Justices Imbiber and Teetotaller

NO one need be surprised that many members of the Bar are fond of frequenting bars of a more popular variety.

They enjoy boozing anytime, anywhere. Barrooms are full of tales of famous boozers of the Bar.

Many were highly successful in the profession, got designated as seniors, were highly respected for skills inside (and outside) courtrooms and were reputed to be uncorking bottles with senior milords.

One such worthy was a designated senior and an ex-Advocate General who later became prominent in politics. He was made a minister in a state cabinet.

Probably his best claim to fame was his making it to the front pages of all newspapers by getting drunk and allegedly misbehaving with an air hostess aboard a flight.

Most of his erstwhile colleagues at the Bar, perhaps ruing not having got (or availed of) such opportunities for themselves, hastened to sympathise with their inebriated ex-colleague and blamed the air hostess for having protested too much.

Another respectable senior got sozzled at a Bar Association party. As the DJ played a popular Hindi film song, this senior was inspired to re-enact an intimate scene from a Bollywood romance by hugging a lady advocate within his reach and smooching her in full public view.

Different versions were then narrated to those of us who missed this live performance by the partially sober eyewitnesses.

The narrators used to get so carried away while telling this tale that they often grabbed the nearest junior available to demonstrate to their audience the type of hug and kind of kiss administered by their respected senior.

As if they were citing some precedent!

Of course, the lady did not register a complaint and the matter was hushed up. She was rewarded by ‘second counsel briefs’ aplenty. The senior, we were told, later regretted his behavior under the influence of sobriety and was declared innocent.

It was the cheap whisky that was found to be blameworthy. Later on, this worthy too graced the august chair of state Advocate General. Some such characters, habitually high, even got elevated. That must be considered an even headier experience.

The trappings of power mixed with the free flow of complimentary booze at the countless welcome felicitations that come chasing newly appointed milords hardly left any time for justice.

Can’t blame the poor milords. They are innocent victims of circumstances no doubt. The system is to blame. Who asked it to gather so many arrears? A man is entitled to first do justice to his plate and glass before attending to all and sundry who are foolish enough to file cases in courts.

At the other end of the spectrum were the conscientious teetotallers. Forget being seen in the company of their liquor-loving brethren, they wouldn’t even accept invitations to parties where drinks were expected to be served. Their spectrum of permissible beverages covered the full range between cow’s milk and coconut milk.

Because of their habits, they considered themselves pure enough to be selected by divine right for delivering unadulterated justice to lesser mortals. It almost seemed as if they aspired for the Bench right from the day they sat on some kindergarten bench.

We still find both these types on the Bench from time to time.

Here, I have chosen to name these archetypes ‘Justice Imbiber’ and ‘Justice Teetotaller’. One such Justice Imbiber’s personal assistant (PA) used to take private dictation after court hours from my senior.

When Justice Imbiber was sitting in court, I often went to meet this PA in his chamber to collect some previously dictated drafts.

He used to show me all the bottles of expensive whisky carefully hidden behind volumes of law reports in the antechamber of Justice Imbiber. He had also divulged a small silver hip flask in which the ‘drink of the day’ had to be filled and kept ready for Justice Imbiber.

Justice Imbiber used to take some swigs during the lunch break and have sumptuous ‘non-veg’ food. Thereafter, he would saunter into the courtroom half an hour beyond recess time with a beatific smile, chewing Milan supari.

Those of us who knew of these habits always mentioned our matters immediately after lunch recess. With a sated milord in a happy mood, we obtained good Orders without much ado.

Justice Teetotaller, on the other hand, was so obsessed with Gandhian ideas of ethics and morality and was so full of notions of righteousness that he judged matters solely on that basis.

For example, in those pre-mobile phone days, many cases were filed challenging arbitrary excess billings for landline phone connections by the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL).

If the petitioners happened to be engaged in businesses such as the diamond or tobacco trade or were into import–export which, according to Justice Teetotaller’s notions, were ‘indecent’ occupations, the petitions were dismissed in limine howsoever good they may otherwise have been on merits.

Similarly, if any lawyer was suspected to be an imbiber by Justice Teetotaller or belonged to the chamber of seniors considered as ‘disreputable’ by him, he could expect to be hauled over coals while Justice Teetotaller smirked and twitched his neck sadistically on the bench like a bald ringmaster.

Justice Teetotaller was senior to Justice Imbiber. But both became collegium judges in due course (at different times) and had short stints as acting Chief Justice of our High Court.

Even during those short stints, they moved into the Chief Justice’s bungalow and threw parties.

Justice Teetotaller had invited surviving freedom fighters from the megapolis and felicitated them with shawls and coconuts. Varieties of fruit juices and ‘pure’ vegetarian delicacies were served. Dessert was an unlimited homily on the greatness of his family delivered by Justice Teetotaller himself.

Justice Imbiber’s turn to be the acting Chief Justice came after another teetotaller incumbent from Gujarat had been elevated to the Supreme Court following a considerably long tenure as the Bombay High Court’s Chief Justice.

Throughout that stint, all alcohol and meat-based food had been banished from the official menu of the Chief Justice House.

Thus, when the opportunity presented itself, albeit for a very short time, acting Chief Justice Imbiber decided to grab it and convert the Chief Justice’s bungalow into a party venue every evening and late into the night with enough liquor stock to put even English taverns to shame.

Senior Bar members and fellow tipplers young and old were invited to these bashes and came back with fond memories to recount and tease the less fortunate ones who were conscientious teetotallers.

I remember one tale involving an extra-large size milord imported from the largest state in India who loved all the ‘good things of life’.

We were told that when he was completely sozzled during one of the bashes at Chief Justice House, he got up and loudly proclaimed: “Dekho inn bechaare pedon ko … paanch saal se inhone bhi nariyal paani aur barsaat ke paani ke siwa kuch nahin piya.” (Look at these poor trees, for five long years, they have had nothing to drink but coconut water and rainwater.)

Then he had proceeded to open bottle after bottle of beer and sprayed it on the trees in the garden saying: “Pee lo, pee lo … tum bhi kya yaad rakhoge!” (Drink it, drink it, I am feeling generous tonight!)

When we juniors heard these tales we were not shocked at all. Such imbibers had been senior members of our Bar. They had had similar good times when at the Bar. It was good to know they had not forsaken their habits and ways on the Bench too.

Teetotallers of the Bar, on the other hand, became totally unapproachable and conceited upon elevation. The general consensus at the Bar is that as far as doing substantial justice and granting workable, practical reliefs is concerned, it is still the imbibers on the Bench who are to be preferred over the teetotallers.

Shouldn’t we be saying “cheers” to that?