The Void

36. That’s the number of years it will be in a few months – of me walking around on this planet (crawling for the first 8 months of my existence, I presume). I can feel it now. Or maybe I always felt it, but have noticed it only now. THE VOID.

I was not even aware of the nomenclature. I had a feeling, which I was describing to a friend, and he said, yeah I know what you are talking about. You are staring at the void. And I wondered what has astrophysics got to do with the way I have been feeling; only to realize that physics or not, there is a void.

I read a very interesting definition of void, obviously astrophysics-wise. If you take away the Earth, moon, stars – everything material- what remains? Yeah you guessed it right, it is the void. It is nothing and that’s where the feeling of nothingness comes from.

Human beings are always trying to fill up that void with family, spouse, kids, friends, relationships, money, career and goals. If you take away all of this from human beings, we are all staring at the void.

I have it all. I have come a long way. Right now at the place where I am, I should be happy with everything I have achieved so far. Life couldn’t get any better than what it is right now. It’s beautiful. And I have God to thank for but then why does it feel like I am sitting on the edge of the abyss staring at nothing, there is a vacuum.

‘Nature abhors vacuum’ or so says the astrophysicists. However, I feel the void is not created from outside, it comes from within. The more I talk to people, the more they open up and tell me about their void. They don’t know why they feel the way they do. Some call it mid-life crises, others just define the feeling of discontentment and some say ‘what next’? No amount of partying or booze or family time or career orientation or money or anything else has helped them in filling up the void. I am sure it never will. Because it is our sense of being that needs to be defined.

The reason why the void is created is for us to know what we really want. Not just money or other material things. It is more. It is not worldly success or being the best father/mother/spouse/son/daughter. It is so much more. It is that feeling where we are happy with ourselves and not by our external influences or things that define us. It is just us.

My yearly pilgrim to South Goa during monsoon. As I stand getting drenched on by the monsoon rains on the beach, with the high tide trying to drown me while I stare at the offing where the black monsoon clouds and the grey coloured sea meet at the horizon, where the white lines outlining the high tide look like piano keys as if the nature is playing Beethoven’s symphony no. 9 in form of the sound of the tide crashing on the sea, and as I taste the sea-salt in my mouth coming from the moisture from the strong winds which continue to blow through my hair, I am reminded of how tiny I am, so insignificant. It brings me back to the reality of existence. That it is just me and the sea and no one in that moment. That is where my answers lay. That is where my vacuum gets filled. In that split second of a moment where I see my happiness sans the world behind me, and nature as my companion for life. It is beautiful. And as I make my way back home every year, I wait for the entire year, to go back to that feeling again because that’s where my void gets filled. It is those moments of happiness that give me the strength to survive the whole year. It is there where I have found my happiness. My peace. My life. My quantum knowability to fill that void.

Advertisements

The plight of a mother and a daughter

I do all kinds of matters, civil, criminal, service, company, consumer… all of them but matrimonial matters are the ones where I get personally involved, going beyond the realm of the usual lawyer-client relationship.

Today one such matter broke my heart.

As I entered office this morning, I saw a father and his daughter seated in my cabin. A few days ago the younger brother had come and I had insisted on calling upon the girl who wanted to file for divorce. Therefore, their presence did not come as a surprise. However, what ensued was definitely heartbreaking.

The girl was wearing this beautiful lemon colored suit with shiny grey border and navy blue embroidery, nicely wrapped in the duppatta. She looked delicate and submissive. The father was in his early fifties, wearing a t-shirt and track pants with small-round holes in it. The sun-tanned face had lines, which showed years of hardwork. And then it started…

It was a case of mutual consent divorce so I had thought of it to be an open and shut case. I came directly to the point that the draft, which had come to me, showed that the father of the child will have her custody and if we fundamentally agreed on it? To this query, the father sitting across me said something that astonished me completely.

‘Madamji, I have been telling her to give the custody of the daughter to the father. But she refuses to listen to my advise. She is young, I will get her married again but if the daughter will also stay with her, then, who will marry her?’, I was caught unaware. I was under the impression that it was a decision, which was mutually arrived at. As I turned my attention to the girl to try and explain to her that if the husband wanted the custody, then you may look at other avenues like shared custody for instance.

