Former lawyer and retired Court of Appeal judge Tan Sri Vadaketh Chacko George on the country’s judiciary, putting his wit down in writing and taking life less seriously
CLAD in a suit and tie, Tan Sri V.C. George waits patiently. He is ready for his one-on-one with The Vibes while the team carefully sets up at a boutique café in Bangsar.
The ambience, relaxed among patrons, carries a distinct decorum, thanks to George’s candour.
“My dear, you talk way too fast and will need to speak up as I have hearing problems,” he said.
True to his gregarious character, the well-known senior and prominent veteran in Malaysia’s legal fraternity balances our conversation with tongue-in-cheek punches.
I had previously met George at the launch of his book, ‘Some Stories I Have Told and Some That I Haven’t’. When asked if any of his friends have called or avoided him, having details of certain memories turned into written tales for public knowledge – he replied genially: “As you can see, nobody has beaten me up yet”.
“But it is unlikely for my friends to be upset about my stories. I do not anticipate any problems. In fact, I would be surprised if I come to know that is the case,” shared the 90-year-old.
Tales in the collection are of George’s closest friends, “so that gave me the license to pull their legs”.
The Vibes: Congratulations again on the launch of your book. How long did you have the project in mind and what was the writing process behind it?
VCG: It took about two years to complete, but the recollections [anecdotes in the book] were just stories that I have shared among friends for over 70 years. They have told me to write it down but not necessarily in a book. The initial idea was to simply staple and distribute it among my friends at the long bar. But as it developed, when I got to about 50 stories, presenting it in a proper format came about as more friends had encouraged it.
Why was it important for you to be sharing the stories beginning from the arrival of your parents here in Malaysia?
VCG: I must make it very clear; my book is not an autobiography. There will be chances of people reading the book to not know me at all. Therefore, they must know who the author is to appreciate it better. So, I gave the background of who I am, and who I am must start off with where I come from. I am a Malayalee Indian – not a Sikh Indian or a Tamil Indian. All that detail is relevant for when you read my stories.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
VCG: My stories are sometimes defamatory (if one would like to see it in such a way) of people. Any publisher who wants to publish the book could be sued for defamation. Although there would probably be a very good defence, the publisher would be stuck with long and expensive litigation.
Do you think humour is important?
VCG: That is a very odd question, everybody should (be able to) laugh. Those who cannot laugh, can just call it a day and go away. Of course, at a funeral, you cannot make a joke about the person who died or those bereaved. There is a time and place for everything, but aside from this point, I (personally) do not want anything to do with anyone who cannot laugh.
How do you decide what to joke on and when to stay away?
VCG: If what I am going to say would upset somebody, I would restrain myself from saying it. But as I said, stories [in the book] are told tongue-in-cheek without malice. I mercilessly pull the legs of people in the books, but these are my closest friends. They all have accepted it.
What do you think of Tommy Thomas’ book and the attention surrounding it?
VCG: I wrote a short comment which included it in his book. I got the manuscript, and if the final copy is true to it then I would say it is a mandatory reading to know Tommy’s take of what is going on. I am aware that there were adverse comments about the book and suggestions it should be banned – I just think it is ridiculous. If he has defamed somebody, then actions will surely need to be taken. But if he wants to talk, I do not think we should be stopping him from what he wants to say.
Trial by the media – what do you make of it? And has that impacted any of your cases?
VCG: Journalists giving their take on what is happening has always been an occurrence since back in the day. When I was still a sitting judge, it never bothered me at all. I would totally ignore comments either by the media or members of the public. But based on observations I have noticed that when I look at what is going on about a particular issue in the press, reports do not necessarily go into every aspect of the matter. When in fact, you must look at all the facts before you give a judgement or opinion on a matter. I used to laugh at some of the reports by your colleagues, cub reporters going into the courtroom, and only pick out what they think is relevant. This information is then watered down by the editors who sit at the office. What finally comes out in the media, does not necessarily represent what happens in court. And as lawyers, we always laugh at it.