In this nostalgia filled article, Kroswami writes about the stories which rush through the profession and the legends and lore built upon the very simplest of items.
I often think that being a lawyer is like being the owner of the most wonderful set of books in the world. There are stories and legends at your beck and call, tales of great bravery and great cowardice. You are privy to tales which stretch back decades (at times centuries) and to scandals which would shock even the most avid reader of The Sun. Such is the richness of tradition, that you can get lost in them for hours at a stretch. A lawyer with a good memory and time to spare can regale you with stories until you have had your fill many times over.
And such is the richness of tradition and such is the creativity of the legal mind, that legends can be built around the most simplest of items. There is a popular story of the senior counsel who would unfailingly use a two-rupee pen at every single meeting. This was a man whose income tax returns were, well, quite substantial and who would argue in some of the most hi-profile matters in the country. Yet, from the days that he joined the Bar to the time he retired, he would only carry the most inexpensive pen in his pocket. Numerous clients and well-wishers would gift him pens which could cost lakhs but he never, ever used them.Whenever he was asked the reason why, he would simply say that he was prone to losing pens and he would much rather lose a two-rupee Reynolds rather than a two-lakh rupee Mont Blanc.
Of course, such stories are increasingly become rare to come by. Stay within hearing distance of any large group of lawyers and inevitably (of this I assure you), talk will veer towards who has brought spectacles worth lakhs, which personal trainer is the best or which tailor makes the finest white shirts. Nowadays, there is an unnatural interest in which lawyer is going where for the summer vacation; there are times when the court parking lot resembles a miniature auto-show for luxury cars.
But I digress. Even the simple gown has not been left out of lore and legend. There are stories about senior counsels who have worn only one gown their entire working life, some who have different gowns stiched for the summer and the winter sessions. There are some Chambers where a junior never buys his first gown; it is always bought by the senior. At the same time there are also stories about lawyers who could not afford a gown when they first joined the profession and were forced to borrow one. Then there were whispered rumours about the senior counsel who never wore a seniors gown as a mark of protest against, what he perceived to be, the decline of the judicial standards.
One of my favourite stories is with regard to a senior counsel who always kept his first gown hanging from a rack in his office. It was a faded, hole-ridden gown (or so I have been told). On the mornings of some particularly difficult arguments, he would wear the gown in his office for a minute, replace it with the new one and then go to court. He believed that the gown imparted some confidence, the gown had a magic of its own which calmed his nerves. I always found this to be a beautiful story.
I have occasionally been involved in gown-related incidents. There was this one time when I forgot to bring my gown to court and I had to mention a matter as soon as the Bench sat. I will never forget those moments of panic followed by much pleading followed by embarassment at being in a gown one size too small followed by eventual relief. There was another time when a friend of mine forgot his gown and we had matters one after the other. So the minute I was done, I ran out of court, handed over the gown to the waiting friend who then ran back into the court. It must have been quite a funny sight but right then we were just another couple of panic stricken juniors.
Life is not all about mere stories and conjecture though; the gown also served a practical purpose. All gowns have a pocket or a hole of some sort stitched onto the back. This, as a jovial lawyer in the Bombay High Court once told me, is meant to be the place where a client deposits the lawyer's fees. It was stitched into the back so a client could pay whatever amount he felt like since the lawyer could not see what he was being paid! Oh how things have changed.
For a junior lawyer, the gown also serves as a clear demarcation of roles and hierarchy. Without the difference in a senior counsel's gown, for instance, a bumbling junior may well make the mistake of presuming that the fresh-faced lawyer before him is not a senior counsel but that senior counsel's junior! Of course this does not mean that such events never take place but more on that some other time.
On a more rustic note, gowns continue to serve as a fee-carrying mechanism of sorts. For instance, in some trial courts I have seen payments being made in “kind” rather than “cash”. So say, a client would pay in a bundle of crops, those crops would be tied up and then wrapped around the back of the lawyer. The said bundle would then be covered by the gown allowing the lawyer to scoot away, free to carry files or notes in his hands and also allowing him to look relatively dignified and professional.
Coming back to the present, there is another purpose that gowns serve and this is my personal favourite. What I like most about gowns is the fact that they allow you to pretend that you are Batman. They do. On days when the court is deserted (say post-lunch on the day before vacations) or when there is nothing much to do, one of the simplest joys in the world is to dash from here to there, the gown flowing behind you. If you can convince yourself that you are some sort of caped crusader, then there is very little that can spoil the day.
There are many, many other stories out there. Some can hearten the spirit and encourage the soul. Some can bring a smile to your face while others nudge out a gentle tear. And the beauty of these stories is that they can never fade into oblivion, for as long as there is a bored lawyer waiting for his matter to be called, as long as there are eccentric genuises who choose to join this profession, the stories will never, ever end.
Kroswami, after five glorious years in Calcutta, chose to litigate in Delhi. Two years later, Kroswami decided to leave the Rajdhani and shift to Bombay where he occasionally meets people dressed in white shirts and black pants.