Suddenly on my mentioning this, I saw this petite girl turn into a lioness. She started by saying that she is my daughter, I have given birth to her. The reason why I was thrown out was because I gave birth to a girl child. I was put to 8 ultrasounds in 2 days in order to detect the gender of the baby so that they could have had the baby aborted if it was a girl. That even after the birth of the daughter, the in-laws and the husband would not cater to the needs of the child and wanted the baby to die. As she started to say this, tears rolled down her cheeks. Her gaze filled with tears behind the specs she was wearing, was so piercing that I quickly searched for the tissue box and handed it over to her just so, momentarily, I would not be the subject of her gaze. It made me uncomfortable.

The dilemma was such. Here was a father sitting right across asking me to explain to her daughter to give away the custody of the girl-child so that she could be married off to someone better and have a better future? And there was the mother who, despite being a dutiful daughter, did not want to obey her father and was crying to have the custody of her child because if the child went to her in-laws, she would be killed for being a girl. And there I was, a child-less, soon-to-be-divorced lawyer, who had to convince one or both of them to understand the predicament and to help them arrive at a decision.

It was not that the father was wrong. He said, ‘Madamji I worked very hard. I used to be a thele wala in this nizamuddin railway station. Now I have my own loading and unloading business. God has been very kind. I had only one daughter and so when I found this boy from our community with a government job, I thought she would be very happy. It was a small family. But then when my daughter told me about the mental and physical abuse that was meted out to her, it was good that she came back. Madamji, I wish she had told me what she went through earlier, atleast this girl wouldn’t be born.’

I could now see the strength of resolve in the eyes of the daughter. I could now feel how she would have stood up against her father and every other person from her community, in order to save her daughter. But how could I ignore the tears that were rolling down the cheeks of her father when he told me that after he married off his daughter, he would go and sit in his fields near Jamunaji and think about how his daughter may face atrocities in the new house. That the father was only trying to protect her daughter just as his daughter being a mother, was trying to save her daughter.

Seized with anger and helplessness, I could only try and persuade the father, citing examples of women, happily married with girl child, whose second husband had accepted them completely. Finally after much persuasion he gave in. He agreed to the custody of the child but not because I convinced him but purely because his daughter had an iron grit; that she refused to budge. Her battle must have been tiring and exhausting but she dint give up. And now as she enters into another battle, here’s hoping that she survives this one and that her daughter never has to fight such a battle.

It is very heart wrenching to see that with all the advancements that we have made as a country, there is still a considerable distance that has to be fathomed in improving plight of women.

I don’t think God is watching us.

I saw the above picture and I thought what would have been the conversation like between Asifa and the father of Unnao’s rape victim in heaven. Asifa must have asked him, ‘Uncle! in the name of your religion, they tortured me, I was running on meadows, I was playing on the fields, I was a happy 8 years old girl and they did not let me be? What was my fault?’

What would have the father replied, ‘Beti, they tortured me too, in the name of the religion they claimed to defend and therefore, got elected. I had watched my daughter grow up, I had dreams for her, I wanted her to be happy and they snatched it all away? What was her fault? Then they tortured me and killed me and my daughter is all alone now, how will she fight?’

‘It is the humanity that failed us, you and I, Beti! Conscience is dead in human being and what survives is religion, politics and slogans.’

————xxxx————–xxxx———xxxx———-

Sometimes I wonder why God makes people go through such heinous crime. Why cant God just stop all of this? God, it seems, has power to protect us. Then why dint God protect them. Why are the perpetrators being protected? Why are they moving scot-free? Why is the judiciary taking suo motu cognizance? Has the state machinery failed?

This is not the Hinduism I know of. This Hinduism where the accused persons, just by being Hindu, are being safeguarded against the heinous crime they committed. May they rot in hell, I pray to the same Gods in who’s name these so-called Hindus are trying to save these soul-less perpetrators. Have you forgotten the core tenet of Hinduism. It is Karma and Dharma. Is this your Karma and Dharma? Karma is to do the right thing, Dharma is to follow the right path. Were these followed?

I am a Hindu, a proud Hindu. I believe in my Gods and I go to them when I need help, support or just someone to shield me. I go to all 84 lacs Gods and Goddesses. I believe they will rescue me and protect me from all the wrongs that happen in this world and more so will protect me from committing any wrong to any other human being.

