MY friend Sunanda Bhandare died when she was just 52 years old. Till her 50th birthday, which was celebrated with style, spirit and music, she lived life with enormous vitality and humour. She loved to celebrate with her family and friends anything that could possible be celebrated . whether it was an enagement, a marriage or the birth of a baby, all were joyous occasions in her home, with a special Sunanda touch.
She was one a God's naturally happy and people; this was infectious and it was wonderful to be with he . She loved life and had true generosity. If she could help somebody, she never hesitated-in fact, went out her way to do so, whether it was street sweeper or a colleague whom she was not very fond of . I met Sunanda in the Supreme in the Supreme Court when she was about 30. Her children, Rahul and Manali were young and I was living alone in Delhi with my daughter, Aradhana. Both Sunanda and her husband Murli befriended us and often took us to their home or together. Later, when my husband came to Delhi, we continued our friendship and he too became very fond of Sunanda. The four of us enjoyed a couple of delightful holidays together in Goa and Bhutan.
Sunanda was big-hearted. She rejoiced in the success of other, not a very common trait in this part of the world. When I became the first women judge of the Delhi High Court in 1978, she was truly delighted. When she became the second women judge of this Court in 1984, I was very pleased. We could be together again. When she was appointed a judge, she was barely 40. There were murmurs that the appointment was entirely political; her late father had been the Union Law Minister, her husband was a Congress MP and she herself was very close to the Prime Minister Mrs. India Gandhi. It was said that she was far too young to be elevated to the Bench and that she lacked judicial caliber. Sunanda very quickly defused this impression. She conducted herself with dignity, based her judgements on objective criteria, even if this meant deciding cases against the Government and gave clear and equitable decisions. So , those who had been critical of her appointmet as time passed changed their true and praised her as a fearless, impartial and robust judge.
We saw each other every woring day at lunch and often in the evenings. We would take a walk in Lodhi Gardens and discuss the events of the day, the news, the law, our garens, our colleagues, our children and even our husbands. We thumped along trying to reduce our bulk and get rid of our tensions, sharing thoughts that we could not express even to our supportive husbands. She often teased me abort my lack of worldly wisdom. Being with her lifted my spirits and reassured me of the joy of life.
When she became a High Court Judge, the vegetable sellers at the I.N.A. market asked her rather wistfully whether she would still come to buy her own vegetables from them. They need not have worried. Sunanda never saw any loss of dignity in the ordinary tasks involved in running a home. Indeed, at heart, she was a family women.
Her daughter once told me that despite all her activities Sunanda never let her children feel that she did not have enough time for them. Her relationship with Murli was very special. She always said, "I draw my strength from his love and I have made him promise that he will not die before me. " Murli, her senior by about 15 years, used to say, " I will have to live till 95 as she wants to live to be 80. " Well , Sunanda saw to it that Murli kept his word. But it seems more more than unfair that she died so early, and of a disease that wasted her, sapped her energy and drained away her very zest for life. But the way I would like to remender Sunanda is in a lovely garden with Indian classical music in the background. She is sitting under a champa tree, beautifully adorned with jasmine flowers in her hair, a pink glow on her smiling face. She is playing with her granddaughter and chatting animatedly with her family and friends. I miss her deeply. Though we were so different in temperament, she was one of the best friends I ever had. She was a women of great charm and a just and compassionate judge.A former chief justice of the Himanchal Pradesh High Court, Leila Seth is one of the founder trustees of the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation
Justice Sunanda Bhandare was well- known in judicial and legal circles as a person who had made her mark in the judicial field and every one was looking forward to her elevated to the Supreme Court and, being among the youngest persons, hopefully to become the first women Chief Justice of India. But to us, for whom she was like a family member, Sunanda, true to her name, spelt joy by her presence and amiable nature. I have had the privilege of knowing her as a daughter of late Justice H.R. Gokhale who was Law Minister in Mrs. Indira Gandhi's cabinet. Both Murli and Sunanda endeared themselves to a large number to their friends with their hospitality and sociable nature. They were such a beautiful combination, both intellectually and socially. Murli himself had made a mark not only as a lawyer but also as a Parliamentarian.
However, it is the social side of Sunanda and her devotion and dedication to humanitarian causes, particularly for women and the working classes,that made a lasting impression on my mind. I remember how gladly she and Murli would help me in the labour whole-heartedly Smt. Indira Gandhi, Supreme Court. She had also helped whole we were out of power during the Janata redime when very few legal luminaries were willing to come and stand by and assist Indiraji in the various legal prosecutions that were launched against her.
Yet, to many of us Sunanda was known in the cultural sector for her deep interest in music, dance and other classical arts. She and Murli not only organised and hosted performance of eminent artistes but have been patrons for many institutions who were devoted to these arts which are a part of the rich heritage of India's culture.
