Up-close with a legend: A tribute to Fali Sam Nariman


March 8, 2024

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Shayan Bisney pens a wonderful article about Fali Nariman, who passed away recently.

“I am very proud to say that my oldest friend hit 95 and lived his life to the fullest.”


Shayan Bisney with Fali S Nariman

“I have seen many Sundays,” Fali Papa, as his family fondly called him, would say on a number of occasions when I would meet him.

Fali Sam Nariman bid adieu to us all on February 21, 2024 at his residence in Hauz Khas in Delhi. My association with Fali Sir began in 2021, when I was a judicial law clerk to his son, Justice RF Nariman, who was in the evening of his career as a judge of the Supreme Court of India. I had requested Sanaya Nariman, wife of Justice Nariman, in 2021 if I could meet Fali Sir and take his autograph on a copy of his autobiography Before Memory Fades, to which she very happily said, “Yes, of course!”


Bisney’s signed copy of Before Memory Fades

I first met him on August 3, 2021 at his residence for lunch with a few other guests present. I vividly recall being overwhelmed as I was meeting a mammoth figure of the Indian legal fraternity. I took my place at the table farthest away from him, a little hesitant to make conversation with him in the midst of important public figures. Then, Fali Sir called me and told me to sit next to him. He asked me questions about my life, my career as a young law graduate and also jokingly said, “I hope Rohinton is not being too strict with you.” He signed a copy of his autobiography for me and said, “All the best, come again.” I was delighted beyond belief that day and told everyone about this.

I later joined Justice AM Khanwilkar. Within my first week of joining, I got a message from Sanaya aunty asking me to join Fali Sir for dinner at his residence. This became a regular part of my routine as Fali Sir and Sanaya aunty would very regularly invite me for a meal to his place.

Over lunch, he would insist that I have a beer while we talked about various subjects. My polite refusal to the offer had no bearing, as his domestic help would open a bottle even before my answer. When I would meet him for dinner and drinks, he would have the BBC running in the background and would watch the news. He would also give me a lot of “courtroom gossip” which not many were aware of.

He really enjoyed cricket. He was a fan of the sport since his young days. I too have a deep love for the game and we would often watch a good evening game of cricket together. Many of our interests matched and our conversations went beyond the dining table to emails and phone calls.

I got over 40 books signed by him to give to various people, to which he never refused, but only asked me to give the correct spelling of the person it was dedicated to. He was a rare individual who stayed away from “WhatsApp University” and did not possess a mobile phone.


Shayan Bisney with Fali S Nariman and R F Nariman

When he across an interesting article, he would first ask his office staff to email it to me and then send it by post to my residence. When I talked about buying any book, especially related to law, he would directly ring up the author and asked them to send me a signed copy!

I met him for professional advice in August 2023 in a matter concerning the Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad. He gave me a list of things to come prepared with, to which I obliged. During the briefing, he was firm and gave me ways on how I could improve. I also provided him with a lot of input in the matter before the Supreme Court in which a prayer was made to allow Parsi victims of COVID-19 to have their last rites performed according to Dokhmenashini method.

My last conversation with him was on his 95th birthday on January 10 this year. He would always wish me the very best and asked me to visit him soon. He took great care of his health and regularly had a doctor visiting him to check his health.

Throughout his life, he was very close to his wife, Bapsi, who had succumbed to COVID-19 in 2020. He would always say that she was the pillar of the Nariman family. There was rarely anything he did without remembering her. He would tell me stories about his late wife and always get emotional while narrating them.

He was blessed to have great domestic and professional support staff. His junior of over 38 years, Subhash Sharma, continued to always be with him. His granddaughters Nina and Khursheed, along with Rohan (husband of Nina) would always keep him company and never made him feel alone. His son Justice RF Nariman, daughter Anaheeta and daughter-in-law Sanaya would spend a large part of their days with him and Fali Sir cherished having such a lovely family. He was one of the fortunate ones who could see his great-grandchildren who dearly adored him.

To me, Fali Sir was more than a mentor. He was a guide, well-wisher and fellow advocate, but most importantly, a dear friend. I am very proud to say that my oldest friend hit 95 and lived his life to the fullest. As I write this piece on my way back from Delhi to Mumbai after attending his last rites, I do feel a void in my life. But I also find solace that he left this world on his own terms without any major illness or suffering.

Fali Sir, I will dearly miss you!

Shayan Bisney is an advocate based in Mumbai.