Remembering Dr. Avtar Singh

Writing a few lines in the memory of Dr. Avtar Singh who passed away on October 1, 2018 is more like performing a pious obligation towards the elder—teacher, guide and friend. The urge to write these lines arises not because “Doctor Sahib” (as he was popularly known in the Lucknow University) was engaged in any position of power in the Law Faculty or the Lucknow University administration, but out of sheer affection and reverence for the person less understood in the place which he served from 1957 to 1993.

My first introduction with Dr. Avtar Singh was as a teacher of Contract Law in the LL.B. first year way back in 1958. In a short time Dr. Avtar Singh earned our awe and admiration for his lucid classroom teaching in the subject. He explained the basic elements of contract law in simple and explicit terms. In order to ensure thorough learning of each topic, he believed in repeating the gist of the last lesson before starting the class the next day. We were fortunate to have Dr. Avtar Singh as the Company Law teacher in the second year class as well (those days LL.B. was a two year course). During the examinations we relied upon Dr. Avtar Singh’s Contract and Company Law textbooks, which stood out for their lucid language, apt examples and appropriate case law discussion. By the time I completed the two year LL.M. course in 1962, Dr. Avtar Singh had already become a friend and guide for most of the LL.M. students, particularly those like me who did not have stronger contacts in the Faculty. Since Dr. Avtar Singh preferred to spend most of his time, apart from the classroom, in the library, and so we had to go to the teachers’ cubicals in the library whenever some need arose.

Those days one got a teaching assignment soon after passing LL.M., but for me after the retirement of my father the urgency was greater. On the advice of Dr. Avtar Singh I ventured to apply for a lecturer’s post at the Jabalpur University and on being selected Dr. Avtar Singh made me see reason in leaving my parent institution and home to take up a job in a strange city, some six hundred miles away. Dr. Avtar Singh always advised that going out gives an opportunity to prove oneself. My stay in Jabalpur from 1962 to 1970 was a great learning and confidence building exercise. But I had a strong desire to return back to the roots and so returned in 1970 to set up legal practice in Lucknow.

On one of my visits to the Lucknow Law Faculty, Dr. Avtar Singh prevailed upon me to accompany him to Eastern Book Company at Lalbagh. Before introducing me to the elder and younger Malik brothers and the two young sons, Dr. Avtar Singh explained to me the nature of the job that I was expected to do. Since the work of preparing headnotes for the Supreme Court Cases and the Digests would afford me an opportunity to go through the latest judicial decisions of my interest, I readily agreed with Dr. Avtar Singh’s mission. I feel extremely grateful for his being a visionary contact person between me and the Eastern Book Company family that has stood by me in more than one way.

Unfortunately 1970 stay in Lucknow was short-lived and upon my return to teaching in Delhi University in 1971, I almost lost contact with Dr. Avtar Singh. I did learn from my commercial law colleagues in Delhi and outside that Dr. Avtar Singh continued to pursue his academic journey uninterruptedly.

Dr. Avtar Singh produced classic textbooks in English and Hindi language on Company Law, Contract Law, Partnership Law, Law of Sale of Goods and Hire Purchase, Competition Law, Law of Arbitration, Conciliation & Alternative Dispute Resolution, Business Law, Law of Carriage (Air, Land and Sea), Banking and Negotiable Instruments, Intellectual Property Law, Law of Consumer Protection and Law of Insurance for Eastern Book Company, but also wrote on the Law of Evidence and Law of Tort for other publishing houses. Dr. Avtar Singh’s unique ability of putting in simple words most complicated legal propositions has become the hallmark of his textbook writing. The spectrum of commercial laws unravelled in the simplest ways has enormously enhanced the readership of his books not only to graduates and postgraduate law students from all over the country, but also to management, chartered accountancy and company secretary students. As a recognition of his scholarship the IIM Lucknow had conferred Visiting Professorship in Business Law. Dr. Avtar Singh’s ability to produce quality legal material in Hindi language was recognised by the U.P. Government by conferring the prestigious Vidya Bhushan Samman and Saraswati Samman.

It was amazing to see Dr. Avtar Singh’s ability to produce one masterpiece work after another and their repeated editions constantly for almost six decades. Till the last few months of his life he remained pre-occupied with the task of the up-dation of his books. In him we could have the vision of a true academic Yogi. He displayed this kind of energy for work despite an adverse environment in the Law Faculty, where his teaching excellence and legal scholarship always remained under-recognised (his retirement as a Reader in 2003 is a stark testimony to the fact of under-recognition).

Therefore, when I returned back to Lucknow for the second time in 1992, as a Professor in the Faculty of Law, I had the fortune of being privy to a very touching incident relating to Dr. Avtar Singh’s promotion as a Professor of Law in the Faculty. The then Vice-Chancellor Prof. Hari Krishana Awasthi was kind enough to call me to his residence and shared his heartfelt desire to promote Dr. Avtar Singh, who had been given a raw deal so far. Professor Awasthi wanted to know whether as being the only selected Professor (those days there was a dispute between promoted and selected Professors) in the Faculty, I would have any objection in the promotion proposal. My instant reply was: “as his one-time student, I would be the happiest person if that could happen”. But the events in the University made it difficult for Professor Awasthi to secure Dr. Avtar Singh’s elevation before his retirement. This way the Lucknow University missed the opportunity of collective atonement to Dr. Avtar Singh. As the Dean of the Faculty, I could only organise a grand farewell on the eve of Dr. Avtar Singh’s retirement in April 1993. Dr. Avtar Singh had already known about my firm stand against those who had been arguing that the Lucknow Law Faculty had no tradition of a farewell function. I faintly remember Dr. Avtar Singh’s observation in his farewell speech: “Even the ‘most powerful’ have to face defeat at the hands of the ‘most wise’.”

Today, when hosts of law students, teachers and scholars stand to benefit from the knowledge gained from the vast range of text books of Dr. Avtar Singh, we can confidentally say that at the end that: ‘wisdom has indeed prevailed’.

 

Prof. B.B. Pande, Former Professor of Law and Professor In-charge CLC, University of Delhi (1971-2005), Former Professor of Law and Dean Faculty of Law, Lucknow University (1992-95), Consultant (Research) and Human Rights Chair Professor, National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi (2005-2009), Criminal Law Chair Professor, National Law University, Delhi (2014-2017), Distinguished Professor, National Law University, Delhi.

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