I remember shifting my knees to find a comfortable spot in the cramped rows of wooden chairs at the far end of the court house when a stir signalled of a more pressing matter. So-and-so, son of so-and-so, was married last month to the daughter of so-and-so in Italy, and this was his first reappearance in court. My colleague to the right volunteered what little she knew of the affair while someone waved congratulations across the aisle and a woman several rows ahead audibly confirmed she knew the couple well, a few times.
When I craned my neck to see, so-and-so, son of etc., revealed himself to be nothing but a boy not thirty years old. Fancy that, we were contemporaries! Separated by a few rows is all. He, in the first, waiting to argue his matter by himself. Me, not an undignified distance away, knees a bit sore under the files I had spent the morning tagging for my boss, back a bit stiff from the lack of space. A memory of the plush corporate cabin I gave up a mere month ago for the sake of litigation whizzed past me inspite of myself.
And so it was that I was introduced to society in the legal world just as I was introduced to the insides of a court-house. Ever since, the experiences have been intertwined. Professional introductions dotted with stories of an illustrious father. Cryptic gibes at the high-maintenance lifestyle of a colleague which could have been flattery. Sudden spikes in career graphs owing to the company kept or married into.
The polity of lawyers is really made up two all-encompassing halves: the ice-creams and the Tindas (Indian round gourd). Forgive the bald metaphor. I have spent far too much time with my head in the refrigerator these past months.
You can spot the ice-creams from the confidence they exude in any scene: a room full of unacquainted lawyers, a dismissive judge. Propelled by the brand they carry and its assertions of quality, they have no hint of the David-versus-Goliath complex that is the reserve of the Tindas. The Tindas, on the other hand, lie low. With no stamp of origin, they could go unnoticed in a room full of strangers at first. But patience is their forte. They look forward to the moment when they will be discovered for quality and, when it comes, relish it with the knowledge that an ice-cream will never know the feeling.
Ice-creams preserve themselves with notions of exclusivity, forged through a cheerful bonhomie with others of their kind. They go well with fine foods like chocolates and cookies. An on-looker Tinda might get the feeling that they will never descend from the highest echelons of the refrigerator to mingle with ordinary vegetables like itself, heaped in the bottom-most drawer. Wrapped as they are in clouds of wonderous white mist, the ice-creams don’t do much to shake the Tinda’s misgivings. Why should they? The compartmentalization of the fridge suits them just fine. A compartmentalization reinforced with experience of the practice of law.
An unexpected disruption in this scheme of things is the courtesy of nature, which endows all with intrinsic natural abilities. A Tinda, for instance, is a superfood. Despite its humble origins in a kitchen garden or a nondescript farm, it is a coveted source of vitamin A, great for the heart and the digestive system. Whatever the quality of the ice-cream – imperceptible behind a smokescreen of advertisements – a Tinda that has made it all the way from the farm to the refrigerator is no trifling boil over.
How unnatural then, the hierarchy of the fridge! That a packaged synthetic should be bought at twice the price and served with pomp while real merit is left to suffer an uncertain fate in anonymity. It is a tension that affects more than just lawyers. The uneasy shifting of sub-optimally advised clients at the end of the dinner table tells the tale of a major casualty.
There is only one happily ever after: restoring the balance of the universe.
But where do we begin? Are the haves to blame for just existing? For not abdicating the privilege that they came into? One can hardly say that. Are the have-notsto blame for accepting their struggle with ‘everybody goes through this’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’? One would be remiss to come to that conclusion.
If I ever met ‘One’, I would tell him these questions are rhetorical. One man’s Tinda is another man’s Ice-cream. It is no use labelling anyone as one or the other. Inheritance is but one circumstance of privilege afflicting the legal profession. There are a myriad others: man v. woman, northerner v. southerner, ‘born and brought up in Delhi’ v. outsider, English speaking v. Hindi speaking. One is familiar with the rest. One sees them up-close these days.
Maybe what we need is a change in the conversation, away from the subtle reinforcement of past hierarchies. No talk of the so-and-so-ness of lawyers. No gloating, fawning, innuendo, jest. It should be bad form. It is bad form. It makes unsurmountable the distance between a handful of rows in a court-room. A distance which could take decades to overcome, if not an entire lifetime.