I am glad that her friends have thought of establishing a Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation to be launched on November 1, 1995. I have no doubt that this Foundation will continue to pursue the causes close to the heart of Sunanda and thereby not only do justice but also perpetuate the memory of this loving soul.
Vasant Sathe Former Union Minister and Family Friend
Rigour and clam: those traits were synonyms for Sunanda. If she inspired the affection, respect and even awe that did, it is on account of her attention to detail-hence the rigour-and her equanimity in all circumstances-which explains the sense of calm she exuded. I had only one experience of the way Sunanda deployed these traits in her professional capacity. Someone had filed a case against the newspaper I was then editing. Sunanda was in the judge's chair. She entered the court room and without a moment's hesitation began the hearing. The lawyer representing the newspaper was subjected to rapid-fire questioning. The questions were succinct, thoroughly detailed and asked in a tone that was authoritative , though seldom stern. The lawyer wilted under the pressure. But that was only one part of the story. The other,more revealing part, was this: throughout the interrogation of the presence. Here was a family friend who most non-chalantly chose to ignore me altogether. She had an excellent reason to do so. My presence was not germane to the court proceeding.My respect for her knew no bounds that day.
In a social setting, however, this very lady appeared in different incarnational; exquisite hostess, a doting mother, a spouse who demonstrated a robust independence of mind, a fine conversationalist and a loyal friend.
Sunanda was truly a woman of substance. She projected an Indian idea of a modern woman: rooted in her language and culture, cosmopolitan in her tastes and interests, aware of the potential of law to redress injustice especially against woman, conscious of her responsibilities as an alert citizen of the republic. . .
Former editor of The Times of India, Dileep Padgaonkar is chairman of the Asia Public Communication Associates Pvt. Ltd.
My mind goes back to the days when Sunanda was an advocate and a social activist for gender justice and organizing women lawyer. Her spirit always projected the great cause of gender, but her advocacy, at once gentle, persuasive and persistent always moved me. On the Bench she was strong and maintained the dignity of her Office. It is tragic tragic that she been plucked away before her time. But let us make her a symbole of perpetual battle for justice from the Bar and the Bench to the people, especially the weaker section.
V.R. Krishna lyer, Former judge of Supreme court
I fondly cherish the memories of dear friend, late Justice Sunanda Bhandare. With sense of personal loss, recall the moments and ideas we shared. A compassionate human being Sunanda was committed to her ideals and convictions. This combination of compassion and commitment to ideals made her a fantastic personality and a lovable friend. In our personal discussions, I could sense the pain she used to fell for the weaker sections of our society. Our common concern for the cause of underprivileged brought us even closer.
Najma Heptulla , Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha
Sunanda Bhandare was a lawyer, judge, women's rights activist, wife, mother and friend, all in one. A smiling disposition and friendly response to anyone who came in contact with her, made her an unforgettable personality. She suffered much and died too early. But during the years she had, made her an unforgettable personality. She sufferd much and died too early. But during the years she had, she made a lasting contribution to the profession and the annals of our judicial system.
Margaret Alva, Former Union Minister of State.
Sunanda was not only a good but a great judge. She had great understanding. She was also one of the strongest upholders of human rights.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Ambassador of India
I have yet to meet a woman more warm-hearted and oozing with good-will towards everyone Sunanda. I will always remember her the gifts of friendships that she and her husband shared with people they befriend.
Khushwant Singh Journalist
There could be no better memorial to Justice Sunanda Bhandare than the establishment of a Trust working in the field "Women and Law", a subject to which the late Sunanda Bhandare made lasting contribution.
P.K Dave ,Lieutenant Governor, Delhi
Sunanda Bhandare was a warm and compassionate human being. She was the kind of person whom at the end of the first meeting one could call a friend. As a lawyer she was full of life and good cheer. Her home was a place in which many friends gathered for a pleasant evening. After she was elevated as Judge, she conducted herself with great dignity and authority on the Bench of the High Court. Behind the fecade of judicial authority she was a warm and compassionate human being who genuinely loved all those who came in contact with her.
P.Chidambaram , Minister of State for Commerce
Sunanda was fearless and was true to her oath as a judge. She was a Judge of Delhi High Court for little over ten years and we all had expected that in course of time she will attain great heights in her career, but , also, sometime nature is merciless. Her life just slipped out of our hands and she was lost to us. 10th November, 1994 will go down as a sad day in the history of Delhi High Court when it lost one of its foremost Judges.
D.P Wadhwa , Chief Justice of High Court, Patna
Awarm and humble judge, she particularly encourage young members of the bar. We, young members of the bar, called the bench presided over by Justice Sunanda Bhandare 'Mother Bench'.
