How does one process the unfathomable? Writing this was one way to do it. I have gone from shock to disbelief to denial to anger to grief in the last 12 hours. I don’t have any other opportunity for a farewell, so I share these words with you as I try to comprehend this colossal bereavement.
I am glad that this kind of grief is not glamorous– that noses fill and spill phlegm, and that one must trumpet into towels to clear them. I wasn’t very close to Shamnad, not particularly. I just always remembered that he was May born, like me, and let that thought cheer me up about myself. Perhaps those closest to him should, in responding to this moment of grief, be writing about him. But then again, perhaps it is more fitting that I, who he was not particularly close to or fond of, should write this in his memory. Shamnad was more than just a teacher– if there is such a thing as “just” a teacher — he was a symbol, an icon, a rock star. Heck, here I am, barely making it out of bed on a day-to-day basis and he was inspiring young minds before he was 35 to think beyond their immediate and personal ambitions. Shamnad was kind and he was warm and he was brilliant and he was funny, despite his best efforts at bad jokes. He was passionate and delighted with seeing you, even if he was battling a mysterious illness that was robbing him of his physical fitness. In my imagination of him, he was a version of Dorian Gray and i wondered uncharitably if it was pride at his appearances that was going now before this fall.
Shamnad was a complex individual. He will be glamorised and eulogised for the next few days before he is perhaps villainised for a few days after that… That is how these things go. That’s the cycle of grief for public figures… But he was a complex individual, young and wise, brave and cautious, idealistic, ambitious and cynical. I take his name and reference him almost every other week, if not more often, for good reason. Shamnad reinstilled idealism in me at a juncture when I had all but lost it to cynicism. I knew of him before I was introduced to him, of course. Who didn’t know the dashing professor who vroomed in on his bike to college everyday. His shoulder length mane (at that time) shaking as his head emerged from the helmet. I cannot but roll my eyes at the thought. I cannot but smile at the memory. My friend Ramanuj took me to meet him because Shamnad was looking for enthusiastic students to help him kickstart this idea he had for increasing diversity in legal education. Finally, there was something I could do in law school–especially since my beloved MagCom was no longer in caring hands that year. There was a higher purpose to this course of study. There was some nobility in the pursuit of this professional degree. I joined the efforts of what would become IDIA- increasing diversity by increasing access to legal education.
Shamnad’s true legacy is not his immense, remarkable, precocious contributions to the development of IP law. His truest contribution is the open challenge he posed to the elitism of the study of law and the national law school model. Those who see in IDIA merely a training and scholarship programme for underprivileged kids do not, or refuse to, appreciate the radicalism of his IDIA. For several reasons of my own neurosis, I was unable to continue working with IDIA the next year. I remember, though, an outing I went to — Shamnad hosted us IDIA volunteers to a celebratory dinner at his place. I remember the shock of having a teacher be such a friendly person – be open to challenge, to banter, to critique. I helped serve food and find seating in his sparsely furnished flat. We ate biriyani. There were other group meetings too, he was a very meticulous planner,–that meant i often ventured into Sector V. Cafe Coffee Day was his preferred haunt, and he would be invariably found there, cup of coffee in progress, always generous with his time, interested in what you had to say, laptop open. Rarely have I seen him not trying to crack a joke or make a pun, no fear or inhibition constraining him. In fact, my first memory of being taught a class by him — Advanced Patent Law — was of him cracking a poor joke and students laughing out of politeness. (That was the moment i realized teaching was a career I could take where a captive audience would feel compelled to humour me.)
Shamnad taught me IP law, but more than that, he taught me how to critique IP law. Even more than that, he taught me to have courage when things looked bleak.
There is a bizarre absurdity to his dying– a sensation of parody– that he died not from the confounding illness that appeared to be consuming him, but from an accident of circumstances, less protracted but equally agonising and out of his control.
As I try to make sense of this tragedy, this disappearance of a North Star, and reel from the shock of losing an anchor, I could end with saying something about how best to remember him– by not waiting for later to do the good one wants to do in the world.
It would be too trite, though. It would make his life be some sort of moral value lesson for others, and reduce him to a symbol, an icon, when he was so much more. He was my teacher.