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An estimated 10-minute read
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“Please Tapan da,” the actress in the movie on TV begged between uncontrollable sobs, “You can’t shut down production of the movie now! How can you do this now?” her recently estranged character hollered to the director of the art film she’d just finished shooting for, “I have made so many sacrifices for this movie Tapan da, didn’t take on any other work also for the last six months!”

Unable to take the begging, sobbing, and the actress’s running nose stretched out on his parents’ 48 inch plasma screen any more, Anirudhh turned the TV off. He then sat in the dark of the living room and flinched, embarrassed at what he had just felt.

Aniruddh Sadana, a 26-year-old junior lawyer in the chambers of one of the most expensive criminal law attorneys in India, had just empathised with a 3cm thick-Kohl wearing, weepy and wallowing female protagonist of Bollywood mainstream cinema, and had felt so sorry for himself he was a split second away from blubbering.

Today afternoon in court, his office’s client’s writ petition hearing was adjourned to a date six months from now because his employer, senior advocate Vikrant Gazhal, failed to make it for the hearing on time. The writ was being handled by Aniruddh.

This writ, like all other matters under Aniruddh’s personal care, had been the driving force behind his nights and his days for the last four months. Sir had sent the 75-year-old client to his desk  in their office one evening four months ago, the client had made eye-contact longer than usual with Aniruddh as if trying to extract or extort a promise simply through his gaze, they had chatted for two hours, and since then Aniruddh had gone on a scouring search. He had hunted, he had gathered and he had built.

He had collected papers to fatten the writ’s file, drafted a gazillion letters and notices, stood in post-office queues filing RTIs, taken several buses and rickshaws to strange places to talk to stranger people – officers, bureaucrats, and all of humanity. He had researched until the break of dawn and then visited various briefing counsels’ offices to be sent home with double the homework.

He had drafted the first, second, third, fourth, and eventually the 27th revised draft of the petition, his email inbox was full of back and forth with the client. He had strategized too. Aniruddh had plans for today’s hearing. An interim result he was confident of obtaining today would then define the onward course of action he had carefully crafted.

Until today afternoon, to Aniruddh it was impossible how someone – especially someone like Gazhal sir – could not appreciate the importance and brilliance of that carefully crafted next step that hinged on today’s order in court. Now in the evening, it was incredulous.

Aniruddh had loved the last four months. It seemed as if tea and this writ were the only things he needed to carry on in life at the moment. The writ petitioner’s frequent hopeful, trusting gazes at him had absolutely no contribution in triggering off the meditative states which he automatically slipped into while researching, drafting or mulling the matter, despite his general mood.

But today when the petitioner looked at him with a disappointed questioning glance in court, it was more than he could bear.

He didn’t feel sorry for the client. But the disappointed empty look today in the client’s eyes reminded Aniruddh of the emptiness of his own life.

He had not planned on going home today to binge-drinking and comfort food. The thrill of today’s result in court would’ve been his satiation for the day. But now something as meaningless as a few pegs of JDs – Jack Daniels - and Theo’s Baklava or an apple-crumble were inevitably going to replace it, since he had access to nothing else equally filling, emotionally.

As a junior litigation lawyer, he was remunerated with half of the lowest of what his transactional lawyer friends made. So while Gazhal sir had summer, winter, autumn and spring foreign holidays to look forward to every year, and while his corporate buddies went on office retreats in the summer, Aniruddh free-lanced for news websites as a relaxant.

Last month while his parents and sister toured the Schweiz, he had passed up on this second-time trip to Switzerland and stayed back home to work on some additional drafting assignments and free-lance editorial work he had bagged. Lonely in his father’s three floor mansion, sprawled on his king-size bed, he had kept indoors the whole time and relied on his work for the kind of stimulation which many others would derive from a loving, non-platonic relationship.

But the relaxation would soon be replaced with freshly budding tears hurting him between the eyes as he tried to compose himself, when his editorial contributions lied insignificant and unpublished for weeks, sometimes months together. Paid Rupees two per word, his reward lied not in the extra pocket money he made through these gigs, but it lied in his work seeing light of the day at a time when he thought they mattered most to the world and to him.

For the last three years he had been living a life of chasing travel and other reimbursements worth around Rs 2000 a month, every month, at Gazhal sir’s chambers. He had felt the pinch from tax deductions of less than Rs 5,000 – amounts he had borrowed from his father and floundered away on petrol for his SUV drive to and fro college back in the day.

He still lived with his parents, but was determined to survive on his own means, as much as he could. He had said no to even the rare bi-annual shopping at his favourite brands - Prada and Chanel, and he no longer felt the urge to dine occasionally at the Sushi conveyor belt buffet place. He had smoothly transitioned into a life of frugality by now, without feeling bad about it.

