She transformed my destiny

The Jaising aura! It is unmissable. Unmistakable. I met Indira (“Indu” to friends) in Mumbai more than 40 years ago. I was awestruck. Four decades later, I remain awestruck. Even though I discovered soon after getting to know her as a friend, that behind that formidable facade is a soft, kind, vulnerable woman with a girlish giggle. We share a common friend—veteran reporter Olga Tellis—a legend in her own right. There was a time when we used to meet regularly, and chat without filters on any and every subject under the sun… later, our lives took us to different zones. Indira shifted to Delhi as a fiery senior advocate in the Supreme Court. We stayed in touch, of course, but barely. When Fortune magazine announced Indira’s name on its annual list of 50 Greatest Leaders 2018, I was informed about the honour by Olga, who sent me a message expressing her excitement and delight.

Feisty and fearless, Indira is not someone to mess with, and she makes that abundantly clear at the very first meeting itself. Brisk, fair and articulate, she cuts to the chase quickly, providing a practical road map to the person seeking her professional advice. She really shines when helping out the poor and underprivileged. I saw this for myself during the 1980s, when I would visit the office of the NGO she had started with her dynamic husband, Anand Grover. The Lawyers Collective (which had its license cancelled by the Modi administration in 2016) was based on shared idealism and strong beliefs in social justice. I would watch countless despairing and distraught people walk in, desperately seeking help and guidance. They would always be given time by someone from the group of committed lawyers working long hours in the cramped, non-air-conditioned space in an old building near the iconic Flora Fountain. Indira and Anand themselves would pay close attention to the varied issues, and then plunge right in, no matter how crowded their schedule. From tirelessly fighting on behalf of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, to addressing the plight of Mumbai’s pavement dwellers (a landmark judgement was subsequently delivered, thanks to the joint battle fought by Olga and Indira), the fight for equality and justice remained paramount. More recently, Indira helped draft India’s first domestic violence law. The UN appointed her to investigate into the persecution of Rohigya Muslims in Myanmar.

Illustration: Bhskaran Illustration: Bhskaran

Of course, being Indira, she has had her share of run-ins with the powers that be, and boldly taken on those standing in the way of justice and progress. She was also the first female additional solicitor general of India (2009-2012). She faces flak from opponents and critics for some of the stands she takes. But Indira would not be Indira if she does not give it right back.

After reading about her latest accolade, my mind went into throwback mode. Yes, those were indeed simpler times, of landing up in her office at Fort, chatting over chai, watching her juggle dozens of heavy legal files, overhearing her instruct her cook to prepare Anand’s favourite dish, asking whether Handloom House had a new collection of Andhra Ikats—Indira’s incisive mind was always racing, and in overdrive. As it remains to this day. I feel fortunate to have had access to her as a lawyer, and later as a friend. It does not matter whether or not we meet regularly or even at all. I feel confident enough about our friendship to believe she will take my call, and we will be able to pick up from where we had left off years ago.

If the Supreme Court becomes child friendly on May 1, by introducing a crèche, it will be yet another initiative aggressively pushed and promoted by Indira, to better the lives of working women. Personally speaking, I owe you and Anand a new shot at living my life differently. Thanks to you, I got the second chance I needed. So, here I am—one more grateful woman whose destiny was transformed, due to your unstinted support and intervention.