ML Sarin(Ravi Kumar/HT)
ML Sarin(Ravi Kumar/HT)

Words of wisdom with senior advocate ML Sarin: Value family ties more than personal and material gains

One of the early settlers of Chandigarh, senior advocate ML Sarin rejects the idea of flyovers and moots Le Corbusier’s grid transport plan and Singapore’s system of regulating entry of new vehicles as solutions to the city’s traffic problems
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Yojana Yadav, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON OCT 17, 2019 09:46 PM IST

Senior advocate Manmohan Lal Sarin’s smile grows into a grin at the mention of his alma mater, St John’s High School, Chandigarh. Set to turn 71 next month, Mac Sarin, as his school mates christened him after he played a role in a play, says it’s his days at the school from 1960-64 that taught him his biggest life lessons.

“St John’s made us allrounders. We focused on sport, elocution, dramatics as much as academics. The school instilled in us the values of being upright and honest besides inculcating gentlemanly behaviour. Above all, it taught us to value human relations more than material gains,” says Sarin, who is also the founder president of the St John’s Old Boys’ Association (SJOBA). “I tried setting up SJOBA in 1969 and 1977 before it finally took off in 1980. I owed it to my school. Today, Johnians across generations share a bond through this vibrant organisation,” says the second batch pass-out.

Highlighting the importance of family values, he says it is disturbing to see the social fabric disintegrating today. “90% of cases I deal with are family disputes over property. The skyrocketing land prices and growing prosperity have only divided families.”

In school, children are taught that doing their best suffices but parental pressure to outperform others stresses them out nowadays. “Children are expected to excel at everything and later forced to join the race to earn more.”


On his journey to becoming a senior advocate who has been the advocate general of both Punjab and Haryana, he says, “It’s been almost 50 years in the practice but I became a lawyer by accident. As a child, I used to see my father, Harbans Lal Sarin, at his desk surrounded with legal books and files from 4am to 11pm and decided quite early that I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. I even went to Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, for 21 days before returning to Chandigarh.

“In 1966, my father’s friends, Ashok Sen, a former law minister, and BRL Iyengar, a senior advocate, were in town to join him in arguing a case in the Punjab and Haryana high court. Iyengar told me that practising law’s like ancient warfare where you have to be prepared to fight an unfamiliar terrain, disease and elements besides the opponent. You counter all arguments, you win else you beat a retreat like Alexander did to Greece. That challenge had me in.”

If that was the turning point, the observation of his father, who authored the Laws of Evidence with former Pakistan chief justice M Monir, buttressed his case. “Dad used to say that this profession is not about making money but about leading the change. Lawyers are at the forefront of society whether it’s MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar or Rajendra Prasad. They also take up social causes like Raja Ram Mohan Roy did,” says Sarin.

Blood donation is the social cause closest to his heart. “I’ve donated blood 115 times and my family is also actively involved. I’ve been honoured for being the highest income tax payer twice. Wasn’t it my duty? Well, nothing can match the happiness got by volunteering and doing ones duty sincerely,” he says.


When the Sarins shifted from Shimla to Chandigarh in 1955, earthmovers were still digging Sukhna Lake; the secretariat was under construction and the railway station was visible from their house in Sector 4! “The city was made for 5 lakh people and today it is home to more than 10 lakh. It will collapse if we keep overloading it. Replicate a township like Chandigarh but don’t mess with its existing structure,” Sarin says, adding he opposed the highrise at Information Technology Park a few years ago just so that the character of City Beautiful was not compromised. “Do you want to make Chandigarh a Ludhiana?”

On the traffic chaos, he says, “Town planner Le Corbusier had a grid transport system in place but it was never implemented. I’ve urged MP Kirron Kher and governor VP Singh Badnore to consider trying the system. Flyovers are not the solution. They will only create jams for four years while under construction and then be inadequate to deal with the additional inflow of vehicles. Rather, develop a robust public transport system, restrict the entry of new vehicles as is done in Singapore and encourage people to take to cycling and walking.”


1 Seek respect, not attention. It lasts longer

2 Plan your day and stick to the schedule

3 Giving brings contentment that money can’t buy

4 Be an all-rounder rather than excelling only in academics

5 Develop a passion for health and hobbies

Story Saved