What pinched, though, was the micro-level operation of it all. The small numbers in the dance of his life – his father was also pinched by tax – but tax that was 50 times of what Aniruddh paid. What was his whole life the last four months paled in comparison to the importance of an ordinary bail matter that Gazhal sir chose to attend today morning instead.

Life to Aniruddh felt like a deep dark well right now. A well in which he was stuck in so deep down below that he had forgotten what the sky looked like. His possibilities reached about as far as the unyielding walls of the well surrounding him. And each face of these walls was symmetrically unsympathetic, offering him no avenue to climb up and get out of the damp darkness.

On graduation he had read countless magazine articles professing that if one chose a way of life that was not their natural calling but was chosen for the purposes of worldly comforts, one would end up with discontent sooner than later.

“Whether that’s at 25, or 50, those little stirrings of discontent show up, first in your job, then in your life. Your relationships start going haywire. You start going haywire. Your life goes through a new incarnation,” stated one such piece.

Influenced by this general world view in favour of the less “fortunate” pathways in life, and driven by his addiction to bottomless case-building and direct responsibility for matters in court, he had chosen to join court practice under a senior lawyer.

At that time the path to his destination – his own chambers - looked less muddled and more illuminated. He didn’t mind the peanut-sized remuneration in the short duration before he’d reach the dream. The peanuts would keep his hunger up he thought optimistically. Starvation was a coveted quality in the perception of this ambitious fresh graduate. At graduation, Aniruddh did not yet know of all dimensions of starvation.

Slowly “life went through a new incarnation”. Taking the metro train around the city became more frequent than turning on the car ignition. Medium-sized purchases such as tablets or i-pods and airfare had to be spaced out to allow for the bank account to fill back up. But Aniruddh spent the whole of his first year at chambers in the excitement that he was being paid to follow his passion.

A year after joining the chambers, one dimension of starvation reared its head. This one was called, fading away into non-existence. At Gazhal sir’s chambers sir alone was the front, middle and rear end of it all. By the end of year one, Aniruddh was directly in charge of 80 per cent of the chamber’s work. By the end of year one, nobody other than some of the court staff knew him by face or name.

One year and a few months on, the next dimension exposed itself - Aniruddh’s voice in the chamber’s way of business was on mute. Be it the manner of dealing with clients or the way of interaction with fellow advocates and briefing counsel; Be it an argument before a judge, or their collective stand in bar association meetings; Everything was clothed in Gazhal sir’s fashion. Aniruddh felt no more than a mere mouthpiece, or a medium at times.

This was probably all in order, he thought, since admittedly Gazhal sir had not sprung up overnight. He was reaping now what he had sowed more than a decade ago. But Aniruddh too had had his fair share of celebrity through school and college, and he was finding it hard to suddenly adjust to a life of invisibility.

“Were the insides of university not the real world?!” he thought fiddling now in his living room’s dark, his fingers going around the rim of the collector’s edition Cartier watch dial on his other wrist – a gift from mom on winning his last ever moot court.

Giving 14 hours per day, 90 hours per week, around 800 hours of his life so far, since age 23 to one aspect of his life meant he was quite dependent on this aspect for his emotional needs. If not the grandeur of a hearing he had slaved toward night and day for the last four months, there was nothing else left to his empty life, he thought.

But life was not always the same. Until now Aniruddh had never had to consciously look for the thing that would give his stomach the butterfly flutter. Dullness or emptiness was not a way of his life for more than half a day after a break-up or losing a moot court competition. So he sorely missed the excitement.

“So what should I find my excitement in, if not in even the fruits of my labour? What should be the object of my excitement? There should be something tangible, something!” he asked himself again this evening plopped on the living room couch.

It was still early evening outside, so Aniruddh stepped out for a drive in his father’s new sedan. 20 minutes later he was on the busy filthy road of the neighbourhood vegetable, fish, meat and flea market. On both sides of this road every few metres were lined up Chawl quarters. Aniruddh got stuck in the traffic bottleneck in front of one such quarter.

After a few minutes, bored, he started looking around. His gaze was caught by a Chawl resident blissfully scrubbing himself with soap outside his house, in his huge underpants, right there facing the traffic no more than 5 metres away, his bath bucket laid out in that very non-private spot within his residential boundary.

The bony man’s eyes were shut. Most people shut the eyes to avoid the sting of soap foam, he might as well have done this to avoid the sting of public glare into this, the most private activity of his day. His ribs were showing and he looked as if he had not a care in the world so long as he could have his icy cool evening bath.

“Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will,” Aniruddh remembered reading from one of his favourite authors not too long ago.

And right there in that moment sitting in the sedan, speakers blaring with his favourite gloomy violin instrumental, he was hit like a flash of lightning with a new strategy for the writ going forward. Anirudhh couldn’t wait to take a U-turn to go back and chalk the roadmap out.




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