They say that you are born a Hindu, you cannot convert into Hinduism. As Hindus, history showcases that there were never any attempts by Hindus to convert followers of other religions. A religion which was supposed to be peaceful and believing in the concept of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam’ (the earth is one big family) has derogated to such a level where humanity is gone and only Hinduism survives.

You raped and tortured and murdered an 8 years old girl. This was the right deed? Was it the right path? How can any Hindu defend a person who is chargesheeted with such a crime? How can any lawyer safeguard such perpetrators and refrain the police from filing chargesheet? The popular opinion about lawyers is that we have sold our soul to the devil. No we haven’t, but what the lawyers in Kathua are doing is nothing less. We are officers of Court. We know the law. We work towards protecting the law, Is this how we intend to protect the law? By not letting state agency file Chargesheet? To threaten another fellow lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat, who has been fighting for rights of the father of Asifa?

Anyone who has read the chargesheet would know that had these perpetrators been hindus, they would have understood the sanctity of sanctum sanctorum.

Don’t call these accused persons Hindus because they are not Hindus. Don’t call anyone who is supporting them in name of Hinduism as Hindus, because they are not Hindus. It was never about religion. It was never about being Hindu or Muslim. I remember when I was doing Hadiya’s case, so many people claiming to be my ‘well-wishers’ advised me against it. But, it never mattered. It was not about Hindu or Muslim. It was about Rights. Don’t make it Hindu or Muslim, I beg you. We are not different, you and I. We are the same. Our blood colour is same. We have to have humanity in our heart. Religion is only a way of life. Please let it be so. Please don’t make it go beyond it. Havent we learnt enough from the Divide and Rule politics of Britishers that we still have to succumb to the small-mindedness of it all.

Here too, it is not about religion, it is about an 8 year old girl brutally raped by perpetrators who will die a death, God willing, that we shall all see. Don’t protect any of these people in name of religion. They are criminals and they need to be weeded out of the society. They are most definitely not Hindus and if God is listening to our prayers then they will be punished atrociously for the heinous crime they committed. Such soul-less bastards will meet out their fate in due course. But the soul-less humans defending them, may God put good-sense in them so that they understand that this could have happened to anyone of them. If you dig grave for others, you are sure to fall in it. Karma always finds a way back. But, I dont know if God is watching us?

Subject to interpretation

It started Tuesday night. While I was sleeping, around midnight, the sharp piercing pain started yet again. I knew the pain, I had experienced it many times before. It has become a half-yearly thing for me. Kidney Stones. The rate at which I produce these, its not even funny. Most of the times, I manage it at home by taking high-dose painkillers but this time it was unbearable. Somehow, after bearing the pain for nearly 2 hours, I decided to wake my bother (who was fortunately with me) and asked him to rush me to the hospital. He and a very good friend, took me to the nearest nursing home which was shut. Since the pain dint subside despite painkillers, They immediately rushed me to Moolchand Hospital’s Emergency.

As soon as I arrived there, a team of doctors came to my rescue and administered injections and within 30 mins or so I was ok. Painless and happy. Although full of extreme regrets. Regrets about having to put my family through this torture and then, obviously not listening to my body when it was screaming for help. This time I vividly remember the thoughts that came into my mind. Because this time the pain made me see through the life that I had built up, my commitments, my love, my passion, everything flowed right before my eyes and the fear of loosing it all was too overwhelming.

I have been operated 4 times for various problems. I am 35. Yes, it is not a good number to look at but living with physical pain and breathing disorder has become a part of life for me. My quality of life, health-wise, may have improved in many areas (like those days when I could just not walk because of being overweight and now I can run) but in certain areas, it is a challenge and to conquer that is difficult.

Whilst I am not the kind who gives in quickly but I get torn between the life I chose and the life that chose me. The ramifications are still to be seen. As the saying goes, you are one decision away from a totally different life, I sometimes wonder if we are always aware of the decision we are taking and more importantly, how many of these decisions are informed decisions. Sometimes, decisions are taken on basis of faith and trust which are inevitably broken, sometimes the decisions are taken in a guarded fashion and thereby many opportunities are missed. So is there a hard and fast rule as far as decisions go? And can anyone claim that their life has been perfect because of all the decisions they took, as they were intelligent enough to take a sound decision. I don’t think so.

