Justice Anand Venkatesh, judge of the Madras High Court
Justice Anand Venkatesh, judge of the Madras High Court
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The secret of life revealed by virtual courts

Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court pens down his thoughts on this era of webinars and virtual media.

Justice N Anand Venkatesh

I was overwhelmed by the acting skills of the protagonist in the movie and lost myself for nearly two hours. The performance of a comedian had me laughing for an hour or so. I was engrossed in reading a book which kindled my thoughts too. I was so enraptured by a song and its singer that it brought tears to my eyes. A poem kindled my inner thoughts and made me contemplate the purpose of my existence.

As I recall these euphoric experiences, a thought that resonated in my mind was that the actor, the comedian, the writer, the poet and the singer were no longer alive and were actually long gone.

The appalling social gloom brought upon us by COVID-19 overturned the expansive life of reckless freedom we had been previously accustomed to. The virus forced us to re-align our lives within certain defined limits. Most of us are undergoing this experience for the last six months, and our mind and body are yet to come to terms with it. Maybe it is only a matter of time and we would resign and evolve to the constrictions and challenges posed by the pandemic.

I mulled over the daily routine I had adapted over the last six months and pathetically realized that my interaction with the outside world had been solely through the virtual medium. My footfall has been limited to a few places – my terrace where I do my walking and exercise, my office room where I read, write and conduct court proceedings, my bedroom where I take rest, and my dining room-cum-hall where I take food and watch television.

My interaction with the outside world is happening only through my phone, iPad and laptop. In the first few days, I felt out of my depth and found myself disoriented on occasions. However, my mind started re-mapping itself to adjust to the staggering reality. But my trepidation stems from an apprehension that this curtailment, if protracted indefinitely, would mutate my character so as to prefer interactions with the outside world predominantly through the virtual medium.

The expansive court and its proceedings, with the presence of advocates, court officers, personal assistants, stenos and other staff, has all but vanished. They are now confined to a small screen. The pleadings, documents and notes are exchanged digitally. The judgments reserved are dictated over phone to be typed and sent back digitally. Sometimes, orders are recorded and sent through WhatsApp to the stenos. Each person who appears on the screen is addressing the court from different districts in the State of Tamil Nadu. The whole process is now reduced to a virtual screen.

At the end of the day, when you close the laptop, iPad and phone, you are unplugged from the entire world and you realize that all this has happened within the confines of a small office room. It is no doubt true that virtual classrooms and meetings used to bridge the gap to provide quality education and save time and money on travel. None would have ever imagined that full-fledged court proceedings would also find its way into the virtual world.

An era of webinars and the virtual media have been unleashed upon us and we have already clocked maximum usage for sharing knowledge through these webinars. I would have interacted, exchanged knowledge, ideas and thoughts with thousands of people over the digital medium. I have learnt to emote, react, modulate and express my feelings by staring at a screen which either reflects your own face or the face of the moderator. One continues with the talk on the assumption that others are hearing it. Interactions can never get weirder than this!

The history of the human race is a narrative of the tribulations, adaptations and flourishing of culture and civilizations recognizing humans as the super species. The adaptive evolution was over thousands of years ago. Now, every individual is suddenly cloistered in the virtual world. Where will this virtual living take us? Science and technology have rapidly changed our outlook of life over the past couple of decades. I have seen by my experience in the last six months, that it is possible to run a system through a small screen and interact with the whole world sitting in a small room in a corner of one’s home. If our brains are going to accept the virtual world and virtual experiences, how far is it going to impact our interactions with the physical world and real-life experiences? Only time will tell.

Now coming back to my observations at the start and the present virtual world that has been thrust on us. It is reasonable to realize that physical presence is not always a necessity and that a person who is not a living physical being can and is able to influence another over time and space, purely by the mark he leaves, whether it is a histrionic or comic performance, a published writing, or a stirring composition or song. The virtual world had been around us, unseen and unrealized by us. We can create an impact in the life of another, on an institution or an entire State or over the whole world by our thoughts, words and deeds.

Great people, through their words, thoughts, and actions, have lived on for thousands of years even though they are not living physically in our midst. It is possible to create this impression or make a change in the life of another through a virtual medium if you are true within. Eventually, the true meaning of living is to leave an impact in the life of another and it should not be understood as elementary physical living in this world. The present lockdown has, instead of shutting us down, unraveled possibilities and potential which hitherto lay unexplored.

The author is a sitting judge of the Madras High Court.

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