A young Lawyer
Justice Sunanda Bhandare, who died in Delhi on 10th November of complications arising from cancer, was probably the most popular judge of the Delhi High Court. Her demise led to widespread morning within the legal fraternity and outside the grief was both deeply felt and genuine. Before she became a judge in 1984, Sunanda Bhandare had a successful practice in the Supreme Court. She was highly regarded by her peers and when she contested the Supreme Court Bar elections she was elected Vice-President by the largest majority in the history of the court.
As a judge her emphasis was issues that had to do with individual rights. She was a great believer in the rights of the small person against the monolith of government. Among her most celebrated judgment was one that regularized temporary workers who had been kept hanging by the Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Her reputation as a liberal, pro-labour judge was enhanced by her emphasis on women's issues and the human touch she brought to her cases. In all divorce matters, she was sympathetic to women and ensured that they always received settlements that were fair and generous.
When she learnt that she was suffering from a particularly virulent from of cancer, she refused to let the disease defeat her. Nor did she want the sympathy that her peers would have offered.
Even when the disease advanced, she continued to function as a judge. Told that she would require a wheel chair to be mobile, she had a ramp built in the court so that she could attend to her cases.
She was advised a course of treatment in London. She agreed to go only if she could finish with an extremely important case. It dealt with the right of the army to terminate the service of officers without assigning any reasons. Given her insistence on due process and transparency and her consistent concern for the rights of the individual, it was important for her to ensure that this judgment was written.
And so , with her health failing, she sat at home for five hours every day for nearly a week, till she was sure that had dictated a judgment that would not only force the judgment and ensured that he last bit of law-making remained on the rule books for ever.
Friends remember her as a warm, humane person with a tremendous sense of style. At 18, she fell in love with and married Murli Bhandare, a friend of her father's who was 14 years older than her. She had two children by the time she was 21 and only then did she start on later education.
Her career mirrored her personal life; her emphasis on spontaneity warmth and humanity balanced by a desire work hard and to face life with bravery and courage.
Vir Sanghvi is the Editor of Sunday.
Sunanda Bhandare is no more. Elevated to the Bench of the Delhi High Court in the year 1984, she passed away on the 10th of this month at the age of 52 years. She never believed in erecting any wall between her and the society in which she operated.
In fact she believed in being a part of the people. As a judge she faced many challenges but overcome them with the aid of her robust common sense and by applying objective standards and by choosing from among the possibilities arrayed before her the one that seemed the best to her.
Justice Cardozo has said that a judge is not knight errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own idea or beauty of goodness. Her is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. Her is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence .he is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized, by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system and subordinated to the primordial necessity of order in social life. Sunanda lived up to those standards.
Married to a senior advocate of the Supreme Court who is also deeply involved in active politics, Sunanda never allowed her husband's commitments to blur her own thinking and judgment. In personal life she had he ups and downs but always managed to release herself from the cocoon of depression. Sunanda was the queen of simplicity with clean scrubbed skin, bare faced, care free feminity. Wit, humour and laughter were her ornaments.
We all knew that Sunanda was gravely ill. But then also knew her as a great fighter. She fought with death for more than a year. She was no Keats who admitted to being 'half in love with easeful death'.
She loved life and believed in living it every moment. Here was not a philosophy of negation or flight form the world. Choicest of drinks flowed in her parties interspersed with discussions covering sometimes thinker like Sartre, Hegel, Dante and Homer. If Pandit Jasraj sang bhajans in the sprawling lawns of her official residence, Farida khanum from Pakistan regaled lawns of her lyrical ghazals. Good bye to all that.
Justice Jaspal Singh, a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court
Sunanda Bhandare is no more. Elevated to the Bench of the Delhi High Court in the year 1984, she passed away on the 10th of this month at the age of 52 years. She never believed in erecting any wall between her and the society in which she operated.When I think of Sunanda Bhandare-Aunty Sunanda as my brother, my sister and I called her- I smile, and unusual when one thinks of the recently dead. But the memory of my mother's close friend and sister. All of us loved Sunanda and every time we spent even half an hour with her we emerged more full liveliness and energy than before, less conscious of the hundreds of problems, small and large, that tend to beset and obsess one. Sunanda was never obsessed: she was the soul of jovial balance. She could be indignant( at some injustice rather than stupidity), she could be (though rarely) annoyed or angry, but her love of life and the world would prevent her taking herself too seriously, from dwelling on things that she could not change, and from relaxing her grip on those she could. She always spoke her mind. Her options were as her as they were trenchant. She loved to laugh, often-like Murli-at her own jokes.
She was a loyal friend. When my mother first came to Delhi over 20 years ago, my father was still in Calcutta and was only able to join her a year and a half later. It was a lonely time for her, both at work as a lawyer and at home. Sunanda, (though 12 years younger than her ) and Murli took her under their wing. When, years later, my father underwent difficult times, they stood by us when some others passed by on the other side. A few years ago there was a bit of(imported) emotional drama when my sister found her suitable boy-and again Sunanda waded in as a trouble-shooter. Her robust common-sense helped see my mother through, and calmed us all.
