The Obiter Truth: The Ask

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

There is a heart on the table. Why do coffee makers always choose hearts? They can make anything with froth. Shoes. A kite. I suppose a heart adds a layer of niceness over forced conversations. I would’ve much rather sent an email, “by way of introduction-” I am amazing “-I look forward to the opportunity of working with you”, and spent this Saturday morning stroking my dog’s head from the TV couch. But here I am, sipping the coffee chalice with a total stranger in the name of networking, hoping to be baptised into the faith of the successful.

Don’t ask me what that is. All I know is there is a certain LinkedIn head-tilted mugshot, arms-folded across a pinstripe suit with a congenial smile, which, if used repeatedly on conference flyers, is said to acquire the powers of a sigil that attracts clients. It could well be folklore. But it is said that in order to get that sigil, one has to drown in a hundred coffees, decipher a hundred WhatsApp group chats, and brave the sidelines of countless events. The sidelines are the worst. I’ve stood pasted against a wall for hours, wishing the whitewash would take me. Not that I can’t hold my own in a crowd, but when judges appear at eye-level having things like backs of heads and humanly heights, the cuboid of my life falls flat. I get a bit green about the gills, not knowing whether to stand in attention, or bow. Maybe curtsy? Maybe smile? So, I end up attempting them altogether in an awkward forward bend and drawn jawline which could well look like a case of tummy poisoning.

Anyway, this is just coffee. His holiness, the bearer of a possible month-on-month retainer that might single-handedly salvage my practice, is seated across the table. He has refused everything to eat. He is intermittent fasting, you see. Just coffee then? No, no. He doesn’t like coffee.

He must be either joking or that rare idiotic bird known to head-bang into trees for no reason. Why agree to coffee without any intention of drinking it? In moments of uncertainty with a client, I tend to oscillate between excessive laughter and deep thought, depending on whether the bird fancies itself witty or wise. I haw-haw and slap the knee a bit.

He doesn’t smile back. “Our body doesn’t need the amount of food we eat, you know,” he says.

Wise it is. I jump to a sagacious nod, “Of course it doesn’t. One can live on clean water and fresh air,” and then, in another attempt at bonhomie, “just not in Delhi, haha!”

Not so much as an agreeable nod from the chap. Two guys in shorts seated across a plate of untouched donuts on the next table do me the courtesy of a smile. Daddy money for sure. I would never waste a donut.

His holiness is wearing trousers, thank god. It would be beneath my double-scholarship from Cambridge to pander to a client in shorts. Beyond that, we have no common ground. I’ve exhausted my creativity in trying to come up with non-lawyerly topics of conversation, gotten as far as female shoe fashion in courts and been rebuffed with his surprising lack of interest despite being the Chief Legal Officer at Sleek Shoes. I thought it might interest him that a rainbow of pink, green and glitter sometime peeps out beneath the black, like a final resistance of nature over form, a blooming tree in a jungle of regimentation, but I was wrong. I must turn the conversation towards work somehow. The heart in my cup is thinning out.

You have intermittent fasting and I have intermittent streams of income. No. Too needy. “Anyway, these days I have an appetite for good work, not food.” Smooth. Are you taking notes?

He may as well not have heard me. How do people do this networking thing? It is belittling to condense years of hard work into a side of biscuit for somebody to roll about the tongue, chew and spit out. I can see why some prefer golf. At least you can cobble the chappie in the game in return for the bruising to your ego. Best to drain the coffee and ask for the cheque.

A hand arrests my shoulder with an annoying thud. I grab it without looking up, ready to somersault the body through the air. 

“Hello Champions!”, says a sing-song voice. “Rajeshwar ji, Sleek Shoes is in good hands if she’s your lawyer. Or should I say, on good feet!”

Exactly. That’s basically what I wanted to say without actually saying it. Thank you, Mr.…one of the boys from the next table? Do I know this guy? He looks like that 20-something business grad I drafted a legal notice for about a decade ago.

“Arre! Kanan ji, such high praise from the CEO of High Kites!!” Yes, Kanan, that’s it. These are the guys behind those popular energy drinks. “But I am not the one who engages counsel for my company. Just a small-time legal manager. Engaging a lawyer is very high-level, political stuff. More for bosses like yourself.”

Wow. If only he had said so before agreeing to coffee and not drinking it. What a waste of time!

Or is it?

I smile my best smile at Mr. Kanan of High Kites and higher shorts, “Would you like to join us for coffee?”

Disclaimer: This piece is a work of fiction. Lawyers are prohibited from engaging in any form of advertising or solicitation of work under the BCI Rules. Advocates must appear in court at all times only in the prescribed dress, as per the Rules and any circulars issued by the appropriate court or other authority.

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