As widely celebrated Japanese author Haruki Murakami would put it – “Memories and thoughts age, as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade.” This account is of one such ageless memory!
Okay, so we young law students since Day#1 are told to appreciate the value of internships, especially the ones which take us around the courts. Why? ‘Cause that’s how we learn, right?
We see the procedures and the work style of an active judiciary like ours – the majestic aura of the courtrooms and how steamy, hot-headed lawyers argue in court and make the other sound like a complete whacko.
And there, the bubble bursts! Courts are too busy and preoccupied with sorting out paper work and files to keep their majesty intact and well the lawyers whom we thought were foes, they’re pals!
Pals who tell each other exactly how much better the other is and how easily the other’s going to whop his case down. Whoa, I hadn’t seen that coming!
As first years, most of us are like donkeys (no offense to donkeys and those who believe otherwise) – we do as we are told, and for what isn’t clear in our heads, we don’t do it.
At times, we just stay fixed to one point attempting to figure out the rush around us, till when comes a blaring voice from behind asks us to budge and we realize that ‘Hell yeah, we’re too a part of this mad rush.’
At this point, it is imperative that I acknowledge the people because of whom this story exists and is being written, an esteemed Senior Public Prosecutor and lawyer of the Supreme Court of India, his talented juniors and the hard working munshis who run his Chamber. It is due to them that this experience is of such inseparable value to me.
Over a span of thirty one days, I learnt what I thought would take me many more months. One, being a lawyer, you need to be ultra swift and the court corridors are actually car-racing lanes – hundreds zooming past at ferocious speeds and all this, a grand marathon.
In the initial days, when I’d still be figuring out where the court rooms/offices are (old block, main building, library, cafe, Bar office etc) and making mental notes and maps, I remember once when I caught up with a college friend and began talking while waiting for the elevator, Sir said “Achcha beti, main court number paanch main jaa raha hun, tum aa jaana” and I nodded and said “Jee, Sir”.
A minute later, I realized that I had no idea where this certain court room was. I made a dash for the direction I thought he left in, but well, it wasn’t quick enough.
After the slowest ten minutes of my life passed and after making at least twelve enquiries to different people (who also had no time to answer me in detail), I reached Court No. 5 (which was in a block I’d never seen before) and breathed heavily – only to realize that the matter was already over.
Thereon, I ensured that while Sir walked and I jogged, I was never more than a step behind him!
Amidst this high pace, there was never a dearth of multiple moments of sheer fatigue (or what I sometimes thought was sheer laziness). Many a times, after waiting for several minutes and then finally on our case matter being called, Sir would argue before the Judge (uttering exactly five sentences) and thereafter come out of the court and say “Beti, main toh thak gaya. Chalo, chai peete hain”.
The first time this happened, I excitedly accompanied Sir to the ‘Lawyer’s cafe’ (which had a board saying ‘No interns allowed’, so I felt rather proud) and he asked me what I’d prefer and I chose a cup of hot coffee (something I regretted moments later). A cup of hot tea arrived for Sir and for me arrived, what I thought of later and labelled “a cup of steaming hot coffee”.
I was, as usual, looking around and noticing what others were doing only to see moments later that Sir had swiftly gulped down all that tea and I’d barely even begun sipping my coffee.
He got up immediately and said “Chalo beti, chalte hain, matter ka time ho gaya” and I looked completely baffled. Piled with some heavy files and a cup of coffee which was unbearably hot, I attempted at keeping up with his increasing pace.
By the time we were entering the main building, my taste buds were completely burnt and my white kurti (I chose that attire because that way it got slightly hard for onlookers to distinguish me from a woman lawyer) had stains on it. Here was the second lesson I learnt, to always order a glass of cold coffee when with Sir in the cafe.
There were several occasions where Sir would leave me completely stunned by his sweeping statements like “Aaj tum court main behas karogi, chalo file achche se padhlo”.
The courtroom ambience can be very fear-invoking sometimes and the thought of arguing before a learned Judge can be rather crippling. Very gradually, I overcame this fear to manage a few lines in court.
The days which made me rather pleased were those where either the proxy counsel of the opposing side (whom I thought was as blissfully unaware as me) would turn up or the Bench would not sit due to a member falling ill. While going back to the Chamber on these days, I remember thanking God for his kindness.
