*I was in such good form today*, I press buttons on the coffee machine and head back to my cubicle with a cup of espresso. Seated in the comfortable privacy of the foot-high enclosure, I curl a lock of hair on my index finger and relish the coffee. *The judge looked impressed… if he gives a good order, I’ll take it to The Man myself*.
A quizzical pair of eyebrows creeps up from the other side of the cubicle partition, disrupting my grand plans.
‘Listen, did you give The Man the draft Response to the Trehan Sharma writ? The matter is coming up next week, we should file it tomorrow’. It is the office favourite. He has decided to take a break from whatever he was doing and re-state his importance to the world.
Why am I first in his line of fire? Well, I am the newest member of the firm – barely a month old – and he can sense that I am as yet a non-believer in his God-gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, I know he is the chosen one and I can’t compete. He is an old hand at the firm, I am the awkward new lateral hire. He is the young scion of a well-known family of lawyers, I hand out business-cards at office parties so that people remember my name. He sacrifices endless evenings chatting up The Man after work, I go get myself a life. For all that, I have whole-heartedly accepted his supernatural rights of access to The Man’s office, to the choicest cases, to the least boss-junior distance-of-deference on a ride in The Man’s car.
Only, I am not convinced of his special skills as a lawyer which, I sense, is what really bothers him. I mean it is swell that he knows how The Man likes to do things, what makes files move faster past registries and court masters – technical nit-bits. I just don’t see that as some sort of unattainable legal nirvana to be marvelled at. You won’t catch me swooning every time he ‘will have you know’ a filing technicality.
Of course nobody cares what I think, least of all the still attentive pair of eyebrows on the other side of the partition, their stiffness hinged on the the-way-things-work-around-here.
‘I placed the file on his desk yesterday. Waiting to discuss it with him once he gets back from court’, I answer.
‘Great’, he says. The eyebrows betray disappointment.
‘Would you like to come for the discussion? You already know most of the case from our coffee breaks…it is coming up before Muralidhar’, I extend the olive branch, knowing he is a Justice Muralidhar-fan. (Don’t judge. Between an ‘equal world’ and ‘convenient peace’ we all know which pursuit is more likely to help us survive).
He considers this a moment, ‘yea, sure. This is probably your first discussion with him, always good to have someone back you up…just email me the version you sent him, I’ll have a look’.
Aww, that’s sweet. Nice of him to offer. ‘I could use a second pair of eyes, thanks! I have spent a week going over and over the same draft….’ I beam at him, and email the draft right away.
The eyebrows disappear below the cubicle partition for a while and I wonder if I have been too quick to judge The Favourite. Maybe he is not so bad after all. He does seem to really care about the practice. What other reason could he have to take time out for my case – keep a track on timelines, proof-read the draft? Maybe that’s why The Man likes him.
He resurfaces minutes later.
‘Well, what do you think?’, I ask, ‘did I miss anything?’.
‘No no, looks good!’, he smiles and walks over to enquire after another newbie a few cubicles away. What a kind and generous soul?! A feeling of warmth and gratitude spreads over me.
Just then the office-boy announces that The Man is back from court and has asked for me. I call out to The Favourite.
The Man doesn’t wait for us to knock. ‘Come in’, he says in an orotund voice. We comply and sit down at his expansive mahogany desk. He is a stout man, with dwindling white hair and reserved mannerisms. There is an air of restlessness about him, as if he’d rather do anything other than labour under the compulsion of human conversation.
‘Where are we on Trehan Sharma?’ he asks without preamble, ‘I have fifteen minutes before my next call’.
‘I placed the draft Response here yesterday’, I point to the file at the edge of his desk.
He reaches for it and flips the pages slowly as I quell my nerves, wanting him to be impressed.
After what seems like hours, he looks up, ‘it’s ok, I think’, hands me the file, ‘a few grammatical edits should do it. We can finalize and file tomorrow’.
‘Sorry…. don’t you think we need to make a proper challenge to locus standi? Two generic sentences may not suffice. I think I mentioned this to her over coffee a few days ago…don’t know why it was kept out of the draft”, the voice beside me pipes up.
What locus standi issue? I turn to look at The Favourite. Why didn’t he tell me about this when he saw the final version?? He is looking at my boss, deliberately avoiding my stare. My mind is racing through our past conversations. The Man is looking at me now. The harder I try to remember, the more my memory fails me.
*Stop freaking out!*, an inner-voice interjects, *Trehan Sharma owns the house the Municipal Corporation of Delhi wants to demolish. His writ challenges the demolition notice. He has all the standing in the world!*
I fume silently and weigh my options. I could keep quiet and look incompetent, or contradict The Favourite and look insubordinate.
Taking the plunge, ‘the MCD’s notice of demolition is against the house Trehan Sharma – the petitioner – owns, and resides in…’, I tell The Man, ‘but if you would like me to add more on locus standi, I’d be happy to’.
‘I didn’t see any supporting documents in the file. Better safe than sorry, just saying’, Mr-dirty-tricks persists.
I flip through the file hurriedly – was it in the petitioner’s affidavit? some other document?
The Man sighs and looks at his watch, visibly impatient at having to waste time over a non-final draft. ‘Please go over the file once more’, he says to me, ‘if there are any issues about his standing, we have to cover them… come back after you have discussed it amongst yourselves’.
‘But we did discuss…’ I trail off as he picks up the buzzing phone on his desk.
Done. My first impression, ruined.
We get up and leave the room in silence. I want to slam the cabin door and hold The Favourite by his collar and drag him to the cubicle section and tell everyone what he just did.
The only trouble is, I can’t articulate what he just did, even in my own head. He attended the meeting on my invitation and commented on the draft Response, which I circulated to him. He didn’t jump into my meeting, or surreptitiously procure a copy of the Response, or say anything obnoxiously critical of me. If I cry foul, I will look like the crazy one.
*Maybe he does have a special skill after all*, my mind shrugs in defeat, *undercutting people imperceptibly after gaining their confidence is an art… *
He seems smug as I slip into my cubicle, which is abruptly small and stuffy. All the light-heartedness of a good day wiped out by one flap of a butterfly’s wings. What can you do?
Well… there is one thing.
I head over to the coffee machine, punch the life out of it and get myself another shot of black.