“True story! There is a fat fish called the Anglerfish that pretends to be a worm so that it can lure other predator fish and eat them!”, my friend carries on. I slap his arm, breathless with laughter, “what nonsense, how can a fat fish mimic a worm??!!”.
We are standing outside Court 14 of the Delhi High Court waiting for our matter to come up. Well, my matter, but I have solicited his support today because a big band of bullies represents the other side. They always come in large numbers: two senior counsel and a train of about ten juniors swaying under a mountain of casefiles and glued to their phones. Their preoccupied expressions and busy-body strut could mislead a bystander into fancying they had matters of immense national importance at hand: Your Lordship, we need permission to detonate Missile NUCL*random symbols*. As the sole counsel for the other side however I am unenthused, privy to the mundane reality of my client’s simple execution petition to recover a modest sum of money from the Bullies’ client under a decree. The Bullies had successfully evaded payment for several months thanks to their well-practiced charade: the matter would come up, I’d state they owed such and such and had not complied with such and such, they would nit-pick some inconsequential technicality in my written or spoken submissions and never let me finish. What is she talking about and she needs to read her civil procedure and this is not the way to do things, please Your Lordship, and let her come back with the proper application for this and let us respond to her request in writing for that.
Their display of strength and seniority invariably trumped my meek, just-above-the-lectern, protestations. They’d get their adjournment and I’d get afflicted with a week-long sulk, piqued at being taken for a weakling novice and wistful at the prospect of what could have been if I had managed to state my case properly. If the rotund, raucous, male senior counsel could just keep quiet for once, and the beautiful, saree-clad, female one could just avert her piercing gaze. If the juniors could just pause their incessant phone-tapping and pay attention to what I was saying.
Today is different though. I have a plan. My friend is tall with broad shoulders and a deceptively menacing appearance for a harmless goofball. He is going to stand beside me when our matter comes up, flex his muscles nonchalantly and echo all my key submissions. At one point, I will wave documents in the air and accuse the Bullies of siphoning-off funds to evade the execution, at which point my friend is going to shake his head in shock and horror. The optics will be magnificent.
Am I ready? I am so ready.
Am I also hot? I am a little hot. A little more than a little hot. A little less than swimming-in-sweat hot. Early afternoon in late spring, black blazer, robe, neck-band, files, people bumping into Goofball and me on their way in and out of court. It is all getting to me suddenly. Should we quickly run downstairs and get a bottle of water from the canteen? Goofball looks doubtful. Ok, you can go and I can hold fort here? Goofball looks disappointed. Ok, I can go and you can hold fort here? Goofball looks nervous. Oh alright, let’s make a run for it. Down the winding staircase, past corridors, people, around the corner to ‘canteen waale bheyia’ – and back, past people, corridors, up the winding staircase. We reach Court 14 panting. The Bullies are already there, furiously demanding an adjournment. Counsel for the Petitioner is not here and this Court can’t be kept waiting and young counsel really need to show some respect, please, Your Lordship.
I rush forward. “Your Lordship, I beg your pardon”, I wheeze, “we have been standing outside for a long time. The board collapsed suddenly and it escaped our attention that the matter had been called out”.
“Is this the way?? Everybody including Your Lordship is waiting for this young lady to show up and it “escapes her attention” that she has a matter to attend to!”, the rotund one bellows, “it is almost lunch time, Your Lordship, and I have a hearing in Court 1 after lunch. This matter requires more time, we would be grateful if this can be posted to another date”.
“Please Your Lordship, they are siphoning-off funds to sister concerns in order to evade paying us the decretal amount. We have obtained information from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ website”, I reconsider the document-waving and quickly bend forward to pass copies to the Judge’s clerk.
“This is too much!”, the beautiful one chides, “first she comes late, and now she is accusing us in open court without any application! We have no idea what documents she is producing. Let her file an application. Your Lordship can hear it on the next date”.
I want to scream – hey! can you back off for just one moment? I have a really good case to argue!
“Young Lady, you were certainly not outside court when the matter came up. You are breathless from running”, the Judge pins me to the spot through his thick-rimmed glasses.
“Anglerfish”, Goofball whispers in my ear.
“Are you calling me fat??!!”, I whisper back angrily, “seriously, Zaf! This is no time!”.
“Don’t be afraid to play the victim they think you are”, he says.
I take a deep breath.
“Your Lordship, I apologise. I was in another court arguing a matter. I am a junior counsel like my able friends keep reminding us. I don’t have a train of subordinates to hold fort while I run between courts. I manage my own diary and carry my own files. I am sorry I am late, but I did the best I could, given my limitations”, I say.
The Judge nods and stretches his hand for the copies I have handed over to his clerk.
I continue, “allow me to explain why the documents are relevant. We don’t have to hear this today if my learned colleagues are not ready. I am happy to file an application. But until the next date, we need an order staying all further transactions by the Respondent company”.
I take him through the documents. Nobody interrupts me. The raucous counsel is quiet, the beautiful one is not looking in my direction anymore, and the juniors are listening in rapt attention.
Minutes later, the Court breaks for lunch. Goofball and I walk out as the court clerk draws up an order to stay all future transactions of the Bullies’ client and adjourns the matter to a far-off date. We pass the Bullies on our way out, huddled up in a corner, sulking.
This is a re-post of a piece that has previously been published by Bar and Bench as part of the series ‘The Obiter Truth’ and is a work of fiction. The author would like to thank the publication for their immense support.