Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The best that he could

Reading a book brought back a lot of memories. Memories of a boyhood home. Fond memories indeed. What book has had that power? "Subhas Anandan - the best I could" is a semi-autobiographic account of Singapore's best known criminal lawyer, Mr Subhas Anandan. This book covers his early life and the criminal cases he has dealt with over his long legal career. What's so interesting in this account? Well, Mr Anandan writes in a simple yet engaging style, shorn of any legalese that might deter anybody except fellow lawyers. Yet this is not what drew me to the book in the first place. After all, the author devotes half of the book recounting cases he has handled - cases that have, in their time, received wide public coverage through the local print and broadcast media.

The reason I picked up the book was because someone else who had read the book told me that he is a Naval Base boy. And so I found out through this book that he lived in the Naval Base workers' quarters, like I did. His father worked for the British, like my father did. And he went to Naval Base school, like where I did. One might wonder why I never realise these earlier, given our shared history. Perhaps it is because because he preceded me by a generation - he had already qualified as a lawyer when I was just in primary school. Or perhaps we only know it now that he has written this book, which was published only at the end of last year, 2008. Whatever the reason, his account of his experiences, places, things and people brought me back to the place - Naval Base - as memories came flooding back. In this sense, I enjoyed the book, but I was wrong about the second part of the book, where he recounts some of the more famous criminal cases he was involved in. Yes, I have read about the cases in the public media, some in great detail, but his account gives the 'inside track' on these cases. They are more personal accounts as he wrote about the criminals themselves, and their motives and drew pithy lessons from each of the cases.

My mother used to say that if nothing, lawyers do one bad thing - they defend criminals. How can one act on behalf of a person who has done wrong, who has cheated, who has maimed and worse, who has killed somebody else? Mr Anandan appears to have addressed these doubts in the pages of this book. And he has more. His experiences in jail, his encounters with fellow lawyers Francis Seow, JB Jeyeratnam, David Marshall, and even the famous playwright, John Mortimer, are absorbing reads. Truly, when you pick up this book, you wouldn't want to put it down until you reach the last page.

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