accountancy, wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps. ‘My father, however, had given up accountancy and did only income tax matters. This brought him in close proximity to the one and only Nani Palkhivala-perhaps the greatest advocate the country has ever known,’ says Harish.
From the late 1950s, Palkhivala used to appear frequently in tax cases and was often briefed by Harish’s father. ‘I remember that I was busy preparing for the chartered accountancy final exam, when my father requested me to prepare a note on some complicated point in relation to the new provisions establishing the Settlement Commission.’
His father was deeply impressed by the note and decided to show it to Palkhivala, whose opinion was being sought by the client. ‘When this note was shown to him, he asked, “So when are you joining the profession?”’ Harish remembers fondly. The penny had dropped!
It was Palkhivala who inspired Harish to take up the study of the law. He soon lost interest in accountancy and became interested in tax matters. His interest grew deeper, and he decided that if he wanted to practise taxation, then he should opt to become a lawyer.
Born in Nagpur, he went to SFS School, which was established by the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales in 1870. After graduating in commerce from Nagpur University, he studied law and chartered accountancy simultaneously. ‘My grandfather was a successful criminal lawyer. My father, N.K.P. Salve, was an eminent chartered accountant practising in Nagpur. My mother, Ambriti Salve, was a doctor. So at a very early age, I imbibed professional qualities and values from the two professionals at home,’ Harish says, talking about the importance of being professional. Harish grew up in a tier-two town, where life was uncomplicated.Fun was defined as visits to the neighbouring forests, or discussing anything and everything with friends over endless cups of tea. Alcohol was an occasional luxury. It was a matter of privilege if one got to drink a bottle or two of beer. Dinners with friends were enjoyed the most, especially at dhabas, eating alongside truck drivers. ‘Although we have stopped visiting radside dhabas, we still find the time to socialize. I also have a group of a few close friends whom I have known for the last three decades since I moved to Delhi. But no one from the legal profession,’ Harish says, fondly remembering his time with his friends. Nagpur in those days used to be a quiet city, and so was life—quiet and serene.
Excerpt courtesy Penguin, India