Anu Patel: Farewell to a dear friend and mentor
I have always thought of Anu Patel as the ‘barefoot lawyer’. That is because when I first saw him across the road from the Fiji Times newsroom in Lautoka in 1978, he had his lawyer’s suit on, but no shoes. Those of us who covered court stories in those days were intrigued by this newly arrived, sartorially-dressed, lawyer with the beautiful wife. When I sat in Lautoka Court trying to figure out a reporting angle from those interminable court cases, I would look over at Anu’s bare feet just to save myself from utter boredom.
Everyone knew, of course, that he was the son of the famous Mr S.B. Patel whose legal acumen for protection of people’s rights had, for decades, been the envy of every political pundit in Fiji. But his father’s honourable reputation just added to Anu’s aura and he held up that reputation proudly, without fanfare, all his life. Mr S. B. Patel’s calm and philosophical personality, and his ability to bring harmony to potentially dangerous political situations in Fiji’s turbulent 20th century past, are qualities that Anu enviably inherited from his father and brought to his legal work.
But the Anu Patel I grew to know properly much later had carved his own place in Fiji’s legal community. His father would have been proud of that. Anu was not political; at least not party political. What he had, almost instinctively, was a deep and abiding sense of justice. Anu knew the important difference between law and justice and that was more than enough to secure his rightful place as one of the few leading lawyers of our generation.
I myself experienced Anu’s sense of duty towards those who suffered in our society. In 2000, when Speight’s supporters swept through Muaniweni causing mayhem and pillage in that small settlement, Anu was one of less than a handful of lawyers who, without any payment, or concern about his own safety, stepped up to help get the Chandrika Prasad case first through the Lautoka High Court and then in the Court of Appeal. He even kept QC Geoffrey Robertson in check at the bar table during that appeal – just as Geoffrey was embarking on a slight frolic of his own contrary to instructions. Anu wasn’t scared of anyone.
Of course my relationship with Anu was not all smooth when we were preparing the Prasad case- he thought he was doing the case one way; I told him no, this way. He had a temper when roused, did Anu. But only once did he walk off in a huff after one of our arguments. I am told he was walked around the block by his good friends Chen Bunn Young and Mick Beddoes, and then he came right back and settled down. That was Anu; he never held a grudge. A man with a big heart.
And he knew where to find the best crab curry in Lautoka- usually a hole in the wall café. I also knew, as everyone else did I am sure, where to find Anu when he wasn’t answering his mobile- in the Northern Club. Legend has it that he personally cut the wire fence between the courthouse and the Club for easy access.
Well, this great lawyer, a giant of a personality, a kind and generous soul, a dear friend, our own ‘barefoot lawyer’- now gone, but will always be remembered with respect and love. Rest in Peace dearest Anu.