I still believe in the fact that one must learn to live with the decisions they took because the circumstances vary from when a decision was taken to when the actual ramification, good or bad, was experienced. Our decisions are subject to interpretation! Interpretation varies from people to people but our own reflections on the decision should be of supreme primacy. What felt right many years ago feels so wrong now! And what felt wrong then, is to my mind, the right approach!

Nonetheless, as I sat in the car that night and passed by South Ex., my gym, the chaiwala who’s chai and bun maska are my fav, regrets came and filled me up about my decision to not focus on quality of my life. The race is long and the race is hard, and it demands sacrifices. But, it is my decision entirely to choose what I can sacrifice and what are non-negotiable areas of my being.

So when the Moolchand people called to ask as to why I went LAMA (Leave Against Medical Advise) instead of staying in the hospital, I told them that I had commitments to clients and in few hours had to appear in the Court. Choosing to stay in hospital would not have been the wisest decision as I knew how to take care of myself then. The decision however, was flawed to the extent that I need to take care of myself so much so that I am able to deal with stress effectively, without making food as an agent for instant gratification. That struggle continues and I am hoping I do make some progress.

The balance can be attained and happiness is not so distant. All one needs is a loving family, good circle of friends, efficient employees and effective support system and one can sail through without the circumstantial roadblocks that come and visit us intermittently. Living a positive life and knowing that God will protect me is all that I need! My delayed gratification, it seems, is subject to interpretation.

Until next time.

The quirkiness of discipline!

Oh the whole business of Routine! The morning routine, the evening routine, the before-going-to-bed routine, the gym routine, the skin routine, the work routine and if anyone of them is left, then do apprise me of it. This whole fix-your-routine business was supposed to make me more efficient but at the end of the day, I am only trying to fix my routine and then take it up a notch.

Having studied in a Convent School, with strict parents, I was raised as someone who was always disciplined. Maybe an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. The homework was always done in time, the books was always kept in bag for next day, the exams were not loathed and I was always ready with my lessons. But, as I grew older and disciplining my life became my own responsibility, there were many challenges. Some of them, I still struggle with.

When you are on your own, your discipline directly impacts that of others around you. Be it the team you manage, your family, your children. Your discipline and your attitude will always be looked up to by others. The whole trick on being a mentor to anyone is to be able to handhold that person to a certain degree of learning and discipline. Success to anyone comes only through disciplining. Yes, luck is a major factor but much of the success that one receives, is directly attributable to being disciplined.

If you are a great parent, it is because you are working with your child and ensuring that s/he eats right, studies well, is guided and protected every step of the way. If you are doing well professionally, there must be a saga of unending sacrifices and practicing discipline, which may have led you to where you have reached and what you have achieved. If you have a great body, then that means you are eating right and exercising regularly. If you have sufficient savings, then you understand the value of money.

But, are we capable of sabotaging our happiness, our success for lack of discipline? I believe we are. We are capable of indiscipline, losing focus and being under-confident. We are capable of telling ourselves that we don’t deserve the success for which we have worked our sorry ass off. We are capable of believing in all the stories that the world tells us and makes us question our own abilities?

That’s where the choice we make becomes important. To choose to achieve the impossible or to ingrain in us that impossible can never be achieved. I have seen people who have risen from dust and I have also seen people who have lost everything. It is our choices that make us. And, while I struggle with my own disciplining in areas in my life, where I need immediate direction, I am hoping that despite all odds, I shall rise again. For, the ones who are done and dusted are the ones who rise.

Still I Rise

BY MAYA ANGELOU

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Note to Self

Good Lord What a week this has been, or should I say month, year, decade or LIFE? Its always been tiring, exhausting, adventurous, fun-filled, share of success and failures, happy people and also the disappointed ones. The Pleasing Spree and the distant contempt, that I so oscillate in between. Hmmm! But nonetheless, its just the person that I am now. Don’t see myself changing anytime soon though! But, the current struggle is with the art of balancing, multi-tasking, disciplining or whatever it is that one would want to call it. I am tired.

No amount of apps, calendars, evernotes and to-do lists have been bringing any order in my life. I am working hard and no amount of looking at the interesting sign on my board which says, ‘It hurts now but one day it will be your warmup´ is able to give any consolation.

Litigation is an exhausting field but so is any work that one pursues, which one is passionate about. Personally, I feel being a Mom is the most exhausting profession and nothing compares to it. But, coming back to my Ram Kahani. I lack discipline. Or maybe, I am biting more than I can chew and therefore, so many areas of my life are going unattended.

