Card out. Bag down. Body Scanner. Metal detector. Don’t rush. Take a minute. Scan the scene. Open and green. Court buildings afar. Lots of people. Black and white. Spotted colours. Rushing about.
With an hour to go? Why are they rushed? Why are you rushed? What’s bothering you?
Court outcomes? Not quite. Dismiss the notion, relax a little. It is just nervous anticipation. Only one case really matters today. That troublesome one dumped on you. You are appearing by yourself. Too many interim-applications, snail-speed procedure. But you know it inside out. You’ve ingested the file each hearing. Of which there have been too many. You can recite the ‘List of Dates’ on cue. With soapy eyes under a shower. Between the first two bites of weekend Maggie. Anytime and absolutely anywhere. Doubtless, you pray all goes well. But experience has made you a monk. Anything could happen, or nothing could happen. You won’t take it personally. You’ll live to fight another day. What matters is the appearance. Mental agility, structure, restraint. You want to get better each time.
The rest does not bother you. Not the outcome, not the judge, not the other counsel. You let go of what you can’t control. What else is there to worry about?
Let’s straighten up a little at the thought. Resume walking to court in more sedate strides. A familiar face catches your eye en route. That friend from college you haven’t met recently. You mutter amiable pleasantries and walk on. Best not to think about him right now. Likely you will circle back later. Unwinding over a cup of tea after court. The last you heard of his soaring practice. The client he bagged, the gem he married. But now is not the time for that. Such insecure musings could be unsettling. You can’t afford them before a court appearance. Something else is nagging at you anyway. Never mind that you can’t figure out what. Feels oddly familiar from the morning before. And the morning before that? And the morning before that?
But it isn’t the competition. You won’t let it to dent your composure. What else is there to worry about?
One foot through the doorway and they come rushing forward. Almost as if they have been waiting in ambush. But seeing your clients doesn’t sway your mood. Of course, it would be great to hand them a good order. For starters, because they have a pretty good case. For the main course, because you’d hate to lose them. For dessert, because they could send other clients your way. Unfortunately, it is impossible to meet all their expectations. They begin before the can’t-promise-anything appetizer. And end in the cups despite the this-is-the-best-we-can-do mignardise. You know better than to agonize over placating them. Frankly answer their frenzied questions and leave it at that.
You are good at tolerating them. And they are good at tolerating you. Clients don’t cause you lingering anxiety. You have the upper hand and they know it. What else is there to worry about?
Your senior! How strange that he hasn’t crossed your mind as the culpable party. You nudge past your clients and trace your way to his prep corner. He will be reading one of the case files and he will have a pop-quiz waiting for you. Better to take it head on now: later could be in a full court, with a seemingly patient bench, and an obviously impatient senior. A bullet spray of questions greets you as you approach him under the cover of things you remember off-hand. You don’t have the case-files yet and these are impossible odds.
Rebuke after rebuke and then a blinding explosion…as you wipe the debris off your face… and practically assess the damage… a stunning realisation makes itself known… you are not as devastated as you expected to be….in fact, you are practically unphased… repeated explosions have made you immune… *this will pass sooner or later*… *I should get something to eat* … *I should go over the file for that troublesome one*…
The case files! Where are the case files??!! Anxiety comes bursting back like a volcano. With it, the clarity of what – or who – you have been missing.
‘Haanji, madam-ji’, his voice tugs at your ear, ‘saari files court-rooms ke saamne rakh deen hain. Aap check kar lena’.
You hear those words and see that face and tears of relief well up inside you. He could be efficient but brazen, well-intentioned but clueless, clever but distracted by a greater calling. Regardless, your clerk is at the heart of the onion that is your anxiety.
You have so many things to run past him – which court will he go to first? is that case compendium ready? Did he speak to that court master? He replies in a deliberately busy-body tone. You should know he has other things to do.
Because – here’s the catch – you’d like him to be afraid of disappointing you, but secretly you are as afraid of disappointing him. The filing defects you should have cleared, the document you should have told him to copy in three. You are always scrambling to make amends. He simply is the central piece of the puzzle that is your practice. If he doesn’t sit right, the practice will crumble. Hearings will scatter, contemporaries will whiz past, clients will lose faith and seniors will lose temper.
He brings the inquisition to a close, ‘mein registry jaaoon? Woh Airport waale matter mein Section 9 daalni hai’.
You nod your head. Far be it from you to interfere with his aur-kya-haal-hai social routine at the registry. Plus, today’s soul-searching has led you to discover that the sun shines from his oil-smacked brow.
Before he turns to go, you offer him tea. He eyes you suspiciously. Where is the trap in this unusually kind overture? Mumbling something about things to do, he retreats in bewilderment.
You watch his back with all the love that quarantined folks feel for Zomato delivery boys.