The judge's choice...


The judge's choice...

The lady’s voice from the other end said,“You please be our judge.” I was thrilled, to say the least. After all, it was my childhood dream to be a lawyer and a judge ultimately. Having been brought up on a daily dose of Perry Mason, Paul Drake and Della street, I lived in a world of romantic fantasy and was thirsting to be a lawyer.

My ambition was shot down by another lawyer who was our tenant for years, neither paying rent nor vacating the house. When the case came up in the court after innumerable adjournments, he argued that he didn’t earn enough to pay for both food and house rent. He could afford only one of the two! The kind judge ruled in his favour as starving him to death would amount to homicide under  the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Coming back to the female voice on the phone, I told her that I was honoured by the offer, but was not a member of the legal fraternity. “No, no. You are mistaken. Nothing legal, madam. I’m the president of the stree sangha here. I want you to be the judge for our annual competitions.”

A judge is a judge, no matter where she is placed. I accepted the position immediately. But there appeared to be a hitch. “Madam, our committee members will raise hell if I choose a good-for-nothing person as the judge. So give me your biodata,” she said and proceeded to get one right away.

“How many children do you have?” I answered, wondering about its relevance. “Are they in foreign?” “No.” “Why? I’m sorry for you.”

“Please don’t be. They went abroad but returned out of their free will. However, they keep going back on work frequently.”

“That’s better. You qualify. You see, your job is very simple. We ask the competitors to pick a chit out of many on which I would have written various topics. They speak, you listen carefully and give marks. The highest mark gets first prize... and so on. Do you know music?” “A little,” I said. “That’s not enough. We want a vidushi as the judge. I thought of managing two judges with one bouquet. After all, we operate under a limited budget.” Though taken aback, I admired her sincerity and transparency.

I arrived at the venue on the great day and was greeted by the committee members, who were all dressed up for the occasion. The first contestant appeared and sang a sonorous ‘Aansoo Bhari Hai Ye Jeevan Ki Rahen’. As I raised my eyebrows, the secretary of the sangha whispered, “Madam, she’s a great fan of Mukesh. At any competition, she sings one of his numbers. Yesterday, at the cookery competition, she sang ‘Dost Dost Na Raha’.

As the elocution was half-way through, one of the committee members whispered, “Madam, note the lady in yellow saree sitting in the third row. She thinks too much of herself. Don’t give her any prize.”

Five minutes later, there was another whisper by another member. “The lady in the fifth row wearing salwar kameez is my niece. A very nice and intelligent — but a shy — girl. Please give her a consolation prize, as a sort of encouragement.”

I survived all these and was walking towards my car holding the bouquet of roses in my left hand. A lady followed me. “How did I speak?”

“Very well,” I said, hardly remembering her speech. “Then why didn’t you give me a prize?”

“There were others who spoke  better. That’s why,” I said as I drove off. The judge’s choice was never to be a judge again!

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