I remember how at times I was sent off to courts which I had absolutely no idea of – again to briefly talk before a Judge or to ensure that the matter got passed to a later day.
Stacked with case files and reading all the material while sitting through the auto ride, gradually, my mind had acclimatized itself to recovering information quickly without going through each page and, argument-building, I felt, was beginning to naturally come to me.
Once, whilst in the elevator at B.I.F.R (Board of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction), a lawyer said to me “Madam jee, aaj aapka matter laga hain kya” and I remember distinctly how I chose to tell him that I was present to ensure that the Department I was representing got a share of custom duty which was being recovered from the defendant Company; without, conveniently, bothering to mention that I was an intern.
It was in that moment that I realized why technicality and brevity would always have a hand over superfluity and futile ranting.
During the elections at Patiala House and the Saket District Court, amidst the crazy campaign season and the lunatic gaga, I used to experience these moments of occasional ego-boost when the contenders would walk over and say to me and while handing over their ad-cards say “Madam jee, humare liye zaroor vote kariyega” and surreally enough I had started to give these clandestine smiles of acknowledgement and nod my head, as if making a mental note of having to cast my vote.
A month in and I was sure I wanted to be treated this way for at least a little longer!
The clock striking two at Sir’s chamber meant lunch time! Everyone would get their food warmed up and coyly take up their respective spots – on the chairs, or the sofa, or even on the table; either upstairs or downstairs. I would excitedly trot-off to the room upstairs because that usually meant lots of quirky moments and Sir’s juniors discussing very hilarious anecdotes.
However, on one such occasion, I happened to see what I had never seen before – a client (in this case, a flustered Punjabi who wanted to sue Jaguar) exchanging details with his attorney.
It was exhilarating to see how, within less than an hour, excruciating details of how this man’s car had been malfunctioning and a machine worth crores was now of no value, even to a second-hand buyer surfaced – all thanks to Jaguar, a grand British MNC who were refusing to make technical amends with the car and who had, apparently, ensued a fraudulent transaction.
Swift decisions were carefully charted out in the form of a strategy plan – how they would approach the consumer forum demanding compensation, how suing Jaguar for fraud would bring no returns as these MNCs usually put proxy heads (cooks, cleaners etc) who face jail terms in return of huge monetary benefits, and how, very easily, claims for ‘mental torture’ was exaggeratedly valued to be five lakhs.
The climax of the conversation was what stole the show! The client asked Sir, rather naively “Aapka fee iss compensation se toh zyaada nahin hoga na”. The laugh that followed almost voided our tummies!
Knowing courtroom terminologies is extremely important (I’d advice interns to know all before they actually visit their first court). Due to the ‘mad rush’ in courts which I mentioned before, no one honestly has the time to teach an intern.
So, you are left to figure out for yourself. On my second day in court, while impatiently standing in that ‘attention position’ waiting for Sir to finish, he suddenly said “Beti, meri haazri dedo” and again I looked completely stumped, wondering what ‘haazri’ even meant.
Senior lawyers aren’t the most patient people in the world and their occasional temper-loss sessions can spell doom for everyone around.
Seconds later, Sir gave me a very annoyed look and said “Meri appearance de do” and this confused me even more. I kept thinking “how do I give his appearance when he has himself appeared in court and is speaking before the Judge”.
The next moment I looked up at him, I saw him gritting his teeth (which were rather stained and scared me momentarily) at me and he said “Mera naam, case ka naam aur item number ek paper pe likh ke de do” and I realized that that is what a ‘haazri’ meant, basically, giving his attendance.
Thereon, I’d always write the ‘haazri’s even before Sir would ask me to, and on an occasion, where he was arguing along with the then Ld. Solicitor General, he instructed me to add my name to that piece of paper and the thought of an order ship which would have those big names and mine as well made me feel very pleased.
Even though I complained of having to wake up early in the mornings for reaching the courts on time and for not being given a stipend, May, 2014 had been a month of inexhaustive learning opportunities.
From learning to draft court applications, to seeing how lawyers argue and doing that myself on a couple of occasions, there is much for which I am grateful to Sir and his team.
There is a reason why that ‘Entry Pass’ to the Delhi High Court still peeps up in my wallet, even though it has expired.