It struck me as odd that so many popular movie stars who came out in support of the 5 pm, thali / clap, solidarity show against coronavirus wore white. The entire Bachchan clan, Deepika Padukone and husband, Hritik Roshan, Jahanvi Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Karishma Kapoor, Vicky Kaushal… the phenomenon was too ubiquitous to escape notice, particularly for a newly independent lawyer overcome with a feeling of déjà vu. After all, I have spent quality time in recent years doing the exact same thing: hanging about the house, in a white shirt, devising idle distractions.
The state of mind of a newly-independent type deserves meticulous deciphering. You are suddenly inundated with free time, up until then a mythical construct aimed at surviving years of toil in someone else’s office. Now that you have it you can’t make anything of it, because you are also inundated with a crippling dose of anxious anticipation. Should you focus on enjoyment? But all forms of enjoyment – travel, restaurants, Salsa classes – are suddenly too expensive and you have to watch your pocket now more than ever. Should you focus on upgrading your skills as a professional? But it is not entirely clear which is more important: reading up on case-law, observing court proceedings or meeting people to get work? Should you not stress so much and simply relax while there is still time, before things get busy again? But then, you might forever carry the guilt of not making the most of this time!
In the end, you get exhausted from weighing the options and resign yourself to doing absolutely nothing until the universe gives you an answer. In other words, you procrastinate. As such, it is entirely unremarkable to find a newly independent type sitting at home or in a cost-pooled office, dressed for court, playing card games on a computer or staring blankly at a pile of books on a desk or watering plants in a balcony.
By the fourth month of my ‘independence’ the balcony plants passed away from a water overdose, visibly undermining the hypothesised merits of procrastination. In a last ditch attempt to salvage the situation, I brought Kakaji home. A black miniature dachshund, 45 days old, drastically more responsive than the dead inanimates in my balcony and comfortably less responsive than the invariably opinionated species I belong to.
One would have thought that a dog barely bigger than a rodent would go through life trying to be congenial, but then one would not have known Kakaji. He feigned some initial interest in my ruminations – the admirable resilience of an office swivel chair in the face of an unfamiliar heavy bottom, the often wasted potential of post-its as temporary placeholders without any regard for their utility for systematic tagging by colour and size, the negative Vastu behind the tragic events of the balcony – but quickly ran out of patience.
Through persistent snout-butts, whines and wriggles out of my arms it was made clear to me that he had no interest in moping about my office-by-day-bedroom-by-night. The loss of this final alibi left me with no option but to accept the pointlessness of the space-time-anxiety continuum borne out of my decision to go independent, and do something about it.
I began by setting targets for every week: one person, at least, to be sought out for work; one day, at least, to be spent as audience in court; five cases, at least, to be read. Over successive weeks, the targets became more exacting. I didn’t always meet them but it gave me a sense of purpose to step out of the house. That was enough, and oddly therapeutic. More and more with each passing day, as unassuming email inquiries turned into full-fledged instructions and unlikely contacts turned into trepid clients.
On some days, I ran out of balance in my bank account and kicked myself for not prioritising money recovery alongside other professional goals. On other days, I was just happy to have work to do. Ultimately, I wasn’t quite sure which way the wheel was turning: was I practicing to make money, or was I making just enough money to continue to practice?
A reasonable third party could be forgiven for dismissing this quandary outright: of course, they are in it for the money! They would have to be crazy to take on the tribulations of lawyer-hood simply to occupy themselves if they could afford to be on a yacht in the Caribbean instead!
The facts thrown up by the on-going nation-wide quarantine may however compel this party to reconsider. It is, for one, becoming increasingly clear that lawyers are experiencing a unique kind of anxiety these days, not necessarily related to pending work, or loss of business, or mounting bills, like everybody else. Instead, they seem to have a particular itch to sip that first cup of morning coffee in their office chair, to discuss matters with their least agreeable office peon, and – don’t we know it – to put on a white shirt for a reason more compelling than looking austere-but-glam while clanking thalis from a balcony.
Why? Because every self-reliant lawyer regardless of his / her station is acutely, unusually, uncomfortable about having to sit at home. S/he remembers all too clearly the frustration of those early days of his/ her ‘independence’, and values all too dearly the simple routine of stepping out of his / her house with something to do.
For Kakaji and me, we are busy re-negotiating the terms of our enduring togetherness. I am back to wooing his company for my monologues and he is back to feigning interest. I know he desperately wishes he could send me packing off to work every morning and reclaim his lazy afternoons in the sun. This time around I want the same thing. Probably more than he does.