The canteen court

IN the early eighties, it was not difficult to get admission even in the prestigious ‘Government Law College’, Bombay.

After graduating from the science stream, most students opted for medicine or engineering.
The commerce students were more interested in becoming Chartered Accountants or Company Secretaries.
If they did come to law college they came for the 2-year BGL (Bachelor of General Laws) degree.
They did not complete the 3-year LLB course.
(The 5-year option after 12th did not exist then).

The ones who were forced to take up Arts at the undergraduate level because they could not make the cut for the other sought-after streams were usually at a loss with the ominous question: “After B.A., what?”
Quite a few of these joined law college.
But most had no intention to practice law.
Some just wanted to learn law so that they could steer to the right side of it in whatever business they were planning to do.

Most hostelites joined law college to prolong hostel hospitality and most girls joined law college in those days to give some more time to their parents and relatives to find suitable bridegrooms for them.
They would leave law once they got in-laws.

You may say it wasn’t the best time to be a sincere student.
If one went by matrimonial ads there were no takers for lawyers.
We were told that those who were rejected and dejected were fit to be injected into law colleges!
All the glamour one finds now was sorely missing.

Although attendance was compulsory there were hardly any students in most classes.
GLC had a few “super profs” who had become legends in their lifetimes.
Their lectures were invariably jam packed.
Many outsiders too attended.
No one really bothered to check the entry.
Who does not like the matinee show to be full?
And GLC was among the best “theatres” in the country.
While other law colleges were struggling just to stand up and walk, GLC was running on its reputation alone!

A few students, perhaps with masochistic traits, attended every lecture..the good, the bad and the ugly.

I attended the good ones and spent the balance time in organising or participating in extra-curricular activities of which there was no dearth in GLC.

The GLC canteen was the focal point of local politics. With children of many former and current MLAs and assorted leaders in our ranks, even elections of Class Representatives to the ‘Students Union Council’ were fiercely contested by “Students Unions” backed by major political parties.
The present ruling dispensation in our country was only an “also-ran” in the student politics of those days. Congress and the Left ruled the roost.

Marathi manoos was also emerging rapidly with their belligerent ‘Vidyarthi Sena’.
If nothing else it greatly enhanced the students’ vocabulary of choicest expletives in the vernacular language.
Everyone’s mothers and sisters were remembered frequently.

A few of us who were seriously interested in becoming lawyers, were interning with solicitors firms or practicing seniors..or sitting quietly in libraries.
The interns were learning the real nitty-gritties.
Hence, they usually skipped the lectures.

The incident which I am going to narrate is of one year during that three-year sojourn when all of a sudden it was announced by the Bombay University that students who did not have at least 75% attendance would not be allowed to appear for the exam!

We were all at best in the 30 to 40% attendance category.
No doubt we were attending college 100% but as far as classes were concerned, we were the “out-standing” ones.

So an emergency meeting was called in the canteen to appeal to the ‘Canteen Court of GLC Veterans’.
These were past students who were permanent fixtures in the GLC canteen.
They sat there to talk politics and recruit prospective storm-troopers for their parties year after year.
Later on, one of them became a three-term MP from Mumbai.
But to his credit I never heard him claim to be able to either make or sell tea.
He did however consume dozens of cups of tea everyday!

The veterans told us not to worry.
Such measures were announced every few years..and they had effective “counter-measures” to deal with such situations.

The simple, tried-and-tested strategy used by generation after generation in GLC was to strike a deal with the office-clerk (we will call him Shri Madatkar) who was in sole charge of the attendance registers.

Madatkar was a most considerate, helpful and reasonable guy with a pleasant demeanour.
If he wasn’t an office clerk maybe he would’ve made a good judge.
The first virtue he possessed was that he never asked for or expected any money for helping out!
All he hoped from a student availing his help to tick mark the attendance squares against his/her name and cover up the deficit attendance was a quarter of ‘Khoday’s XXX Rum’ which any student could easily afford in those days.

Saturdays was the day fixed for the transaction of rum giving and deficit forgiving.
Madatkar went home with a sackful of small bottles for the weekend.
Maybe he used them to stock up some private wine shops somewhere.

Our problem too was efficiently solved by this friendly office-clerk.

But one of our batch-mates had never attended a single lecture and was not aware of the strict attendance rule that was being enforced that year.
He was even oblivious of our little arrangement with friendly Clerk Madatkar.
Most unfortunately he was the only one to have missed the proverbial deadline bus.

When he found out, he was distraught.
He begged and pleaded with us out-standing students to help him.
We filed an urgent application before the ‘Canteen Court of GLC Veterans’.
It was decided to make an urgent mention of this genuine case before clerk Madatkar.

Madatkar told the pleaders that this happened all the time and the guilty party may meet him on that Saturday evening with his normal professional charges.

Now, our non-attending friend was let in on the volume of the bottle and the brand of the rum.
He had never been to a liquor shop.
And did not know that 40 bucks was all that was needed for a quarter.
He gave 100 bucks and asked for the stuff.
So he got 2 bottles and 20 rupees back!

Holding the precious brown paper bag with Madatkar’s “professional charges”, our friend met the co-operative clerk as scheduled.
Seeing that there was a double benefit being offered, the happy clerk perhaps imbibed a bottle after he went into the deserted office to do the needful.
They were happy hours after all on a Saturday evening.

After half an hour, a bit tipsy, but smiling all the same, Madatkar came out and announced to our friend:
“Jao! Tumhaara kaam ho gaya!”
Our grateful friend thanked the clerk and left.
He must’ve slept peacefully that night after a long time.

Just before the exam however, he received a notice from the University’s Department of Law asking him to see the Head Clerk there immediately regarding “the matter of your attendance”!

Sensing trouble, our friend took a veteran from the Canteen Court along.
This veteran also happened to be an office-bearer of the local unit of a national students union.
His father was a judge to boot!
In short, he was the best person to deal with whatever problem that had suddenly cropped up.

The problem was that it had been discovered during “scrutiny” that the ever-helpful Shri Madatkar, having helped himself to the extra fees he had received in kind, had celebrated by giving  100% attendance to our friend.
You would ask, what was wrong with that?

Well, our friend had been marked present by Madatkar in the attendance register even on Sundays and bank holidays!

The canteen court veteran argued well.
He said how is a student responsible?
There is always a presumption that everything was legal and proper.
The mistake, if any, was done by some clerk.
What is the student’s fault?
The veteran even offered to get the concerned clerk to put white ink on the disputed squares and initial the “inadvertent mistake”.
The Head Clerk in the Department of Law knew the veteran’s “connections” and wanted to be in his good books.
So the matter was hushed up.

Thus all the out-standing students appeared for the exams and we all did well for ourselves.
Not just our efforts, but also Madatkar’s efforts were rewarded.

However, several of our masochistic colleagues who had stoically suffered lecture after unbearable lecture, either flunked or were allowed to keep terms subject to clearing backlog.
What can be the moral of such an outcome?

Of all the courts we have appeared before in our now long careers, there was no court which was as much fun as the ‘Canteen Court of GLC Veterans” of the early eighties.

The Leaflet