The major problem area, as I see it, is in working-out. My exercise routine has gone for a toss. In my defense, I go to the gym regularly. But, most of my time is spent near coffee machine, sitting idly most of the times lazily, trying to get started with workout. The classes most definitely invigorate me. But, then I have stopped running. I am eating a lot of junk food and not exercising properly and I fear that I may put on the weight I had lost with great difficulty.

Work has taken too much priority, to the extent that I am putting more than 12-14 hours a day, 7 days. Sleep has gone for a toss and I go to bed tired and wake up tired too.

So why am I writing this blog post. Do I want sympathy, am I trying to explain to those well-meaning friends who have intervened and told me that I am going off-track. May be Yes, but what is most certain is the fact that I am writing this to myself. I am trying to have an intervention with myself, telling myself that it is time to stop and rescue myself yet again.

The wake-up call came when I had posted a pic on Instagram and a friend sent me a message saying, You look pale, are you ok? I replied about some work which I had to do for him, totally ignoring the question he posed and he replied saying, I messaged b’cos of my concern, work is secondary. Too many people this past week have said the same thing and I have been telling myself that it is probably the lipstick shade that I have changed which is causing me to look pale. I am Fine. Just Fine.

But, no I am not. I need to get discipline back in life, in terms of workout, food and a work-life balance. I need to live a joyous life and not one where I look stressed all the time, as if the great Himalayas are tied to my back.

SO here is the thing, everytime any of you reading this, see me stressed, ask me to smile… the times that anyone of you sees me lazying around the coffee machine, ask me to get up and workout… and everytime, I am putting the lighter shade of lipstick, please ask me to wear Ruby Woo!!! Help me help myself, before I forget to smile altogether.

Much Love.

P.S. I will probably get irritated or angry or offended, but if you are a friend, you would know to stick around until I am past this phase !!! J

The plight of Hindi – in English Medium.

My nani was a fan of writings of Munshi Prem Chand! Coming from ‘a hindi-bhashi’ pradesh, as also her education in Allahabad, made her an avid reader! Not just books by Munshi Prem Chand like Kafan or Seva Sadan but also Pinjar by Amrita Pritam and those by Shivani, the many poems and shayaris, but so many verses were always on her fingertips. She retired as Vice Principal of Girls Inter College.All her life, she actively directed or played roles in the Annual School Play, her most famous role being that of Budhiya from Kafan!

The habit to read came from both my parents. I still remember when every month, magazines like ‘Maya’ and ‘India Today’ would come; I would gorge on them and my love for political analysis comes from there. Mom was an avid reader too. My earliest book that I had read of her’s was Lajja by Taslima Nasreen and most stories of Manto. I was too young to understand them and it is only now that I see a lot of resemblance.

A few years back, Mom and I had gone to Book Fair in Pragati Maidan and we picked the entire series of Munshi Premchand. It was lying in my book shelf for a long time, when last week out of sheer laziness, I thought I will read it to fall asleep, only to realise that the book has kept me hooked since then. I look forward to coming back home to it and sometimes sneak in time between work, to read. His writings are women-centric and the things that he questioned in early 1920s, remain so valid in 2020s as well even though the context may have changed. In a very long time, I picked up a book which I end up reading every few hours. I dont feel like putting it down at all.

But the plight of Hindi literature or any literature in regional language is sad. We were always told to read English books over regional language books, so that our command over the Saahib’s language would improve. But, in all this effort our own language got lost somewhere. I still see so many couplets in English being bombarded on social media but not many in Hindi or Urdu. English is always fashionable but Hindi will always be considered ‘ganwaar’, the famed wrought neuroses!

In our family, our Anadita has only been speaking to us in English since she was born. And nobody ever spoke to her in English. Everyone that she was surrounded with, right from my parents, us, the support staff, we all spoke to her in Hindi, yet she replied in English. Now that she is ten years old, she still speaks in English mostly but speaks Hindi often and with hilarious consequences! But thats the trend these days. Every child speaks fluent English but not so much Hindi and they are also equipped with the knowledge as to who they have to speak in English or Hindi! I still remember when Anadita had learnt ‘by heart’ the entire poem by Harivansh Rai Bachchan- ‘Himmat Karne Walon Ki Haar Nahi Hoti’. She was in Class 1 then and we had made her learn and remember the whole poem for a class assignment. The way she spoke and gestured was unbelievable. I believe that poem still remains our fav and that of my nani and maa and will be her’s too when she grows up.

