January 25, 2006

Cross, uncross

The story of an accident, it doesn't seem to end. Five years later, I make a first court appearance. A month later, I make another one, at a different court in the criminal case connected with the same accident. Still another month later ...


This story does have an ending. Well, a sort-of-ending. Well, an ending for now.

A month after my last visit to the urine-scented courtroom, I return. The taxi-driver is there, and he greets me with warmth. Turns and beckons to an unshaved young man in a shabby brown coat and broad yellow tie.

"My lawyer," says the taxi-driver.

The lawyer, the driver and I step out into the corridor, where we get introduced. This conversation ensues.
    Lawyer (in English, to the taxi-driver): This is your eyewitness?

    Me: Yes.

    Lawyer (to me): Yes, so tell me, what did you see?

    Me: Well, there was this man lying on the side of the road. This man's taxi had just hit this rickshaw ...

    Lawyer (to the taxi-driver): Where is the rickshaw-driver? Why haven't you brought him here? And who are you in this case?

    Small pause as the taxi-driver and I look at each other in bewilderment, then roll our eyes.

    Taxi-driver: The rickshaw-driver is dead! My taxi hit his rickshaw and he fell out!

    Lawyer: Oh, you see, I haven't read the case papers yet.
Not the best of starts to the day's proceedings, but there it is.

Later that morning, our case is actually called and the judge asks me to stand to one side of the courtroom. As I wait for my examination to begin, I catch the eye of a constable from the far side of the room, motioning frantically at me. I'm baffled for an instant, then I realize he wants me to uncross my arms. Not allowed to stand like that in court, he mouths.

I uncross my arms. Almost inadvertently, as if they have defiant little minds of their own, they cross themselves again, and again. Luckily the cop is otherwise occupied. Luckily, because I don't want to be hauled up for contempt of court for crossing my arms.

The examination begins with the Government pleader saying to me, in Hindi: "I'll ask you questions in Hindi, is that OK?". "Yes", I say, also in Hindi. Then he proceeds, but asks every single question in English. No exceptions. And there's nothing to his examination but a run through of my statement. As usual, the judge rephrases my replies for the steno to take down.

The yellow-tied lawyer takes notes furiously. Pages and pages of them, so many that I grow apprehensive. What's he going to spring on me when it's his turn? And has he had the time to read the case papers?

But his turn is delayed. Immediately after my examination, a man rushes in and whispers in the judge's ear. His Honour nods, then says two words to the people assembled: "Video conference." Gets up and leaves. Somebody tells me that he has to be at a video conference, whatever that is, upstairs. "He'll be back soon," says this somebody.

I'm frustrated, but in truth, it is "soon": no more than 15 minutes away and he's back, to the accompaniment of now-familiar constabulary hissing.

The yellow-tied lawyer rises. I cross, then uncross my arms. His cross-examination boils down to this: he puts it to me that in my statement, I had said there were two rickshaws present (mine and the one in the accident); but in my examination, I claimed there were three (mine, the one in the accident and another). Admittedly, the judge's dictated version of my answers can be interpreted to suggest three rickshaws. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head to one side, sure.

But once we get that cleared up, the lawyer says he has no more questions.

The judge tells me I can go.

"But what will happen now?" I ask.

"It doesn't matter," he says with a generous smile. "You're free to go."

"Yes, but what will happen now?" I repeat. Pointing to the taxi-driver, I say: "I'm interested in what happens to him."

The judge goes into his huddle with his Man Friday.

"January 24", he announces.

On my way out, the urine aroma is at its ripest.

1 comment:

m. said...

erm, ouch? that must've totally killed the awe (?!) that was supposed to be part of beholding the Forum where the World's Largest Democracy exercises its jurisprudence.
awful!! the lawyer didnt even read his papers? :-|