Air Vice Marshal Rajeev Hora
The sonnet is one of the most famous forms in English poetry. Traditionally, it has fourteen lines which are linked by an intricate rhyme scheme. It is often an expression of some kind of ‘desire or love’. In a similar vein, Advocate Seth’s love for English literature was only next to his passion for ‘all things legal’. Not surprisingly, he always got reminded of Shakespeare’s well-known Sonnet II, whenever he saw his grandson Ankur.
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Then being asked where all thy beauty lies—
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days—
If thou couldst answer “This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse”,
Proving his beauty by succession thine.
Ankur was indeed such a fine lad. Handsome, intelligent, bold, respectful and yet feet firmly on ground. Ankur had come down to spend the weekend with the old man as the family was celebrating the 75th birthday of the paterfamilias. Seth was quite fond of him as his presence refreshed the memories of his own youthful days.
Over an evening cup of tea, he asked, “Grandpa, one question often baffles me. That is, how are you able to fight someone’s case in court knowing fully well that he has indeed committed the crime? Say a murder for instance.”
“Very good question Ankur”, remarked Seth. In fact, Seth was quite expecting this ‘ethical dilemma’ poser from his brilliant grand-child who was at the cross-roads of making a career choice.
Joining the legal profession in the footsteps of his worthy grandfather was also a serious option.
Seth had after all made quite a name for himself as a criminal lawyer. He had battled all sorts of odds after the partition to establish himself. His reputation and fame were well-spread in the district, primarily because of some first-rate advocacy and principled living. Laws of nature being what they are, he was now approaching his sunset years.
He responded after a small pause, “Our job son is very similar to that of a doctor. He doesn’t berate you for catching a cold in the winter rain. He diagnoses you and identifies a suitable cure. You commit the same folly again and he treats you yet again.”
“Similarly, we don’t question the client too much on his moralities and intentions. If we were to do this, we would be clouding our minds from the evidence and the provisions of the law that could save him. My loyalty is to my profession. That ensures he gets a fair trial. You can rather call it the lawyer’s ‘dharma’. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are neither on trial nor sitting in judgement. Either way, someone else is.”
“I understand that somewhat Grandpa but at this stage, find it difficult to accept”, said Ankur. Seth nodded approvingly with a smile. He had been through such predicaments many times.
“That reminds me of Grandpa. Please tell me about the famous Munna Bhai murder case. Everyone in the family talks about it.”
Seth recounted, “Ah! that one. I guess we were just plain lucky. Nevertheless, it brought me into some unwarranted limelight. Incidentally, I was not the original counsel for the case.”
“Baghah Sher, a notorious gangster. It was somewhere in the mid-70s. A dozen or so murder or assault cases were running against him simultaneously. Always on the run, he was finally nabbed by the police. The case went for a long trial and he was awarded the death penalty for the murder of a rival gang leader Munna Bhai.”
“All his post-conviction appeals had been exhausted at the highest levels. Finally, the date and time for his hanging had been set. Just three days prior to his ‘date with the gallows’, his entire family landed up at the doorstep of my chamber. They were desperate and were willing to go to any extent to save Baghah. I told them that it was the end of the road but they wouldn’t relent.”
Finally I told them, “Okay, I have a wild idea. I am not too sure whether it will work or not. But there is no harm in trying. It will cost you not more than 200 rupees. Further, I am not going to charge you anything for this unusual consultancy.” Ankur was all ears.
“If you recall, that was the era of telegrams and not emails and stuff. So I told them to send out Express telegrams to every identified stakeholder in the loop. The Jailor, The Police Superintendent, the District Magistrate, the Judges in all the relevant courts, the Law Ministry and even up to the President who could possibly give him a reprieve.”
Bhaghah’s folks were ready to clutch on to any piece of straw that was available and immediately consented. So out went the Express telegrams with a simple message, “FRESH EVIDENCE DISCOVERED IN MUNNA BHAI MURDER CASE. ACCUSED BHAGHAH SHER’S HANGING MAY BE STAYED. PLEASE TREAT MATTER EXTREMELY URGENT!.”
“You will not believe the cascading effect and confusion that these telegrams caused in the system. The Jailor onwards, every official went to his senior for guidance as they did not want to be faulted in such a high-profile case. The senior in-turn was not too sure because he himself had received an identical communication. The matter escalated in record time.”
“Well to cut a long story short, much to everybody’s surprise including my own, Bhaghah Sher’s hanging was stopped just 12 hours before the due time. The case was ordered to be reopened for hearing of the ‘so-called fresh evidence’.”
“Very frankly, the new evidence was nothing earth-shattering but only a debatable point regarding the gunshot direction. You see Ankur, we lawyers have a superstitious belief that if a hanging is put off once, it is very difficult to hang the convicted person thereafter. And that is exactly what happened. Bhaghah’s punishment was reduced from a death sentence to 14 years Life imprisonment.”
Ankur looked at his grandfather in awe, “Wow! That must have been amazing!”
Seth paused for a moment and continued, “Yes indeed Ankur. It was big news at that time and gave my practice a big boost. But the story is still incomplete. You will not believe what happened finally. The Munna Bhai gang were understandably not happy at all with the revised judgement. They waited for 14 years. And the day Bhagah Sher got released after completing his sentence, they shot him outside the prison gates. It happened in broad daylight.”
“Phew! What an end!” Ankur exclaimed, “I realize you can shield them but not redeem them. And for redemption grandpa?”
“For that son, you have to fight your own battles in a different court, where you are the counsel and accused as well.”
It was time for Seth to go for his evening walk.
Air Vice Marshal Rajeev Hora superannuated from the Indian Air Force after 37 years of service. He is an accomplished aviator and test-pilot with extensive operational experience. Blog: seekmediation.com
Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times