So here it is, here is my question to people reading this! Do tell me the last regional language book you read and when? Who is your favourite author in the language and favourite poet/poetess? Which is your favourite book by them? If I ask this question to anyone without putting the clause of regional language, I shall get a long list, even category wise.. fiction, non-fiction, autobiography etc.

And I am not being pompous, holier than thou. I neglected the language and did not read sufficient literature. This blog post itself is in English as a medium to express my anguish over the subject. Yet, I really hope that by this post, I am able to inspire even one of you to buy one hindi or your regional language book, my work here would be done!

Leaving you all with my fav couplet from poem:

Until next time!

On Women’s Day: Who wants to become Mr. Ram Jethmalani?

A well-meaning friend on the eve of International Women’s Day told me that I should try and appear for judicial examination instead of pursuing my career in litigation. Litigation, as per him, was not for women and that judiciary does provide a certain ‘work-life’ balance. It seems the advice was pursuant to a discussion he had with his friend who said, ‘Yaar! Kitni auratein Ram Jethmalani ban gayi.’ While I have nothing against judiciary or being a judicial officer. It is definitely a well-respected stature and well-sought after as well. Yet, not everyone becomes a Judge.

I retorted, almost caustically, that a woman has to dream to become Mr. Ram Jethmalani; besides women have to come into litigation in order to set an example for other young women, to aspire to get into litigation. Of course the well-meaning friend understood my stance on the same and dropped the well-meaning advice but it left me thinking as to whether litigation is for women or not? Is it important that women should come into judiciary? How does one achieve the unachievable?

My pinned tweet on twitter is a certain quote by the famous Justice of Supreme Court of United States – Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She says, and I quote, “When I am asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court? I say, ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” It is pertinent to mention here that a full bench in Supreme Court of USA comprises of 9 Judges. The Supreme Court of India has a sanctioned strength of 31 Judges. Presently, her Ladyship Justice Bhanumathi is the only female Judge in Supreme Court out of the 25 Judges comprising the actual present strength. The elevation of Ms. Indu Malhotra, Senior Advocate, is still in conundrum. Since independence there have been 6 female Judges in Supreme Court.

As per a news report in Indian Express which quotes the latest statistics published by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, the representation of women in judiciary is skewed with about 27% female judges in lower judiciary across the country, about 10 % in High Court and less than 1 % in Supreme Court. In a country with 48% women populace, this statistic is not very encouraging. I am sure this number must be skewed as far as women in active litigation goes.

Traditionally, a female litigating lawyer will be engaged by a client in matrimonial cases, or civil suits. But, when it comes to active criminal litigation, not many clients feel comfortable in hiring a female litigator. Also, in matters where stakes are high, the gender-bias sets in. As a young female litigator, who is just starting her career, I am asked many times by clients, ‘But, will you be able to handle this?’ ‘Young’ and ‘female’ are two words which send the alarm bells ringing in the heads of many clients.

I don’t want to make being a litigating lawyer, a gender issue. But, I do experience that for a woman being a litigating lawyer is exceptionally challenging. Whereas a man does not have as many responsibilities as a woman does, a woman has to don many hats to balance out work as well as other commitments. A woman is always the primary caregiver of the family. This does not just stem out of the patriarchal mindset of the society but also the natural instincts that a woman is born with. No, I am not saying that a man is not born with these natural instincts, all I am saying is that for a woman it is implicit in her nature to look after her family, rise up to the responsibilities and to ensure that a certain ‘work-life’ balance is maintained even if that demands her to be a ‘Superwoman’ of sorts.

So how does one become Mr. Ram Jethmalani? Well! I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t even know if I, or other female litigators, aspire to be Mr. Ram Jethmalani. I don’t know if Mr. Ram Jethmalani himself knew that he wanted to be that big? We all aspire to be better than our old self. That is ingrained in our hearts and thus, the tougher path is chosen, newer challenges are overcome, lessons are learnt. There are benchmarks in every profession and for every young lawyer, there is always an aspiration.

