Vacations

Written by  //  May 21, 2011  //  Law & The Judiciary  //  5 Comments

(This is a supremely personal take on an issue most working adults in this country find hard to live with: Supreme Court lawyers and judges getting six weeks off in summer. This is my defence of it. Please be offended.)

The buzz in my ears has only just about stopped. My temples no longer throb and my eyes don’t water from the heat, the stress and the exhaustion. The muscles around my neck and shoulders still feel taut and tense and they could perhaps do with a massage. The buzz has died down but the mind still races, forgetting that the finishing line has been crossed and it’s time to slow down. It is only now about a week into my summer vacation.

Six weeks off (more or less). No worrying about briefs, no miscellaneous days, filing, papers, affidavits, dates, adjournments, pass-overs, nothing. In fact no worrying at all. No deadlines, no causelists, no written submissions, no notes, no lists of dates and events. Nothing on my mind.

Popular culture limits lawyers’ work to their vocal chords and occasionally, their brains (and in really dramatic times, their hands). The lawyer is an actor on an elaborate stage; an actor in a play where the lines are generally ad libbed; an actor who waves papers for dramatic effect, and everything is a grand and significant event.

The truth is much more prosaic.

The average day is either one with a lot of scurrying, hurrying and worrying, or one of mostly preparing, waiting, and hoping. Of course this is all done in a Court. One scurries and hurries from court to court, worrying whether one will arrive in appropriate court before the matter is called. One prepares for a matter listed before court, waits in court for the matter to reach, and hopes that if it is taken up, it will be heard and disposed, thereby leaving one with one less burdens on one’s shoulders.

All the effort would entirely be worth it if one felt a sense of accomplishment, of goals reached or objects attained.

Alas if it were so.

Futility is the lot of the appellate lawyer, to say nothing of the litigant. Dates are fixed, matters are called out, only to stand adjourned. Fixed for another day, when the said day finally turns up, and the matter is called out… and again it stands adjourned.

It’s a strange Moebius Ring in time-space, this appellate court work.

When one is prepared for a case; briefs marked up, plastic stickies fluttering from the edges, written submissions fine-tuned, case laws picked up, marked out, and seven-copies-made, inevitably, almost unfailingly, the matter stands adjourned to a later date on a triviality. The opposing counsel isn’t prepared, it is too late in the day, a key pleading hasn’t been filed yet, a judge recuses himself, etc etc. You’ve seen it all, heard it all. After a point you start wondering if you somehow missed the point of learning the law; that you spent five years (or less) futilely understanding the scope and interpretation of sections, the width and breadth of legal concepts and the tools of analysis, and maybe, just maybe, should have really learnt how and when to take adjournments, ask for pass-overs, and come up with elaborate excuses to get a case “pushed off”.

And yet, and yet, just when you grow complacent in certainty, confident that a hearing is the last thing that’ll happen to the case, the Court’s ready to hear it, the opposing counsel come prepared, it is early in the day, and you have to be all set to argue. Or at least, assist your senior as he does. Panic, fumble, run around, bluster, blubber, plead, scatter yourself across the bar in a mad dash, and try not to appear the unprepared fool. And pray.

It’s a Moebius ring in space-time. On the days you are prepared for a case, it is never taken up. On the days you aren’t, it will be taken up. Causality going around in a continuum with no end, making you wish you were Schrodinger’s Cat and that you’d rather be dead than deal with this uncertainty.

Your time, is really not your time. Your schedule is determined by the Court. Your daily rhythms dictated by judicial diktat so to speak.

Months of this and your nerves are shredded. Your intensity flags, your mind either dulls down or turns on itself bringing forth neuroses and anxieties aplenty. You need a break, a time to repair, rest, and relax. A time when it is your time, and when you choose what to do with your time.

A vacation.

Then, there’s Delhi. Like the rest of north India in summer, it’s a furnace where the heat’s a living thing, clutching at your throat, smothering you in its blast of hot air, and choking you in its dust and pollution. Somewhere between the moisture vaporizing heat of the deserts, and the sticky messiness of the coasts, Delhi offers you the worst of both worlds; face-melting blasts of hot air coupled with sweat pouring cascades down your spine. If you’re lucky, you bear it only in those few moments when you walk from cool air conditioned indoors to a cool air conditioned car. If you aren’t, you’re stuck in a basement office where the air conditioner’s broken down with the stress, and you can never find autos to take you home after work and trudge the distance back. Your small comfort is living in a locality with mercifully short load shedding hours so that a decent sleep is guaranteed at night. And yet, there are those days when powers beyond your control (i.e., BSES REPL) conspire to rob you of your small comforts and you spend an uncomfortable night wishing you’d never been born.

Our ancestors had the right idea, work and party at nights and at dawn, sleep through the day in cool interiors,and create and preserve a deeply iniquitous system where others labour through the day to keep said interiors cool. Some vague and dismal ideal of work ethic compels us to fix our work timings to co-incide with the hottest parts of the day, subjecting ourselves the hammering heat pounding down upon our skulls.

The Brits had the good sense to pack up and head off to the hills when the summer set in. Call it the vestige of a colonial past, or the early dawn of rationality, but the Supreme Court (like other High Courts of North India) decided that a month away from the heat and dust was necessary for a thinking man or woman. Save for matters of utmost importance and urgency, the Court closes its doors to litigants all and sundry, and willy nilly, lawyers as well. It is necessary.

Perhaps I sound ungrateful about my line of work. I’m not. I still love my job. I chose it for myself after all. I just don’t want to fall out of love with it.

Just… don’t grudge me my love; don’t grudge me my vacations.

About the Author

A Supreme Court/Delhi High Court lawyer who writes a bit with a potentially fatal weakness for hyperlinks, tags, and the reader's approval. Follow @alokpi

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5 Comments on "Vacations"

  1. Harsh May 25, 2011 at 9:23 am ·

    “The lawyer is an actor on an elaborate stage; an actor in a play where the lines are generally ad libbed…”, bravo! am using this as my status message and ofcourse tagging this piece! loved this bit and others! vacations zindabad!

  2. Suhasini May 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm ·

    Patting you on the back fondly, P. I couldn’t agree more. Your arguments are less personal than you think though, and apply equally to people in trial courts as well. :) Bloody hot Delhi, off with its head.

  3. Alok May 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm ·

    Thanks Harsh and Su :)

  4. Shloka June 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm ·

    Well said. :-) But there are still labourers still scurrying, worrying and hurrying at Patiala House, only a stone’s throw from the closed doors of the Apex. Sigh.

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