A lawyer's judgement

My father, known to argue persuasively as a lawyer, was never argumentative with anyone outside the court room, particularly my magisterial mother. A compulsive reader, he introduced me to the world of books at the stately Higginbothams in the 50s in Madras, when a Wodehouse paperback cost a measly two shillings and six pence.

An early morning riser for browsing legal briefs and sipping frothy, freshly brewed, filter coffee, he utilised my services as a librarian. Which meant I had to bring for his reference stout, morocco bound law books with golden letters on the spine. This I did by shinnying up tall wooden racks with simian agility. During my juvenile librarianship, I was puzzled to find that the Hindu Law was written by Mulla, a Muslim. And the Mohammedan Law by Verma, a Hindu. Many of my  father’s clients were soft-spoken Muslim gentleman in fez caps, who came by horse drawn carriages, smelling mildly of attar. They presented an incongruous yet harmonious picture in the company of my tufted father.

One little incident  that merits recollection occurred during  a winter morning. While vetting a plaint he looked up and  asked me in a voice reserved for cross-examining nervous  witnesses. “D’you have a new student in your class by name Abdul?” “Yes, pa. His family  moved in recently. Abdul’s father is transferred to Poonamallee.” “I know,” he said bobbing his head, “D’you go to Abdul’s house frequently?” “Yes, for updating  him. He has  to catch up with the lessons because of late admission.”

My father looked deeply into my eyes. “Well, you better stop going there.” “But why?” I asked in a shrill voice, bristling with indignation, “he is a good friend, studious and  polite”. “Agreed. But don’t go there from today. It is an order.”

Having said that, he started rifling through the pages of Law of Torts, which is his way of telling that his conference with me was over. Later, my mother felt I needed an explanation. “Listen, don’t you know? Abdul is the son of the judge in the court your father argues his cases.”

The ingrained message took years to sink in. And the more I hear and read about some guardians of law now, I mentally compare and salute upright men of yesteryears for their strict observance of the proprieties.

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