I remember from my MBA classes, the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs- the bottom of the pyramid was physiological (roti, kapda aur makaan), then safety, love and belonging, esteem and the top of the pyramid was self-actualization. Becoming Mr. Ram Jethmalani will be to reach the top of the pyramid, the dream of self-actualization.

While I write this blog-post, my biggest fear is that it will be interpreted that I aspire to become Mr. Ram Jethmalani. This will be an interesting topic for corridor gossips and/or the behind-the-back sneering by fellow colleagues. Some of the courageous lot will also tell me that you are being too ambitious, others (a minuscule few) will encourage me to aspire to be one. But, the question is do I want to be Mr. Ram Jethmalani? The answer to it is, I don’t think so. The reason is quite simple, no one can be him. He is an institution in himself and such aspirations are delusional. The point I am trying to make here is that I want to be me and maybe my self-actualization goal is to be able to encourage more women to take up litigation full time. So, Yes, I would like to see more women as litigators. Yes, I would want to see more women in the judiciary and Yes, I look forward to addressing a bench comprising of only female Judges in Supreme Court. I know someday that will happen. I just hope I live to see that day.

Until next time.

Disclaimer: The views are personal with utmost respect to the legal living legend Mr. Ram Jethmalani Sir.

Na kahu se dosti, na kahu se bair – stoicism in the era of ‘fake friendships’

So holi is here and with the lovely songs playing all around, colours on faces, the water balloons being thrown by kids acting like snipers; gujiyas, pakodas and dahi vadas being made, whatsapp being flooded with countless holi greetings, one can only help but wonder- are we really able to celebrate holi with malice towards none?

An interesting discussion with a friend who was writing an article on holi and the significance of various colours in our lives quipped some very interesting things about the manner in which this festival is celebrated. The way gulaal is thrown in air is an act that signifies throwing away ego. Or the way we put colours on the face of our friends or foes and then hug them itself shows that everything that happened in the past is buried, but my question is, is it really buried?

Past few weeks, I have been consciously making an effort to distance myself from people- the so-called ‘fake friends’. I don’t know how to define fake friends but it is a term, which is gaining currency, at least in my vocabulary. Unfortunately, they are the kind of people who are not loyal to you, they will be loyal to their need of hanging around with you and when that need is over, their loyalty towards you also changes. Not necessarily opportunistic but definitely not real.

As the term goes, fair-weather friends. I am blessed to have many friends both the real ones and the fake ones. The only trouble is that the friends I thought were real, turned out to be fake and interestingly, the ones who were never even friends, turned out to be real friends.

It was a gradual process, the ‘weeding out’ as it is called. I guess, as we age, the threshold for nonsense kinda decreases. Mine has reduced significantly. My friendship starts with trusting people blindly, and then slowly I observe how someone is breaking my trust or au contraire, gaining my trust. The latter is difficult since I don’t trust people because I am certain that they will break my trust. So, while my trust in people is at its peak, gradually as they break it, I keep forgiving them. Then once the threshold is crossed and I can’t take it anymore, I ‘dismiss’ the friendship. That’s when these people who kept breaking my trust, instance after instance, imagine that I was a fake friend. Well! Cest la vie!

Friends who have stuck around long enough with me, are aware that I will do anything for them. Anything. And friends who have been fake, well, to you I only have this to say, I will always be there at 4 am but know it in your heart that I will never trust you or respect you as much.

And as I scroll down my timeline, looking at people who were bitching about each other behind their backs not so long ago, are flooding my timeline, claiming to be besties on social media, I am forced to be reminded of the famous couplet of kabir,

‘Kabira khada bazaar mein, pooche sabki khair,

Na kahu se dosti, na kahu se bair.’

I hope this holi brings happiness in everyone’s life and that all of us are either blessed with true friends or none at all. Enjoy the beautiful festival, until next time.

Disclaimer: Please spare me by asking if I consider you as my real friend or fake friend, I guess you will know it yourself.

The two biggest regrets of my life!

The two biggest regrets of my life, amongst others (big and small), have been to have never witnessed the late ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh perform live and to have never met the great legal luminary Justice Leila Seth (not necessarily in that order). The former, still keeps me company on nights when I am feeling particularly low (and right now, as I write), the latter has made me who I am today.