Our family owes her a lot, but' owing' is an odd word to use in the context of such a friendship. Her generous affection would disown it. It is bitter to think of sudden and paiful disease when one one thinks of her-she seemed to contradict the very idea. Her absence brings sadness-but, when merged with the memory of her as she for the bulk to the time that we knew her-and, Sunanda would have enjoyed the pun-it become a smiling, even laughing, sorrow.
Vikram Seth , Novelist and family friend
Sunanda Bhandare was a woman of many identities and multiple faces. I was 28 when I married Rajiv, and although ours was not an arranged marriage, I found myself much at ease with my new family. My middle sister-in ?law, Sunanda, already a successful lawyer, was the most formidable of the lot ? there was nothing that could escape her notice, nothing she was not interested in. In the 70s. very few women had careers. Except for a few cousins who had recently qualified for the IAS, there were no "working women" in our family. The paradox was that, apart from putting in hours and hours at her legal career, Sunanda was an extremely creative home-maker, involved to the point of obsession with every aspect of her family and friends.
It was this obsessive interest in the world around her that compounded the chief ingredient of Sunanda's charm. Who was it that said, "to become truly mature is to regain the sense of earnestness of the child at play". I discovered that my new sister-in law, large, buxom and forbidding as she appeared, was indeed something of a child at play. I can remember our devouring three icecreams each at India Gate one balmy summer night- no one would have suspected that Sunanda had spent a long grueling day advising Indira Gandhi about her election pettion, which Raj Narain had challenged in the Allahabad High Court.
It was this infectious vitality that all her friends remember most about Sunanda. Most successful persons, especially in professional careers, become oblivious to the inner rhythms of life. They become mechanical, they abdicate joy. Not our Sunanda. She had a talent, an aptitude, for happiness. If there was something t celebrate it any way. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, moonlit nights, everything was a cue for happiness, for laughter, for the inclusion of an everexpanding extended family.
It was from my mother-in law and sister-in-laws that I learnt to cook. They insisted that the ingredients should be fresh, the colour maintained the flavours left free to formulate in the taste-buds. This philosophy of cooking Sunanda carried over to her dail life: she searched high and low for stimulus, for experience, for her enhancement of her areas of competence. Over the last 20 years I saw her approach, observe and master different tasks and situations in a systematic and competent way. With her husband Murli, she set about putting together a personal collection of contemporary Indian art. With her discerning eys, she could always intuitively lacate the best. The painting she empathized with and loved most was a pointillist composition by Bendre showing their young girls in parkar polkas sitting and playing around a charpoy, their eyes fraught with youthful dreams and hopes.
So it was with music. Who was it we did not hear at Sunanda's home: Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Farida Khanum, Shubha Mudgal- all performed at an intensely personal and charged level for the charmed circle of Sunanda's friends. Sunanda once explained her theory of music concerts to me, "You have to coax the artist to perform, you have to allow scope to create rapport with the audience," she said. Her meticulously planned musical evenings provided the perfect platform for the fragile thread of emotive connection between the greatest musical names of our day and an informal and involved audience.
It was immensely comforting to know that someone could straddle the domestic and professional world with ease and still manage to have fun. It sounded almost too good to be true, and it was, for life with its mysterious and often scornful ironies decided to compensate the intensity of her span with a corresponding brevity. Soon after I was making a rapidly affected her daily diagnosis, Sunanda developed a malignancy which rapidly affected her daily health. Sunanda's handling of this new and final challenge was a portrait in courage.
She absolutely refused to surrender to the tyranny of mortality-she smiled and even laughed her way through the ignominy and depleting strength of a terminal illnesss. When her hair fell off after protracted chemotherapy, she wore an elegant wig, carrying it with her characterstic style. She continued to wear the most resplendent saris, and spray her jasmine bessed Diorssimo. She did not cede an inch to the pain and rigour of an excruciating illness. This was the greatest test of her love life, for she continued in those impossible circumstances to extract the last measuer of happiness from her depleting reservoirs of vitality.
If I do not dwell on her legals career it is because her obdurately honest and uncompromisingly humanistic judgements speak for themselves. With five generations of lawyers in genetic pool, she was elevated to the bench at the green young age of 40, where she quickly established her competence and integrity. As a judge, she gave relief to so many ordinary citizens that she won a special place in their hearts for her fairness, hard to come by in high office.
On November the 1st, 1997, Sunanda would have turned 55. I would like to join her extended family of friends, colleagues and well-wishers in remembering extraordinary women who never succumbed to the strait-jaket of conformity, whose warmth and humanity shine on even after her untimely departure.
Namita Gokhale, Writer & Sister-in-law.