A Tribute To One of Our Own

Balarajah s/o Subramaniam, popularly known as Bala or Balarajah with in the legal fraternity, was one of the most popular names associated with the Johore State Bar; be it in the field of Johore State Bar Committee’s administration, or relating the development of legal literature. So much so the name Balarajah became synonymous with the Johore State Bar.

Balarajah was born on 16th February 1947 in Muar. His father Kandiah Subramaniam, fondly known as Telekom Maniam, was an employee of Telekoms. His mother was Maniccam, a housewife. Telekom Maniam’s family had seven children and Balarajah was the fourth.

When the time arrived for his initiation into education his father moved to Kluang, the town with the famous railway station serving coffee and toast which continues even today. Balarajah’s early education began in earnest at Government English School, Kluang. He then moved to Johore Bahru to continue his education at St. Joseph’s Primary School, and from there went to St. Joseph’s Secondary School. He was an Interactor at St. Joseph’s in 1964.

He then proceeded to England to pursue a career at law. He was admitted as a Barrister-at-law of the Honourable Society of Middle Temple in 1969.

On returning to Johore Bahru, he did his pupillage with the late Paramjothy Chelliah of Wong & Paramjothy a doyen of the legal profession.

He was admitted as an advocate and solicitor of the High Court in Malaya on 17th March 1971. He started his practice with M/s Allen & Gledhill, and later joined Arthur Lee & Co. Subsequently he started his own legal practice Balarajah & Co.

From the time he was called to the Bar, Balarajah seemed to possess insatiable interest in the affairs of the Johore State Bar Committee. He served as its Secretary, and from 1990 to 1993, he served as its Chairman, and served as Acting Chairman from 2004 to 2005 and 2010 and 2011. He has also served as a member of the Bar Council from 1990 to 1993 and from 2010 to 2011.

Apart from serving the Johore Bar in the administrative capacity he was also well versed with the legal literature. His articles, poems and humour have adorned the Johore Bar’s Official publication INFO since 1979. His articulation of the thoughts he had marshalled were superb, and pleasant to read. Balarajah was a man of many talents and interests. Aside associating himself deeply in law, he also saw the necessity to serve the community. This led him to be a Rotarian. He was a chartered member of Rotary Club of Tanjung Putri in 1987 and served as its President in 1992, and was made Paul Harris Fellow in the same year. To fulfil his literary ambitions he found himself to be the editor of District Governor’s Newsletter (Rotary Club). His constant devotion to God was detectable from the various video clips he sent to me during the last couple of years. He always believed in sharing his thoughts and experiences.

Balarajah and his spouse and companion Gan Ee Peng have two children, a daughter Vishalini Balarajah, married to Ron Chan, and a son Veejay Balarajah.

Balarajah passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of seventy one on 9th January 2019. He has left behind many friends aside his beloved ones to mourn his sudden death.

The Bar has indeed lost a colourful character, who has made its tradition glow. It is a sad loss.

Written by, K. Sila Dass

REMEMBERING BALARAJAH S/O SUBRAMANIAM

My friend Balarajah passed away a few weeks ago. The news came through a WhatsApp msg. A police car was seen in front of his house. That he had died came as a shock to me. W do not expect the death of family and friends, although it is always there as a shadow over all of us.

I had heard that he was seriously ill but the news was that he was getting better and then he was not and then he was. Although we had stopped having regular weekday lunches, as we used to for over 3 years, we were in touch with each other regularly online. About 4 months ago, a mutual friend arranged lunch for Tan Hock Kim, a retired lawyer, who had come in from Singapore. Balarajah was there when I came in early. Apart from a swollen lower jaw he assured me that he was better. He assured me that the swelling was fluid retention and his doctor had said it would disappear in due course. He was rather quiet but appeared alright.

A couple of months ago there was a photo of lawyers at a cricket match uploaded onto one of the social media. This was the annual Police-Bench & Bar Games. He is there looking exceptionally thin and supporting himself with a walking stick. I messaged him as to whether he was alright and as usual he responded positively. But then a few weeks later I learnt that he had died.

In the last few years, I had witnessed the passing away of a number of lawyers who were my friends. In the midst of our hustle at work, we overlook keeping in touch with our friends. In addition, the implementation of the court “KPI” system with the equal, if not greater emphasis, on the expeditious disposal of cases and meting out of justice, has retarded the social interaction of lawyers at the Bar. The greater emphasis on speed in the management and disposal of cases meant that there were less time in sitting around in “warongs” to discuss cases and goings on at the Bar and with judicial officers between sips of sweetened teh tariks. The cost to the legal community is that it is slowly ceasing to be a close community with shared values and attitudes but rather a disparate group whose members scurry and rush to elevators to the designated floors of the respective courts – giving a hurried and preoccupied “hi” to friends and acquaintances in the lift while staring at the electronic display of the floor numbers changing.