Many years ago, as a young bride, my husband was suffering from dengue. Since the disease hits hard on immune system, the patient becomes very weak and the movement is restricted to ensure that platelets don’t fall rapidly; he was bed-ridden and would sleep a lot. I had taken off from office and would sit next to his bed, on the floor reading ‘On Balance’ – the autobiography of Justice Leila Seth. I always enjoy sitting on the cold floor, with my tea getting cold next to me, the slantness of autumn sunlight reducing by every passing hour.

He was sick for a couple of days and in between giving him papaya leaf water and crocin and attending to him, I would read the book. Justice Seth’s autobiography is a must read for all women, irrespective of whether they are lawyers or not. Her insight into relationships, raising children and pursuing career as a litigating lawyer changed my world view. I was still working on the corporate side and very happy with the fixed salary in the 9-6 environment. But, the challenges she overcame, as the country’s few litigating women lawyers practicing in the 1960s in Calcutta High Court and later Patna High Court, was motivating.

Like me, she was a first generation lawyer, with no one in her family remotely linked to legal profession. Like me, she was originally from Lucknow. And many years later, when I started my practice in Supreme Court, the very first day, I had gone to the cafeteria near Library 1 in Supreme Court, to see the place where she stood when the ‘emergency’ was declared and she was informed about the same. Even to this day, my favorite spot in the Supreme Court is that cafeteria where I have my morning cuppa of coffee, before starting my day or in between matters.

Her autobiography is one book that I turn to many times to find answers to legal issues or just issues of life, in general. To me it is my holy book. She motivated me in ways that I can never imagine. This week saw two cases which were women-oriented and I had the honor of filing on behalf of them, one being the famous Hadiya case and the other being the wink actress Priya Prakash Varrier. I have much gratitude for Haris Sir and Usman to have given me the opportunity to file the case; I have Justice Seth to thank also, as it is because of her that I could take the plunge of diving nose-deep into litigation.

Being a woman (and young, unfortunately the greying of hair hasn’t happened as much as I would have wanted, I blame it on my genes as both my parents in their 60s have lush black hair), I am asked many times by my clients about whether or not I can handle their case. And I remember how Justice Seth was called as Leila Babu, a term which was male-equivalent for her clients. Every time, I hear people tell me that Supreme Court is not functioning as it should, I am reminded of how she wrote that Supreme Court has upheld justice in matters where the law was bad. Whereas, the Court has to function within the framework of law laid down, Vishakha Guidelines (On sexual harassment of women at workplace) was one amongst the plethora of judgments, which many years later received legislative enactment.

I still remember how she had given an advice on relationships and said that one must never go to bed, cross with their partner. One must sort out their differences and then sleep. Also, a little known fact about her was that she had four children- 2 sons and 2 daughters. One of the daughters she had for the purpose of adoption by her brother since they were a childless couple. Unfortunately later, when the daughter grew up, she committed suicide. This incident had huge impact on both the brother and sister-in-law, who took very good care of the daughter as also Justice Seth. I can only wonder the trauma the family must have gone through. This speaks volumes about her strength and resilience.

A little known fact about Jagjit Singh is also similar. He and his wife, Chitra Singh, were the most beautiful ghazal singers. I grew up listening to them. I have seen many videos on youtube where both of them perform together and while Jagjit Singh would tease his wife and she would blush, the songs they sang together were full of love. Then many years later, when their son died in a road accident, Chitra Singh stopped singing. Tragedy can bind two very different lives together.

When I got to know about Jagjit Singh’s death, the only regret I had was why I did not buy those tickets to his concert in Siri Fort Auditorium. Each time I meet a fellow ghazal lover, my first question to them is whether they have seen Jagjit Singh perform live? The answer to it is, inevitably, YES and as I listen to that Yes, something inside me dies.

I got to know about Justice Seth’s death through my favorite blogger and writer Mayank Austen Soofie’s blog thedelhiwalla. I was shocked and regretted having never met her and to express my gratitude to her for having found the courage and write the beautiful book, that changed my life.

As I hear Jagjit Singh singing my favorite Sarakti Jaye Hai Rukh Se Naqaab’ contemplating on the next big step that I am about take in my life which is full of risks and an uphill task, I can hear him sing ‘Ahista Ahista’ (slowly, slowly). And I know that in this endeavor too, Justice Seth will guide me and see me through this stretch of life. Rest In Peace, you two. And on behalf of the millions of people whose life you both changed, THANK YOU!