“Coming from a small town in Gujarat where even English lessons were taught in Gujarati, it was not easy to get admission in a Mumbai Law College as there was an interview to go though in English.”
Humble roots, hard work and a never-say-die attitude have been Pravin H. Parekh’s mantra for success. Honored with the prestigious Padma Shri, Parekh does not flaunt his success but lives in the same down-to-earth manner that he was bought up in. Born to a teacher father, Harjivandas, Parekh’s life has been an arduous journey from the small town of Bhavnagar to Harvard University; from a salary of barely Rs.1, 000 a month to starting a firm and passing a legacy of law to his two sons— Sameer and Sandeep. Parekh has also remained the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association for six consecutive terms.
On his childhood, he cites, “We used to live in a small house in Bhavnagar and my schooling was in Gujarati medium. It was the time when people criticized all those who embraced English. My father’s monthly income was only Rs. 90 a month and we were a large family of nine. There was no water or electricity connection in our home and my sisters would fetch water from the public place where the municipality tap was. We had to be in by 5:30 pm and in bed by 7 pm. My father was a disciplinarian, and early-to-bed, early-to-rise was the norm,” he recalls.
He has carried many values from his childhood; his father might not have had the money but ‘Masterji’ as he was called commanded a lot of respect. “A rich student of his would send a car during the month of Sharvan so that we could visit Mataji’s temple a little away from town. Some old students would send wheat, rice and other items. My mother, Baluben, was not educated but was loved for her problem-solving abilities and her religious mindedness,”
Service to the community has stayed with him and even now he is involved with women and child related issues as well s consumer issues. And helping the disadvantaged is another forte. “In my childhood, I would also teach the low income group students who lived in a nearby colony in Bhavnagar.”
All this discipline helped him rise. “From an early age, I realized I wanted to be a layer. I was fascinated by news of dowry cases, deaths, murders and would go to the court. So after my school, I decided to study in Mumbai and applied at Elphinstone College which was the best for arts then.”
Getting admission in a city like Mumbai for a boy from Bhavnagar was not an easy task as medium of studies was English and there was an interview to go through. “Even our English lessons were in Gujarati as most students would not understand it. So the teacher would end up explaining the lessons in Gujarati. So when I appeared before the three teachers—then Principal Banerjee, Miss Shroff and Professor Rajdaksha—before they could ask anything, I told them that I didn’t know English. Professor Banerjee’s wife was Gujarati and Miss Shroff was a Parsi, so they started talking to me in Gujarati,” he reminisces. “We talked about Bhavnagar and Gujarat and I got admission.”
In his first tutorial then, in logic he got zero out of 25 as he couldn’t understand his teacher Swaminathan’s English accent. But at the end of the year Parekh topped his tutorial with 21/25. He picked up English by talking to his friends in college, reading newspapers, listening to the radio. He topped in Statistics and stood third in Economics in Bombay University. He was also awarded the Dhirajlal Mathuradas Scholarship.
And then began to study law in the Government Law College. The law college didn’t have a hostel, so the two principals talked and Parekh was allowed to stay in the Elphinstone’s Telang Memorial Hostel at Churchgate Sea Road. And at the Law College more honors awaited him with the Sir Charles Sargent Memorial Scholarship and Rotary Club of Mumbai’s Best Student of the Year award in 1965 by the famous cricketer Vijay Merchant.
Armed with a first class degree in law, Parekh began his career with Income Tax Law. “I worked in the High Court and with G.N. Joshi who was the then standing Senior Counsel for the IT Department.” He also worked with M.C. Bhandare, who now is best remembered as the former Governor of Odisha.
As H.R. Gokhale, Former Union Minister of Law and Justice, was related to Bhandare, he even filed returns for Gokhale. Parekh recounts how Gokhale resigned as a High Court Judge protesting that the salary of the Judge was not consistent with the dignity of the office. It was just Rs. 3,000 and with high taxes and provident fund deductions, the judge was left with only Rs. 1,400. There were no perks, only accommodation was given, recalls Parekh.
Citing how the Constitution did not allow a judge to practice in the same High Court that he had resigned from, Gokhale moved to practice in the Supreme Court and other High Courts. And Parekh still continued to file Gokhale’s return. “After going through the IT laws minutely, I told Gokhale that he would get 100% tax deduction for books worth less than Rs. 750. He did not believe it initially, but when he came to the Mumbai office to appear before the officer he was told the same thing.” And then Gokhale extended an invitation to Parekh to join him in Delhi.
In the meanwhile, “I had got married to Usha and was living in a rented room given by a Mr. Parekh who was Member of the Legislative Council. He did not know English but written in Gujarati script.” And his tuitions for extra income continued. His marriage was arranged by an aunt in Mumbai whom he met when he offered social service to the Gujarati community on weekends, working in the library or teaching disadvantaged students. He got married in Mumbai at the Tamil Sangam Hall. But the call to Delhi was strong, so he went during Christmas to help Gokhale and the decision was made. The Gokhales had a seven bedrooms home in posh South Extension and he stayed there in one of the rooms.
When his wife joined him, he took up a two bedrooms home in South Extension at a rent of Rs. 450. “My salary was Rs. 1,000. I worked with Gokhale from 4 am till 4 pm and in the evening with R.B. Dutta. Then Dutta bought me the costliest bicycle for Rs.115. Gokhale offered me his furniture and AC. One Sunday, he came to my home for lunch with his wife, Prabha, and I had to borrow the furniture form a neighbor.
Gokhale would even give my reference to his clients for work, which as Senior Advocate he could not take up.” Parekh also founded a firm with Gokhale’s daughter Sunanda Bhandare—Bhandare, Parekh & Co.
Later he founded his own firm P.H. Parekh & Co. in 1975. But when he was designated Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court, he handed over the company to his eldest son Sameer and now it is known as Parekh & Co. Sameer and his wife, Sonali, who is also a lawyer, run it. The firm handles all kinds of work – litigation and corporate affairs, arbitration, international work and more. Sandeep practices in Mumbai.
Things that he likes doing now – work and spend time with his grandchildren, Siddhant and Aarav.
“Grandparents are indulgent, so they always like to be around us on holidays and weekends,” he smiles.
As Parekh has always treasured good education, he sent his sons and daughter-in-law, Sonali, to do their masters from the USA. He did not make any conscious efforts to educate his sons to be lawyers. “I like my children to be their own people, but they chose this profession of their own will and it makes me happy,” says the proud father.
All family celebrations are still sacrosanct and the entire family does make it a point to get together on major festivals.
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