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At first impression, I am not entirely convinced I am in the right place. Have I been conned by the taxi driver into visiting one of Jodhpur’ many palaces as opposed to the principal seat of the Rajasthan High Court? The dwar at the entrance would certainly put one or two Mughal emperor’s tombs to shame. The intricate wall carvings take me back to all those history lessons I only half paid attention to.
But it only takes a few steps to snap back to reality. As I enter the court campus, I get consumed by a deluge of black and white. Once the lunchtime crowd of lawyers thins, you can witness a unique aspect of the Jodhpur High Court. On either side of the path leading up to the main building, advocates have set up “open air chambers”, offering their services under sheds with asbestos roofs.
The rusty fans, dangling precariously from the makeshift ceilings, offer little or no respite to either lawyer or litigant in the desert heat. A multitude of these chambers dot the entire campus. Outnumbering the chambers by three to one are the notaries and typists, who take up a majority of the space. The more enterprising typists proudly state that they use computers; systems that would have been all the rage circa 2000.
As I make my way through the circuitous campus, I cannot help thinking that litigants are spoilt for choice. On traversing the entire campus though, I come to the conclusion that there is way too much choice, in every aspect.
I cannot imagine how one goes about choosing an advocate or a typist or even a stationery shop for that matter. The sheer number of options can drive even a slightly indecisive person into the throes of insanity. There needs to be doctor on campus.
And there is.
As far as food is concerned, there are (surprise, surprise) plenty of little canteens to choose from. The proprietor of one of these eateries is disarmingly friendly. He seems to know every advocate who comes in for a bite to eat, and openly tells them which dishes are fresh and have been prepared well on that day. More on the food later.
The building housing the court rooms looks like a mini fort that has stood the test of time. Unlike the Jaipur bench, the security here is almost non-existent. Apart from Court No. 1, the court halls are very modestly constructed; the air-conditioning barely working in some. However, the infrastructure will get an upgrade when the campus shifts to the new building, located around ten kilometres from the centre of the city.
In one of the court rooms, an advocate is arguing with his gown around his waist. The judge before whom he is appearing is trying her best not to smile, seemingly resigned to the fact she will be addressed as ‘My Lord’ for a while.
Just outside the campus lies an imposing statue of Pratap Singh Bahadur, former Lieutenant General and Maharaja of Jodhpur. It is astonishing to note that this man is not just revered, but worshipped like a god in these parts. Lawyers and litigants alike stop by to offer prayers to this ruler, this patron saint of vakalat, if you like.
One gets the feeling of being transported back in time, to a hamlet where everyone knows each other; a self-sustaining society of sorts. The advocates will soon move to the swanky new campus, trading narrow gullies choc-a-bloc with crudely built shanties for centrally air-conditioned, wide corridors. One cannot help but lament the impending loss of the old-world charm characteristic of the current campus.
From the courts it is time to move to the National Law University, Jodhpur, where I caught up with Vice-Chancellor Dr. Poonam Saxena.
We have an interesting conversation on the state of legal education in India, and how NLUJ has progressed over the last few years. The students seem to be satisfied with the state of affairs at the University.
I also met Mukul Vyas, recently awarded ‘Law Student of the Year’ by the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) and Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy and Training (MILAT) for his work with the legal aid clinic. The future is certainly bright for this law student.
The visit to NLUJ marks the end of my Rajasthan sojourn, and I am off to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar next.