For more than 30 years that I knew him, he was Prof Mallar. Some referred to him by his initials – VSM. It didn’t occur to anyone to ask what his initials stood for. No one referred to him or called out to him as anything other than Prof Mallar. Last year someone posted on a Facebook page that one of his students may be related to him. He got wind of this and called me, out of the blue, to clarify to me that he was Varadaraja Shivaraya Mallar, he was from Cannanore and had no connections with South Canara or that student. I haven’t worked out yet why he called me. Of all his students, the QCs, the senior advocates, and other accomplished students, he chose me to be his spokesperson!
He called a few times thereafter to ask about how his students were doing and what they had been up to since graduating. He had been following the careers of many whose names were reported in the press and he was proud of their achievements, never expressing pride in being their teacher.
When I visited law school in 2014 with a work colleague, he called out to me by name and roll number and we spoke for the next two hours about incidents from the 1990s. He remembered everything – the debates he had with me, my project assignments and even an article that I had written in 1996 about the CAG becoming as powerful as the Election Commission and how my juvenile prediction had come true in the Supreme Court decision in the 2G telecom case. My colleague had heard of Prof Mallar and she was so chuffed to have met him. He was everything she had heard about him.
When we spoke in February he had plans to visit his daughter in London and he wanted to meet his students who lived and worked there. He insisted that he would be the host and his students shouldn’t have to pay to meet him.
Yesterday afternoon, he fell victim to Covid. I think of myself and almost everyone who knows me would agree that I am stoic but I cried and I am still crying while I write this. I have not cried for anyone, not in a very long time. Not when my grandmother died last year, not when my grandfather died in my arms, not even when my father died in 2013. I knew that they were dying. Prof Mallar’s death was a shock.
Everyone who ever came in contact with Prof Mallar came away thinking of him as a kind, patient, gentle soul full of a cheer that was gregarious but solid and real. Everyone came away feeling better about any problem they took to him – even when they had failed in an exam and went to him to protest – he was head of the law school examination committee. No one ever heard him complain or sound frustrated. Not even when he taught us those difficult constitutional law cases where the Supreme Court, his sweetheart, mutilated his Bible, the Indian constitution. Such was his faith in the Supreme Court.
He would listen patiently to all the criticism from Prof Vijayakumar and Prof T. Devidas (those were the days when three professors would discuss constitutional law with the first and second-year class) about how the Constitution was being misused by those who were meant to be protecting it. It pained him, but his words, which every one of his students will remember were “Ultimately, you will find, the Supreme Court said, “Look here!”…”. He died yesterday afternoon, 24 April 2021, the 48th anniversary of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Kesavananda Bharati.
Prof Mallar was a legend and everyone who knew him will testify to that. He was always hopeful about the Supreme Court and the Constitution. With him dies all hope that I have for the Supreme Court and the Constitution.