Media should know to draw a line in sensitive cases: Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda
Media should know to draw a line in sensitive cases: Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda

Ponda speaks about his journey from powerlifting to litigation, why he chose specialised counsel practice over general practice and how he deals with the pressure of appearing in high-profile matters.

Although born in a family of legal stalwarts, Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda wanted to be a powerlifter. An injury and "timely intervention" of his parents brought him into the legal profession.

Maybe it is Ponda's love for fitness that enables him to swiftly glide between courts. He runs in, argues concisely and leaves in a huff for the next matter. He has appeared in many matters involving high stakes, heavily covered by the media.

Considered to be one of the busiest counsel of the Bombay High Court, Ponda cleared his schedule to speak about his journey in the profession.

In this interview with Bar and Bench's Neha Joshi, Ponda speaks about his journey from powerlifting to litigation, why he chose specialised counsel practice over general practice, how he deals with the pressure of appearing in high-profile matters and more.

Edited excerpts follow.

Neha Joshi (NJ): What prompted you to take up a career in law?

Aabad Ponda (AP): Both my parents were in the field of criminal law. It was something that was spoken of at home since I was a child. I also saw a great amount of potential to progress in life in this field as I saw it in the case of both my parents. It was like having it in my blood and DNA. So that is what made me take the plunge. Incidentally, when I was a student at St Xavier’s College, I was a powerlifter. And, if left unguided by parents about the realities of life, children can do things that are not in their best interests. I did not think that there was any need to be a professional, get married, have children, have a family and have success. I thought the best thing for me would be if I become a priest at St Xavier’s College, get free food to eat from there, use that protein to work out in the evening, achieve all my goals in exercise, earn ₹7,000-8,000 a month and be happy.

Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda

Unfortunately, when you are a kid and you don’t know life, this is supposed to be the most peaceful experience - to get a job and be happy with what you are doing. That’s where you need parental guidance and that is where this guidance changed my desire to become a professional rather than just be a priest. Thank God I did not become a priest. Thank God my back broke in 1988-89 when I was training for the world championships, so I am a lawyer today.

NJ: Were you powerlifting even in law school?

AP: I studied law at Government Law College (GLC). I was powerlifting in St Xaviers. In my second year of Bachelor of Arts (BA), I won the nationals. In my third year of BA, I was knocked out from powerlifting when I injured my fifth lumbar vertebra. I was drug-free, without any steroids, that is why.

NJ: How was your law school experience?

AP: At GLC, it was like a culture shock coming from Xaviers. In Xaviers, we had six libraries, we had a quadrangle, we had a basketball court, we had 100% attendance and students wanted to attend. We had lovely teachers, they made everything interesting. The whole setup was like an American university with a lot of polish and class. From Xaviers, going to GLC was a completely different experience. I don’t want to comment much, but it was like a 360-degree turn which did not impress me at all. But I had to go through the grind to ensure I become a lawyer. So I took that part seriously and I began to study very hard. From the first day, I was very punctual in classes, because this was going to be my profession. And I said the more I put in effort, the better I will become.

NJ: How was your journey after graduation?

AP: I always wanted to do criminal law. My mother was toying with the idea of putting me up with a certain senior. She even spoke to my dad, they had a discussion, and they said, 'When we are in the field to guide him, nobody will guide him better than that, you will get to learn, you will get to do everything well.' So during my apprenticeship days in college, I was working with them. By the time I finished my law and came into the profession with a sanad, I was already sharpened up to some extent. I could conduct matters, and I could do things because of the three years of grounding I had.

NJ: When did you start working independently?

AP: I was with them (my parents) for some time, but then immediately after that, I started conducting my matters. The only thing is that it was very difficult to get matters in the beginning because you had two people in your family who were very accomplished. When you are dealing with criminal law, you are dealing with life and liberty, they want experienced people. So I had to work hard and put in a lot of effort to become stronger in my principles, law and grounding, so that people come to me, get attracted to me and I have something to give back to them.

NJ: What do you think was your breakthrough case?

AP: I conducted a very big trial in the first year. And it was a huge case. There were four seizures of drugs from a very big Pathan, who was an international drug smuggler. I did it more out of opportunity than money, because the money was hardly anything. But the two years that I conducted the trial, the cross-examination, was a breakthrough for trial court experience. I got a lot of confidence. I was examining a witness for 2-3 days at length. In the first or second trial of your life, to do all this gives you a lot of courage. Then I started taking up other IPC, murder cases, and slowly it started.

NJ: Do you consciously try to appear in trial courts?

AP: I don’t do trials now unless there is some old trial that is pending. You have to appear in trial courts for important matters, bail hearings, etc. Otherwise no. But one has to appear in trial courts, because the live criminal law is there only. At the High Court, there is more appellate and more paperwork. In trial courts, it is saving lives and doing things for liberty. Everything starts there only. Custom matters, PMLA matters, big cases, and important arrests, all come in trial courts or lower courts.

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