Of peacocks and pigeons

BEFORE the grand heritage building of the Bombay High Court suffered multiple blockages of its well-planned doors and windows, it was one of the best naturally ventilated structures.

Space crunch due to exponential growth which this lovely edifice was never designed to take led to ad-hoc additions and alterations. This blocked the free flow of breeze.

Coupled with overcrowding in the courtrooms, the situation reached a point where air-conditioning became a necessity.

But I miss the charm of those huge open courtrooms with open doors and windows with the gentle sea breeze wafting across the Oval Maidan granting more relief to the jacketed and gowned lawyers than the milords ever did.

Courtroom no. 46 (or the Central Court) with its now not-in-use visitors galleries and very high roof used to be a haven for pigeons.

Somehow, the crows stayed away. Perhaps, they had been put off by too many humans donning coats matching their colours.

But the pigeons kept fluttering about and could watch proceedings from any vantage point. They were always in a better position than the milords, who had to sit glued to their chairs in one fixed place on the dais.

This is the story of an advocate who basked in the forensic glory of his elder brother, a designated senior advocate with a busy practice, especially in civil litigation.

Though this portly gentleman with a belly like a pot was considered the antithesis of his elder brother in legal acumen, he was a master in managing the back office, so to speak.

He also used to file his vakalatnama in every case where his “bade bhaisahab” was directly engaged.

He was thus considered to be a VIP by the attorneys who wished to brief his “bhaisahab” in the same manner that one needs to touch the tail of the bull seated outside before entering the sanctum sanctorum of a Shiva temple.

In short, he was indispensable.

In deference to his fondness for food, let us call him Advocate Khauka.

Khauka dreaded addressing the court and the utmost he could manage if ever a case got called out in his elder brother’s absence was to plead for it to be “kept back” (stood over) for some time.

Once a very strict Bench headed by a Parsi milord, who later became a Chief Justice of India, was presiding in the Central Court and there were still about 15 minutes to go before the lunch recess of the court when a matter filed by Advocate Khauka got called out.

Now, picture this: The portly fellow gets up and heads for the front row but his head is turned back to see if his elder brother has arrived.

Even after reaching the lectern, his head is turned back though his paunch is boldly facing the impatient Bench.

Milord: “Yes, Mr Khauka, what is this matter about?”

Khauka: “Kindly keep it back milord. Bhaisahab is coming.”

Milord: “We will permit him to take over when he arrives. In the meanwhile, you may start by narrating some facts.”

Khauka (now looking at the large wall clock whose minutes hand suddenly seemed to be moving too slowly): “Sir, only 10 minutes remaining.”

Milord: “That we can see. But why waste precious judicial time? You are the AoR. You should know the facts at least. Please start by giving us some dates.”

Khauka (now looking skyward spots two pigeons on the high roofbeam): “Milords, please see!” (and points upwards).

The pigeons have no idea that two high court milords and several lawyers are now staring at them. The pigeon couple is vigorously doing what they are well-reputed to do several times a day.

Khauka is staring intently at their latest efforts. Milords are wondering what is so unusual in the scene. The wall clock is now showing 1.55 p.m. Just five minutes left for lunch!

Senior Parsi Milord: (turning back to the brief) “Mr Khauka! Please start.”

Maybe he said this too loudly. The pigeons got disturbed and flew right across the courtroom to find another perch. Khauka was following their flight with his eyes but simultaneously he was keeping track of time in the wall clock from a corner of an eye.

Milord: “Please start!”

Khauka: “Sorry, sir. I got distracted by the peacocks.”

Milord: “Peacocks? What peacocks?”

Khauka: “The peacocks which are now sitting there” (points to where the pigeons are perched).

Suddenly, with everyone focused on them, the pigeons take flight once again and flutter out of the huge open door of the Central Courtroom overlooking the Oval Maidan.

Khauka (excitedly): “The peacocks have flown away.”

Senior Parsi Milord: “They are pigeons, for God’s sake, not peacocks!”

Khauka: “Yes. Same thing I was saying.” (Then turning to ask a junior) “Maine kuch galat bol diya kya?”

At that moment, the wall clock struck 2 p.m.

Milord (looking relieved): “Mr Khauka, please read up and be ready to tell us the facts at 2.45 p.m. We shall continue then.”

Khauka (also looking very pleased): “Thank you, milord. By then, bade bhaisahab will be here, certainly.”

Milord: “Thank God for that.”

(And then the Bench rose and left for lunch.)

We lawyers too dispersed for our lunches. Mr. Khauka, however, was still asking some elderly lawyers: “Kabutar angrezi mein peacock nahin hota kya?”

Surprisingly, instead of answering this simple question, some of them were scratching their heads looking genuinely perplexed. Happiest of all were of course the pigeons who by now had come back.

For 45 minutes, they would be free to indulge in their favourite pastime far away from the prying eyes of black coats.

I feel sad that with all the renovations, it is now impossible for the current generation of lawyers to enjoy such wonderful scenes whose recollection brings a smile to my face even now.

Comfortable air-conditioned courtrooms may be symbols of necessity or progress but will we ever see an imaginary peacock or a real Advocate Khauka in court ever again?

I have my doubts.

Don’t you?

The Leaflet