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Life, Law and other things.....

A take on what I see around me....A genuine attempt at being concise, informative and maybe - humorous.

An estimated 10-minute read
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*There are two reasons for writing this despite the hectic schedule and the tremendous workload this semester. First being – the storm clouds. The ones that you see in the month of June - just beyond the spires of the Calcutta High Court and realize the beauty of the old lady. As I wake up in Raipur weeks later, and suddenly one sees a darkened sky – You are reminded of the romanticism of that place....

The second would be, well – sitting in an office on the 7th floor of the SQC building where the view stretches to the Ganga on one side and to the Eden on the other, on a day when blots of mist cover the glass windows as outside the rains try to clean the city and you sip your Darjeeling tea and listen to Rais Khan plays the Malkauns and J. Sen explains to you the intricacies of the music....an experience that can’t be replaced or even bettered...

This is an ode to Old Post Office Street - The ageless beauty who holds in her one of the most respected seats of justice in our country - the Calcutta High Court - to those people who amongst the grim, dull, mundane and grit hold together the heritage and spirit of a city and above all - serve justice in the true sense of the term......

My internship at the Calcutta High Court started on 4th June, 2013. At the chambers of Hon. Justice Soumen Sen. 

And this is not exactly about what kind of work he gives or whether there is an espresso machine at work. This is not the story of how much he pays or what routes one takes to reach him.

It is rather the moral – Karmanye Vadhikaraste Maa faleshu kadachana. Do your work, and don’t expect any results out of it. I have just modified it a bit – do your work – and make the process of doing it the most enjoyable and enriching experience ever.

I had never seen the High Court. Yes, that is true. Coming from the family that I do – No lawyers, socialists all around the place and most of them connoisseurs of art and music and literature – one hardly has any excuse to see it.

I remember walking down Old Post Office Street, waiting for it to appear, slowly, silently as the building imposes its vastness on the onlooker. To be very true, it actually didn’t sweep me off my feet the first time I saw it – science has brought things too our houses in the 32 inch format.

The lady revealed herself slowly – beyond the dirt, the grime, the filth – beyond the narrow confines of Old Post Office Street – It revealed, why it is a muse to so many. Why they call it the prime mistake of their lives, but yet – they are like addicts who can’t let go of her. The High Court is like Old Wine, Sitar and Post modern poetry – You have to make a very conscious effort to understand it. The more you explore, the more you be with her, the further she allows you in her inner sanctorum.

Don’t make any mistakes though. The High Court is as lax as the Bengalis themselves – work keeps happening – over more tea, more cigarettes, some more books, street food, toast, some more tea, absences, unpreparedness sometimes to the point of being lackadaisical, some exceptional advocates, some who make a living and some who scrape to make a living. It is the same social order.

What varies inside, is the realization that these individuals however battered their coats might be, however unpolished their attire, it is these people both on and off the bench who keep up the third pillar of democracy. Nowadays, one might say the third front almost, which struggles to provide the society with some sense of security when they go to sleep at night.

This is not an internship manual – what they asked me to do, and how much it pays, and how do I reach him etc. In fact, if you are that willing, you will find him, somehow, you don’t need to be told. This is much more than that.

It is the story of one starry eyed boy walking into the portals of this institution, maybe by fate, and realizing its gravity, and coming out, well, a lawyer. It is about meeting extraordinary men, and enjoying their company. It is about Rais Khan and Nikhil Banerjee, Vilayat and Monilal Nag. It is about toast with half boiled eggs on Old Post Office street. It is about not having the bus fare on your way back home because you just discovered Denning outside Fox Mandal’s office. It is about looking longingly at 1B Old Post Office Street (Emerald House - Khaitans Office) and thinking, “Someday I will have an office in there”.

It is about eating Kochuri – Jilipi with a Judge (and then dropping some on his table). It is about watching him write with his Waterman and thinking when you will earn your first one. It is about walking into office one morning and suddenly being saluted by all the policemen from the ground to the seventh floor, and deep inside, quite enjoying it (and never correcting their mistake!).  

It is about meeting the CJI then almost immediately fighting with 200 other esteemed members of the Bar for fish cutlet from Bijoli Grill. And it is about a few cheap bars, dirty coats, sweaty evenings and vivacious women.

Welcome to the Calcutta High Court. The home of the Bengali intellectual – the weird creature that survives on Tea and cigarettes. As colourful as the city of joy itself. Where life is slow for a reason, because that is how we prefer our tea.

 

In slow, pungent sips.

 

So let the story unfold :

 

Week 1 - Alaap: The first week invariably goes into settling down, knowing everyone’s name, finding out which court lies in what direction, where the Judges Library is etc etc. Once one is done with the directional analysis, the first week proves to be the toughest. It is in this period that the employer makes up his mind about you. What kind of work do you deserve? How much attention should they pay to you (if you deserve any at all!), What level of confidence can they have in you? Etc.

