These are some fond memories of a milord who had been transferred to the Bombay High Court from his parent Rajasthan High Court.
For the first few years after his transfer milord’s “head-quarter” was at Nagpur.
He very quickly made his mark among the Nagpuris as an efficient, no-nonsense judge who would not suffer fools easily and would compel advocates to constantly be on their toes in his courtroom.
Stories of his quick-fire style soon started travelling to the principal bench at Bombay.
The lazy worthies of the Bombay Bar thanked their stars that he was firing away at their Nagpur colleagues instead of them.
We can refer to this milord as “Justice Quickfire”.
One particular anecdote from Nagpur which attracted a lot of attention in the Bombay bar-rooms in those days was about the dressing-down he had given to a Government Pleader over there in open court.
The said GP thought no end of himself and usually had his way in most courtrooms of Nagpur.
Those were not the days of Video Conferences but this gentleman’s initials were “V.C”.
It seems he was arguing in support of some application before Quickfire J. when the learned judge asked him under which provision of the ‘Civil Procedure Code’ such an application could have been filed?
He had not anticipated this.
He tried to dodge, evade..but Quickfire J. wouldn’t let go of him.
Legend has it that it was at this juncture that Quickfire J. uttered these immortal words:
“Mr.V.C. it seems you do not even know the ‘ABC’ of ‘CPC’! ”
That did it!
From that day, poor Mr.V.C. literally lost his initials.
From then on, he was ragged either as ‘ABC’ or ‘CPC’ in the bar-room!
Thus, when news trickled in that Justice Quickfire was being moved permanently to the Principal seat at Bombay, the Bombay lawyers were not exactly enthusiastic about his arrival.
Some even started reading CPC for the first time since they had passed out of law college!
Now, for some scenes I witnessed when Justice Quickfire settled down in Bombay and started presiding over Division Benches.
Once, a lawyer from a subordinate court was arguing before a bench headed by Justice Quickfire.
As is the practice in those courts, he kept calling the judges “Your Honour”.
(The practice in the High Court is to call them “Milord”)
Noticing the sniggers from the haughty Original Side seniors opposing the poor guy, Justice Quickfire turned to them and asked them:
“Are you at a circus?
What is it that you have found funny?”
That froze the smiles on their faces.
Then, turning to the arguing advocate, Justice Quickfire remarked: “Mister, it seems that High Court practice is not your cup of tea!”
The advocate, though very pleased that the sniggerers had been shown their place by Quickfire, did not quite understand the import of this question.
He turned to his assisting junior, and inquired: “Kya poocha judge sahab ney?”
The junior: “Sir, woh pooch rahey hai shaayad aap chai pasand nahin karte?”
The advocate smiled and nodded knowingly. Addressing the bench, he replied:
“No Sir, I prefer coffee!”
You can imagine the laughter which erupted after this!
And Justice Quickfire had laughed most of all..
On another occasion, in a matter concerning a claim for pension by the second wife, a lawyer from a subordinate court was struggling with submissions and Quickfire J.was losing patience.
He kept saying: “Come to the point mister”
The lawyer was clearly overawed by the barrage of questions being thrown at him by Quickfire J.
Like a number 11 batsman facing a fast bowler, he missed most of them.
But till that point at least he had managed to preserve his wicket.
Finally, Quickfire J.thundered:
“Just tell us the issues involved Mister”
At this, the lawyer’s face brightened.
At last he had understood what the judges wanted!
Lawyer: “Sir, there are only two issues in this case.”
Quickfire J.(pulling out his notepad and picking up his pencil): “That is good.Tell us..”
Lawyer: “Sir, the first issue is from the first wife and the second issue is from my client!”
Once again, this brought the house down!
Quickfire J. told the lawyer to sit down and passed appropriate orders without any further “assistance” from that lawyer.
During every vacation, Quickfire J. would travel to various hill stations in Maharashtra and absorb as much knowledge about them as possible.
As a result, he became extremely well-informed about the places he visited.
Once, while heading an Appellate Side Bench he was hearing a case involving a challenge to some mining permission given near a protected hill fort.
Quickfire J. asked the Assistant Government Pleader: “Do you know which is the highest peak in Maharashtra?”
AGP: “I cannot remember..”
Just then a designated senior entered.
Quickfire turned to him: “We need your assistance Mr.Senior Counsel.”
The senior was flattered.
Adjusting his square gown, he moved forward.
Quickfire J.: “Please enlighten the learned AGP about which is the highest peak in Maharashtra?”
The Senior, obviously expecting some intricate constitutional query, was stumped.
Senior: “Milord..I have it at the tip of my tongue..but..but..”
Quickfire: “But there is no one to prompt you?”
The courtroom which was packed with many seniors was stilled into silence as Quickfire J. started asking the same question to one after another..
In those pre-Google days, there could be no relief by pulling out the cellphone and using “fastest finger first”.
One by one, the seniors started disappearing by exiting from the courtroom very quickly..as if their matters were reaching elsewhere!
They were followed by their entourages.
The courtroom, which was packed a few moments ago, suddenly wore a deserted look.
Some of those who had run out of that court stood outside the entrance to warn others not to enter as a “General Knowledge Class” was going on!
Just then, a senior whose roots were also in Rajasthan, entered to appear for the Bombay Municipal Corporation in a matter which was on Quickfire’s board where contempt notices had been issued to some BMC officers.
Seeing him Quickfire J. smiled and said:
“You please don’t answer”
BMC Counsel (looking puzzled): “Answer what milord?”
The poor AGP, who was the original addressee of the GK question, was still on his legs after 15 minutes of the “Class”.
He whispered to the senior counsel:
“Lordship was asking everyone which is the highest peak in Maharashtra?”
The BMC counsel smiled: “Oh! That is Kalsubai..i met milord there during the last vacation!”
That brought the curtains down on that period.
GK Class was over!
The students who did not know the answer and had left the “classroom” returned and sat quietly clinging to their briefs in the courtroom.