I shadowed the attorney I’m interning for at the High Court in Chandigarh again.
Today, his paralegal was away, so I didn’t have a babysitter. Surprisingly, I managed to find my way around the courthouse to the waiting area room, aware of the people that followed me with their eyes. I took a seat next to a middle-aged attorney with a trimmed black mustache who sat reading over his case files. He looked up after he finished reading and recognizing me from the day before, he asked me a question. I assume it meant something along the lines of, “What year of law school are you in?” but (a), I’m terrible at understanding when people mumble Hindi at me really fast (which tends to happen a lot here, as I stare at them blankly and lean in, asking them to repeat themselves), and (b), I haven’t the slightest clue how the specifics of law school work in India. I looked at the man for a few seconds, as if the question would somehow gain meaning if I let it sink in, and then gave up and told him in English that I wasn’t in law school, but was from New York and volunteering for the month. He gave me the same look I gave him. He seemed startled by my accent and by how fast I spoke. I smiled to myself thinking, Mister, this is what I feel like all the time. He heard the words “New York” clearly, so he asked if I was born and raised there, why I was Chandigarh, and what I was doing in court. A while later, another attorney came and sat by him, and so he introduced me as, “this young lady is visiting from New York.” The other attorney, an elderly Sikh man, smiled at me, and said “Oh ok. You know there’s something about you – I could tell. I think it is the way you dress or something – I could tell.” Gee thanks. That’s what I needed to hear. I looked around and decided that he was wrong – my outfit blended in perfectly.
As I listened to cases that day, I began to pick up on specifics in the courtroom. As they would in America, people would stand when the judge entered or left the courtroom. Instead of “Your Honor,” the attorneys presenting would intertwine “My Lord” into their interactions with the judge. As they presented their arguments…actually, I shouldn’t even call them arguments because that implies some type of heated debate, where in fact, most of the proceedings I witnessed were extremely civil and courteous. As they presented their cases, they said things like “May it please your Lordship,” and “Much obliged to your Lordship.” And when I said civil and courteous, I wasn’t kidding. In court, the attorneys referred to each other as “My Learned Friend,” even though at times you could tell they would much rather throw down the books and duel it out with their fists in the middle of the courtroom. They had to be polite and proper though, so “My Learned Friend” it was.
I remember how confused I was when hearing my first case. The judge was speaking to the attorney for the plaintiff as if he were the plaintiff. “But you claim that the land was in your name?” The attorney responded, “The land was in my name.” I watched, puzzled. At first, I thought that perhaps the man wearing the black gown was not the attorney at all, but rather the plaintiff acting as a witness. But that didn’t make any sense. Finally, I realized that the attorneys, for the purposes of the trial, were assuming the roles of their clients. The judge would ask them questions as if they were their clients, and they would respond in this way as well. I found it fascinating. It was also a bit amusing at times, when attorneys would be heard yelling “I’m not related to him!” or “She was not my wife!”
As I watched the eyes follow me around that day with the same knowing look, I decided that I would stop being so self-conscious about how I didn’t belong; I was having an awesome experience, observing court cases on the other side of the world and if I didn’t fit in, that was ok because when I would get home, it wouldn’t matter. I would have a wealth of new knowledge from these experiences, and it would last me a lifetime.
Today was my uncle’s birthday! We went shopping for his present the night before, and also picked up a divine chocolate cake from a bakery nearby. For dinner, we went to my favorite restaurant in the world (literally), a Chinese place called Shangri-La. A food coma is settling in right about now…