The first week at Court is the week for minor discoveries – Babughat, The Chiefs Court, the portrait of Sir John staring at you in its massive confines, wondering how tall the buildings are.

Randomly stepping inside Temple Chambers (It houses the offices of Victor Moses & Co., one of the oldest Law firms around) and walking up the wooden stairs and past the monolithic lift to step into narrow alleys where four lawyers share one table at different times of the day and call it an office and at last steeping out into the light where the maze of Temple Chambers ends and the view of the High Court unfolds before your eyes, as if out Satyajit Ray’s Pratidwandi.

Ali Akbar showed up one Wednesday and then the affair started. After that, the evenings meant Sitar, Law and watching the city get drenched though the crystal windows atop the white towers.

In the first week Justice Sen called me Sumon, Satyajit, Subroto, Sunil, Sujoy, Sunando and every possible Bengali name that can begin with an S; as I started my work relating to Letters of Credit and slowly started burning my hands with imbecile law.   

 

Week 2 - Jor – Week two always instils in you a fervour since, now you are a regular office goer. Now you start recognizing some faces and even remembering some names. You have met some people from University. And they aren’t that god awful outside. Some of them are bearably human.

You have covered almost every court room, been to the Judges Library and through a broken window pane stared at the Judges lounge with a gaping mouth, and learnt from Gurupada Da (he’s the P.A. to the Hon Justice) the difference between Vilambit and Drut Gat.

You are onto partition and succession and have been given the liberty to get any book from the Judges library that you want. You make good use of it and get a copy of Austin’s “Working a Democratic Constitution”.

The man on the street selling old books opposite Fox’s office now runs after you at lunch time and you go home every evening almost broke. There are no holidays on Saturdays and Sundays which mean the following week you will crash into the office door, just out of an excess of work and music.

 

Week 3 - Bandish – Justice Sen looks back before leaving and says, “I am leaving for the day.....Subhro”. The gap makes you smile with self satisfaction; he made a conscious effort to remember your name. Some of your best friends forget your Birthday, but Gurupada Da doesn’t....and you end up having lunch with the Judge. You have graduated to Insurance matters and have realised the importance of the JC. A wholesome understanding of the law, and something that I would go on to add to my CV two weeks later: It helps you in learning the art of comprehensive research.

A lawyer presents only, but a one sided approach to everything. In a country like ours, you see the Judge working day and night to fight the case from both the sides, just to see that justice is done.

 

Week 4 - Jhala – The peak of your internship. You know almost everyone around, and surprisingly, they know you! Every morning as you wake up you feel this tremendous satisfaction in dressing up, wearing the tie and leaving for office. You get invited to a staff picnic, where you realize how close knit the High Court family is. Despite the lax nature, despite the frequent holidays, despite loitering around these men and women go out of their way everyday to see that, “My Lord” is satisfied.

From the orderlies Ajit Da and Kharwar Da, to the Security Personnel to his Personal Assistants, you are now friends with each and every one of them, and on the last day when one leaves all of this with a heavy heart, one feels, ”I did earn something”.

The Judge looks at you when you shake his hand on the last day, smiles and says, “This was just the beginning. You will work for a lot of legal luminaries in the future.....”

 

And one is suddenly reminded of Pather Panchali (The song of the road),

 

"Pother debota prosonno hasiya bolilen – murkho balok – poth amar sesh hoi nai - poth amar chole gelo samne sudhu samne – desh chere bidesher dike, surjodoy theke surjaster dike, janar gondi eriye aprichayer uddeshe – anirban tar beena sunte pai sudhu ononto kal ar ononto akash – cholo egiye jai....... ”

 

 

The song of the road never ends....it goes on...Its timeless Veena can be heard, only by the sky that knows no bounds and time that is truly endless...It goes on from your home to lands distant, from sunrises to sunsets...and from the known towards the unknown – Come, let us walk this road.......

 

(These are the last lines from Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhays “Pather Panchali” on which Ray made his extraordinary movie – I am completely unworthy of translating it – hence I am leaving it in its original form)

 

*A tribute to Protik Prokash Banerjee, Advocate at the Calcutta High Court – Someone whose take on Law defies generations. Although I had a chance to witness him arguing at Court Room No 5. I couldn’t gather enough courage to walk up to him and introduce myself. What would I say – Sir, I really like what you write!

 

 To the man and his eccentricities.......

 

Blog Image from Calcuttaweb.com (http://www.calcuttaweb.com/picture/calcutta/highcourt.gif)

 

Subhro Sengupta joined HNLU in 2011 and is about to enter his 3rd year. Apart from all human requisites at college, he likes to read, think, write, to go on long walks on rainy days, public speaking and thinking about life ahead. He attended Ramakrishna Mission at Narendrapur, Calcutta before this, where he used to have a moustache, just like his father does.
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