The Obiter Truth: You don’t say!

The Obiter Truth is a catalogue of everyday experiences in the life of a young lawyer hoping to find humour in the bizarre and sense in the chaos.
Manini Brar
Manini Brar

Then I said, “In a lighter vein, your lordships,” and something clever. The judges he-he’d a bit, and granted the exact relief I wanted, in the exact words that came out of my mouth. The older counsel on the other side looked impressed though he couldn’t admit it.

Except that all of this happened right after the next matter was called out, as I turned away from the table and banged into a chair. It was all in my head. It always is. For hours after a matter is over. Sometimes, the familiar ghost of matters past haunts me in my dreams. To think that’s what an advocate’s dreams are made of. Not rags to riches (ok, sometimes). Or anonymity to fame (why deny it?). But from a mumbo-jumbo of words to a coherent paragraph in a courtroom.

Everybody who has ever ‘taken the black’ (cult series alert: Game of Thrones) has first deposited himself in the last bench of a Chief’s court like the nothing-knowing Jon Snow, listened to a senior counsel’s arguments and thought, He’s not all that. Matter of fact, the chap isn’t doing half the job I’d do. And then that person has begun to practice, and discovered that the privilege of speaking an entire paragraph in court comes with about twenty years on the job and a little incongruent flap at the back of the black gown. Meanwhile, a host of things stupefy the imaginary free-flow of oral submissions. A bulky file, smudged notes, mismatched page numbers. Once you've gotten all of those in order, a myriad of facts start playing roulette in your mind. You know everything about everything, but nothing about “the thing” that’ll hold the judge’s attention. If he is in the mood to give you his attention that is. He may not be, once he sees that your hair is still all black, and you have this annoying proclivity to show it off as you flip back and forth between the pages. The crème that appears before him doesn’t do that, even though it seldom knows which respondent it is appearing for. But it has earned the privilege of being absent-minded about simple things, which you have not.

It is entirely possible that once a year all the stars align in your favour. You’ve gone through the file thoroughly, marked it tidily and know exactly what is relevant to say. A miracle curtain lifts and the judge is pre-disposed to agree with you, so he gives you the floor to speak. Uninterrupted time. Tick, tick. And tick. You start with your submission. A sort of spotlight bathes you in a yellow-white glow. At this precise moment, the wearer of the flap on the opposing side baffles out of the blue with a “yes, yes”, or “no, no”, or “that is already there”, and somehow this makes complete sense to his lordship, who says, “yes, yes, all that is fine, anything else?” And just like that, the grandiosity of your arguments is reduced to common-sense while you scratch your head, wondering what is already there and what is fine? Is it the same thing that you thought was there, and took to be fine?

Thus grows restless the self-doubting lawyer’s spirit. Trapped between words said and unsaid, it haunts the non-speaking benches of courtrooms for years on end. By about year 10, it is a lost spirit, convinced that nothing useful is ever going to come of all this pointless haunting. It doesn’t seem to have the demi-warrior-god-like qualities to pierce the air with pinpoint references and spout cases like battle cries which are the mainstay of flap-wearers. Maybe it should quit? Write a blog for Bar & Bench?

In this dismembered state, it slips aimlessly into a nondescript row of a nondescript courtroom one day. Listening, but not listening, to a demi-god as he extols the virtues of Article 226 in the time it would have taken to recite the Odyssey - amendment so and so, five-judge decision, led by his lordship as he then was…

After trying every cajole to move matters along, the young-gun judge decides he has had enough. "Alright, Mr…we’ve heard you. The law on 226 is not in point. Do you have anything to say on the real issue of maintainability of this writ in Delhi when the situs of the respondent is in Lucknow?"

"Certainly," the speaker bows, "I will not trouble your lordship further, but only on this one paragraph…"

…and continues to trouble his lordship further with his subject of choice. The poor judge sputters in exasperation and looks at the clock. Lunch time. He adjourns the matter.

Not an unusual occurrence, one might say. But something unusual is occurring within the dismembered spirit in the nondescript row. What is he saying? it finds itself thinking, as it once had as an overconfident upstart many, many years ago. He’s not all that... matter of fact, the chap isn’t doing half the job I’d do. Only this time, the thought belongs to a self-assured professional with years of toil, failed outcomes and half-argued briefs behind him. The being that rises from the chair is the Lord Commander of Late Nights, the Protector of the Realm of “3 Main Points” and Heir to some sort of Warrior Throne.

 Still flapless, his black cloak levitates with a resilient optimism on the way out, buoyed by the realisation that in the end, we are all the same. Each one, straining to find coherence in court. On that first day, or any other, twenty years later.

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