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Introduction To :'Justice K Narayana Kurup

                                                        Prof Werner Menski

It is a great pleasure and an honour for me to contribute a Prologue to this attractive photo essay covering the professional and personal life of one of India's major judicial figures at the turn of the 21st century, Justice K. Narayana Kurup. He is a fellow scholar and a friend whose work and committed activism, on and off the Bench, I deeply admire. Approaching retirement myself, I find it naturally instructive to observe what retired men may get up to. Some, of course, die from the shock of retirement, finding suddenly that everything that was their daily life has been abruptly pulled away from them. Professor Derrett in London, now himself almost 84 years old, warned me against this risk scenario decades ago, and evidently managed to combat it successfully, producing more learned work in retirement, too. Others have simply faded away and left no further mark in the public realm.

But not so Justice K. Narayana Kurup, and certainly also not another great legal luminary from Kerala, India's Lord Denning, as we like to say in London, former Supreme Court Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, another great son of Kerala. As confirmed in this volume's Foreword, at the age of 91, Shri. Krishna Iyer is still intellectually active and committed to public service, describing himself humbly as a nonagenarian under medical treatment, but battling on admirably despite heartaches over the loss of dear ones, which naturally occurs when one reaches such ripe old age, and other obstacles in man's path. I have long been an admirer of Shri. Krishna Iyer and am immensely happy that he can look back at a remarkably productive lifespan and a huge impact on law and life through his judgements, writing, and numerous other public activities. I think when seeing the present work, he must have felt that it was an excellent idea to record such achievements for posterity.

Compared to this great, grand old jurist of Kerala, Shri. K. Narayana Kurup is still a young man, and yet he can look back in pride at a long history of achievements and of contributions to thinking, even at global level, that have earned him many honours and awards, as documented in the present work. I need not go into details on the world-famous judgment that banned smoking in public places and still reverberates around the globe. There is of course, much more to be said about the legal achievements of Shri. Kurup, but that assessment is better reserved for a longer piece of writing in his honour.

The present selection of mementos should, I think, not be seen merely as justified reliance on past glories, but as an indication that there is still much more to come from this very active and strong personality. Shri Kurup is a man with healthy habits of exercise and diet, with an immensely supportive wife and daughter who also duly appear in the pages of this work, and with suitable support staff to assist in the laborious process of producing texts based on research and further learning. In such auspicious circumstances, Shri. Kurup is clearly able to make many further contributions to public life rather than just spending his time in idle retirement, playing golf or indulging in cosy small talk.

I could recently experience this latent and actual inclination towards further productivity and engagement for myself when I accompanied Shri. Kurup to a public event in an important historical place in Kerala. His brief speech, partly recorded in this work, focused succinctly, and typically, on the fact that Nature is critically important to our survival. He quipped that the sun does not charge for electricity, indicating that all of humanity and in fact all of creation owes much to this wonderful source of energy and life, which we have not even learnt to use properly. At a deeper level of analysis, the clear message of this speech was that we are interlinked, all over the globe, through the phenomena of Nature and that our actions as human beings have manifold implications for others. This can be read as a kind of 'Hindu' message, pointing in the direction of religion and philosophy, but that is only one aspect of life that Shri. Kurup as a global and yet local citizen is deeply concerned about.

There are many more profound speeches and writings that Shri. Kurup, as a judge, a scholar, a lawyer, and a family man with strong local roots, has produced in his long working life. I would count a person's study periods into this, noting in this case that as a student of chemistry and other natural sciences, one can very well become an outstanding judge, even building up a reputation as a 'medical judge' and a leading contributor to public health debates. This career progression contains a message that lawyers in the West are again re-learning at present. In London, top legal practices recruit now close to 50% of their new intakes from among non-law students, appreciating that such people tend to be more widely educated than persons who just studied law. India, of course, is trying through the not-so-new five year law degrees to produce educated lawyers, but I think there are many reasons to question the effectiveness of that strategy. The 'old system', where lawyers first studied something that might be totally different than law produced the outstanding old wise men whom we now felicitate-one wonders if in future such rounded personalities will be possible. In modern parlance, we might now call a desirable pattern of education something like inter-disciplinary, or globalised education, but the message is the same in every case: Merely studying law is not sufficient to become an excellent lawyer and a thoughtful judge who can leave his or her mark and will be remembered and cited for a long time to come.

Shri. Krishna Iyer rightly cites Felix Frankfurter to the effect that a lawyer should be a well-read, cultivated person thriving on the basis of a liberal education. Shri. Kurup certainly enjoyed that kind of education prior to becoming a lawyer, but then took great pains to develop additional specialist expertise that would empower him, in due course, to give the kind of hard-hitting and authoritative judgements that he was to produce in his judicial career. I am not given to great words and elaborate decorative speech, but it is evident to me as a legal scholar and a specialist on South Asian laws that Justice K. Narayana Kurup has made outstanding contributions to legal scholarship and legal activism during his eventful time as a High Court Judge. First on the benches of the learned Kerala High Court (21sl October 1992 to 29"' October 2000) and then on the even more august benches of the High Court of Madras, which he left on 12th December 2001, he created widely noted judgements in the public interest that will motivate others to carry on working for the improvement of our environment and for a strengthening of justice in every respect.

The wide range of public activities that Shri. Kurup engaged in over time, already as a senior advocate and then as a sitting High Court Judge and also after his formal retirement, is amply illustrated in the present work. Shri. Kurup is clearly not old enough to just look back at his earlier achievements. A careful reading of the texts in this volume will indicate his conviction that the skills of elders should be respected and should be used for the benefit of all of us. There are important hints here about the many tasks that still need to be tackled. I deeply value Justice K. Narayana Kurup as a down-to-earth realist who is ready to take on more challenges of this globalising world, and I wish him a long life and sufficient energy to carry forward his important projects. Here is not just a man of local significance, but an excellently equipped activist with globally relevant agenda and rich expertise that should not be allowed to lie fallow.
Werner Menski
Professor of South Asian Laws
SOAS, University of London
March 2006

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