Poetic Justice

I am afraid we have been most unkind to our judges these past few days, accusing them of lacking in both humour and the finer sensitivities. We regard them as dull persona, so boring that they are unable to entertain even a doubt, their vocabulary limited to ” whereas” and ” preponderance of evidence” and “catena of rulings ” etc. Not so. My eyes have now been prised open by an Additional Sessions Judge in Delhi who earlier this month delivered his judgment in verse! Seriously, you can google it. He was adjudicating on an application for bail which the police, as is there won’t, was forcefully resisting. The ADJ, after discussing the background of the case in flowery doggerel, granted bail but had a cryptic message for the prosecution in the final stanza of his order:

” Take your freedom from the cage you are in,

Till the trial is over, the state is reigned in;

The state proclaims to have the cake and eat it too,

The court comes calling: before the cake is eaten, bake it too.”

This is not only good law, it is good culinary advice too: you can’t cook someone’s goose without baking it, even though our Supreme Court these days has an innovative recipe in which there are different sauces for the goose and for the gander. But I am on a different point here: doggerel jurisprudence is definitely preferable to sealed cover or Master of the Roster jurisprudence, it lends a softness to the harshness of the law and somewhat softens the pain of the convict. For example, instead of being told that he is sentenced to be executed, an accused would much rather prefer these lilting lines:

” And so, to put this case reluctantly to bed,

You shall swing by the neck until you are dead.”

Why it almost sounds like a lullaby, the type Neerja used to sing to our two sons when they gave her too much trouble at bedtimes as enfants terrible. And who knows, this thing might catch on, and very soon petitions might also be couched in verse. Arnab Goswami’s next Article 32 plea might begin like this:

And may it please your Lords,

Even I am completely out of words

To describe how the law, is trying to overawe,

My TRP given right to say that day is night,

And to stretch the truth along with my vocal cords.”

Or the next time the irrepressible Mr. Prashant Bhushan posts a tweet about his favourite judge the Attorney General may string him up with this poetic advice:

Having read all the tweets, it is my advice

That Mr. Bhushan’s words are no surprise;

He has said nothing new

These things we all knew,

But since voicing the truth amounts to dissent

Therefore he is held liable for contempt.

Surely, this verse is worth more than just one rupee ?

Reverting to the Delhi case, however, I learn that the accused has still not been released because the chaps in the police station are all in a huddle trying to figure out what exactly the order meant. More accustomed to the curse than the verse, to crime rather than rhyme, they are now thinking of consulting Mr. Shashi Tharoor who is always happy to encourage anyone who displays a scripturient urge.

I would love to be in court to hear these poetic exchanges between bench and bar; why, it would be almost like a “kavi sammelan ” in my home town of Kanpur ( minus the Kanpuria expletives, of course) or the recent Tata Literary Festival without the self-serving censorship nobody told poor Mr. Noem Chomsky about last week: he had come to court expecting to get a fair hearing, but discovered his name had been removed from the cause list, just as the Tanishq ad had been removed from your screens. Must say the Tatas have been getting pretty good at showing a yellow streak when confronted with any likely unpleasantness or criticism. And speaking of colours, pretty soon they may even rebrand their RED LABEL tea as SAFFRON LABEL tea- that would immensely please a certain ex- tea seller, what?

But the celestial Calliope, the Greek goddess of poetry, does not reside in Indian courts only. Courts in America too mix the lyrical with the judicial, at least when they are not sentencing people to the electric chair by the dozen . ( Incidentally, I hear that TESLA is coming out with a more fuel-efficient version of the electric chair, called FRYEM.) Here is a gem I discovered in a law journal. It is from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and involved a dispute between one Mrs. Liddle and Mr. Schulz. The former had bought two emus from Mr. Schulz to start an emu farm but the emus refused to breed, probably because they were not amused by their job description. Liddle filed a suit against Schulz for recovery of the price paid by her. Losing in the trial court, she then filed an appeal in the SCOP. The appeals judge was Michael Eakin. Dismissing the case, the judge ruled, in iambic pentameter:

” The learned trial court, in well-reasoned words,

Held Liddle’s case was as flightless as the birds;

And her appeal, in turn, we must now find

As barren as the breeders herein maligned. ”

Now, I must confess, I would not at all mind losing a case if it was put to me in such rhythmic and poetic form. So here’s a suggestion for all our judges: instead of writing 2000 page judgments or orders in Sanskrit, why not simply pen a sonnet, limerick, ode, elegy, ballad, acrostic, or the wonderful Indian “doha” ( of Kabira fame )? It would save the courts time, educate the bar in the finer use of language, and send the accused to jail in a happy frame of mind, lustily singing: ” Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage…” Poetry can transform lives, and perhaps the law too.

I now await the elevation of the said ADJ to the High Court and keenly look forward to him finding words that rhyme with ” habeas corpus”. Once this milestone is reached then perhaps our courts will be able to overcome their reluctance to engage with these two words. That would truly be poetic justice.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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