For me, the death of Balarajah was another blip disappearing on the radar screen.

I met Balarajah first when I came to practise in Johor Bahru in 1976. He was then a legal assistant practising with Messrs Allen & Gledhill. He was also then the Secretary of the Johore Bar Committee. I was advised to make a courtesy call on him. He was aloof and reserved. He advised me to make a call on each and every one of the committee members, which I did not and on the resident judge, the late Justice Dato Syed Othman bin Ali, which I did. That was that and our paths did not cross for some time.

Later I heard he was involved in a serious accident along Jalan Tebrau, Johor Bahru and was in a semi coma state. He was warded at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital Johor Bahru and later transferred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore (I think). He was in a critical state, lapsing into coma and back to consciousness. There was a general feeling that he would not make it. But he did. In later years he would have “vertigo” and would take a day or two off. He said it was a consequence of the accident.

As the years went by, we started to meet regularly.

Initially he would call me up to have lunch at his home, a bungalow along Jalan Mariamah. He would pick me from my office in AIA Building in his beige coloured mercedes benz. He was a very slow driver (his car had to be specially tuned by his mechanic because of this). His mother was a superb cook and I still remember the meals, Jaffna Tamil cuisine, the curries and the vegetable side dishes with the right amount of tamarind juice, tumeric and chillies. She was a very neat and tidy person and was very welcoming to us when we stepped into the house. His father had a quiet personality and Bala was equally taciturn in his presence.

In time we became good friends and when his mother passed away, we became regular lunch “kakis”. He was fun to be with, open to jokes and ribbing. In the middle of a conversation he would come out with non sequiter statements like “what colour?” or “at the end of the day?” in the middle of a serious discussion. If you are unfamiliar with his ways, you would be nonplussed and would not know how to respond.

He left Allen & Gledhill when he realized that a partnership there was not in the offing. He went on into partnership twice both of which did not last too long. Finally he set up practise as a sole proprietor as Messrs Balarajah & Co. and he had a sound practice thereafter. He was involved in Bar activities, including the Police-Bench & Bar Games and setting up the Bar Bulletin – the Info Johore. The Info Johore was an interesting and unique bulletin and Bala was largely responsible for it.

A knack for editing and an ability to inject tedious, dry and lengthy legal articles with snippets of quotes, cartoons and news clippings, he made the Info Johore an interesting read. When queried he said he had his training, while reading law, with the AA of UK working part-time on their monthly bulletins. He arranged to have the Info Johore issues sent to the Judges who sat or had sat at the High Court in Johor Bahru, past and present. He had a lot of pride in the Info Johore and inevitably clashed with the Bar Committee members over some article which they felt were not too prudent and would open the Bar to libel suits. His anger stayed not too long and he was quick to forgive and move on.

Everyday at about 4 pm he would make a call to my office and we would have a long chat which was a good respite from the work. He was on the phone most of the time and his legal assistants had a tough time trying to have a discussion with him on a pending matter.

He thrived on being part of an organization, be it the Bar Committee or the Rotary or Freemasonry. He undertook these jobs with a zealous commitment, notwithstanding how pedestrian the job was.

In Court he was always calm, often with a sweet in his mouth, the only tell-tale sign that there was a turbulence within the calm exterior. His deportment and poise in court as well as on public occasions were impressive.

Balarajah was of a generation of lawyers who studied law as mature students. That is to say they worked first and then after a few years decided to take up law. Thus their personalities were to a degree already ingrained before they started practice, unlike those of us who come out from school straight to law school and come out, without first being buffed by the real world, as lawyers. He was a teacher before he did law.

What more can I write of him? He was my friend. I still see him in his usal pose, tall, with his arms crossed and a finger over his lips, listening to whoever was addressing him, with his usual politeness and courtesy. I shall miss him.

Life goes on. Soon many who have passed on, will be forgotten. Balarajah, CKG Pillay, Abdul Razak Ahmad, L.M. Ong and many more. What will be remembered will be their various contributions. As to their unique personalities, this will be etched only in the memories of those who knew them and who in time will pass on.

Written by, Chandra Sekran

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