In Court

I went with a friend to a court hearing for a small matter, and took these notes:

Ceiling fans whirr. A faded litho of Manu the Lawgiver on the wall behind the judge, and below that a name in large letters: G.R. Thangamaligai – a prominent jeweller here – can it also be the judge's name? No, it's a wall calendar, supplied by the jewellery company.

The lawyers in black robes face each other across a dark wooden table. The opposing lawyer has a two-day stubble, oiled grey hair, a vermillion tika on his forehead, steel-rimmed glasses. He smiles at us. He must have been quite handsome when he was young, but shabbiness has overtaken him.

The walls are washed yellow up to about six feet high, greyish-white above. Deeply recessed, arched windows. Metal beams on the ceiling. Wooden benches and stiff wooden chairs with white plastic canework, set around the walls for the petitioners. Tube lights suspended from the ceiling at the end of metal rods. Surrounding the judge, wooden cupboards and shelves crammed with ancient files.

The judge, who looks neat and serious, talks quietly to the lawyers. A woman calls out case numbers. The court reporter taps on a manual typewriter – you can hear the separate sound when he presses the shift key for upper case letters, and when he slides the carriage return brrrrrrrrrrr along its track. There is a computer, but no one is using it. The proceedings are in Tamil. The lawyer says something, waits for the typist, speaks again.

I can't understand anything, but very soon the hearing is over. Nothing seems to have happened. A new date is given.

The opposing lawyer's ragged black gown, flapping behind him as he walks away.

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