The journey from law to literature
By Juliana Sridhar


She was born into a family of lawyers, married a lawyer, became one herself and made her younger son one too. Meet Justice Prabha Sridevan, a retired judge from the Madras High Court and retired Chairperson of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board.

Justice Prabha I must confess has the most enchanting smile and exudes confidence and optimism.  She studied law only at the behest of her husband after her sons grew up. She enrolled in Madras Law College and acquired a law degree in 1983 and joined the office of her husband who became her mentor and guide. Sadly he passed away at the young age of 53 and she had to take on the mantle of head of the family and head of the office at the same time. Being the talented person that she is, she did so with aplomb. Thankfully, she had a supportive family who stood by her in the hour of grief. The loss made her angry and depressed but she managed to channelize this energy in the right way and she grew from strength to strength.

She is blessed with 2 sons – Srikant and Srinath is a Co- Founder of HSB Partners. The elder son is an Engineer who graduated from the prestigious IIT and is settled in the United States and the younger son is an accomplished lawyer practising in the Madras High Court.

She put her heart and soul in the profession, excelled in it and went on to become the President of the Women Lawyers Association in Chennai. The Association flourished under her leadership. She handled a number of high profile cases both on the Original side and the Appellate side as well. She was appointed as a Judge in the Madras High Court in March 2000. Here too she delivered many landmark judgments till she retired in August 2010. Justice Prabha was later appointed as the Chairperson of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) for a period of 2 years from 2011 to 2013.

 After her retirement, she is still a busy bee and keeps herself involved in many activities. She is a voracious reader and this interest made her to take to translation as a duck takes to water. She began translating books from Tamil into English. She has translated two books of writer Chudamani. One is titled “Echoes of the Veena” which is a book of short stories and the other is titled “Seeing in the Dark” which is also a book of short stories. Her translation of the “Echoes of the Veena” won her an award at the Valley of Words Festival. Her book was adjudged as the best English translation.

Her other works of translation include a play of the Madras Players titled “Trinity” which was authored by Seetha Ravi, the grand daughter of famous writer Kalki. “Wisdom and Grace” is another work of hers which is a translation of the works of the great Kanchi Sankaracharya. In the pipeline is the translation of the writings of Thoppil Mohammad Meeran. In fact she wrote this tribute for writer Meeran in the Hindu when he passed away. “Without brandishing any banner, he tells me of the lives of his people the Muslims who live in the southern tip facing the sea.”  “I know how they preserve their pickles, make their chips, I know the feast that children enjoy on Perunaal. I know the power and lack of it of the women there. I know the terrain, the roaring sea, the rocks, the lush fields. I know about the beliefs, the superstitions, practically everything.”

It was while doing these works of translation that she got to know about Kanniyakumari, about the lifestyle over there and the configuration of their houses. She says translation teaches her the universality of humanhood, that all of us are basically alike. She was able to see it through the spectacles of people who came from different backgrounds.

She is also working on the translation of the published essays of Uve Swaminatha Iyer fondly called as “Tamizh Thatha”. She says that he was responsible for unearthing the manuscripts of the Sangam period.  Justice Prabha finds translation work so addictive that she wants to keep doing more and more of it. She says “just like a judge gets into the shoes of litigants, a translator gets into the shoes of the writer.” She finds it educating, exciting and enlightening.

Post retirement in 2014, she keeps herself busy with translation work which takes up most of her time, does a bit of drawing too. In fact her drawings were sold and the proceeds were used for charitable purposes. She also does arbitration work and gets to deliver lectures at the Judicial Academy. She likes South Indian vegetarian cuisine and is especially fond of rasam.  She unwinds by listening to any kind of music but prefers Carnatic music.

Justice Prabha says “the importance of inclusion and diversity in legal education is that each under represented group brings its experience to their professional space. So while women lawyers are professionally lawyers who are women, they are also women who are lawyers or judges and their experience must get reflected in their work.” She particularly mentioned the case which held that the home maker’s work must be economically valued.

In the context of her career as Chairperson of the IPAB, she believes that the judiciary must weigh the right to health and the right to life as more important than the right to intellectual property in these trying times of the pandemic.

Justice Prabha is therefore a role model for any woman lawyer. She has carved a niche for herself and set down standards for women in this field to follow.

Juliana Sridhar is a lawyer and columnist who underwent practical training in the office of Mrs.Prabha Sridevan during her final year in Law College in 1990.




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