Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Tale of an Awestruck Intern

Bombay, the most crowded, crammed, and humid of places one could have chosen for an internship. Yet on that warm April morning just before the crack of dawn, when I glanced at my reflection on the rearview mirror, even in that shadowed taxi, I could see eyes that shone like stars at twilight. I am sure that they owed their glint as much to the tender reminiscent light in my eyes as to the dazzling streetlights. I had spent enough time in the city before, for memories to have not flashed by as I swayed and bounced in my taxi seat. The motel I was supposed to stay in wasn’t far enough from the train station for those reflections to have lasted. Very soon, I found myself in a cozy little room, waiting for the first light and its daily companion, the newspaper.

A tabloid known for churning out the city's gossip has a huge classifieds section for wanderers like me to hunt out a decent paying guest accommodation. For the next four days, going through that section and calling up the various Patils and Patels it referred one to, was the only job I had besides eating and sleeping. One such agent led me to an Anglo-Indian locality in Mahim, a place famous for its fishermen and of course, as I was to discern later, its noisome smell. So, on that sweaty afternoon, as I treaded upon those wooden stairs, a preconception of the place was already in place while those thumps echoed in that murky stairway. A faint light led me to a door on the third floor, and just as I was about to ring the bell, those thumps resonated once again. Soon, a pretty girl, late in her teens emerged from the staircase and finding me in front of her flat, asked in a commanding tone, "Yes, can I help you?" I shot back while gazing at her dreamily bright eyes, "Are you looking for a paying guest?" She nodded in affirmation and led me into that abandoned room of their flat which must have borne with a host of strangers in eighty years of its sociable existence. The girl informed me that her mother was out and I could always come back for finalizing the deal. Thus, yet again I was breathing in the sunless air of that forsaken stairway. As I descended in that darkness, the fear of falling into the unholy depths of some pit below persisted till I came out in the sunlight. There was nothing wrong with the place as such. But the mere thought of dealing with that stairway at 10 o'clock in the night sent several chills down my twenty year old spine and kept me from going back again.

Meanwhile, my internship under one of the better known criminal lawyers of the city was already underway. The simplicity of his chambers reflected that of his own. His juniors and staff carried themselves with similar subtlety even as his aura took over the chambers and its occupants during his presence there. This humble ambience hardly spoke about the high profile clients it witnessed every day. For the first few days, I accompanied him to the Courts in his black sedan. But during those drives to downtown Bombay, the silence that prevailed inside that remarkably noiseless sedan, while saffron rays of sunlight filtered through the window on my side, had an overwhelming effect that left me voiceless even after getting off. Very soon, I was traveling with his juniors and even alone.

By then, I had found myself a comfortable accommodation in a cordial Maharashtrian home at Shivaji Park, a peaceful neighbourhood of this blaring metropolis. For the inhabitants, the huge treeless park at the centre of the locality was an oasis of calm away from the city bustle. Under the shadow of those ancient trees on the sidewalk that ran along the park, walked the health cautious and the love struck. And when a fleeting visitor treaded on that path, his dodging skills were put to test while hawkers and stray dogs looked on from the edges.

The High Court, which stands facing the Arabian Sea, must have at some point in time epitomized the pride and glory of the British Administration that was behind its making. But today, one can barely see it from the famous Fountain square, owing to a state of the art building belonging to one of the prominent banks of the world that stands in between. Our judicial system and the Indian Administrative Services are among the notable legacies, the British left behind. While the former still functions from ancient buildings at the erstwhile Presidency towns like Bombay, the latter has gone on to become the pinnacle of middle class aspirations. Most of my days were spent in panting up and down this archaic building while observing the proceedings our chambers got involved in. As I strolled in its crowded corridors, while uncertain puffs of wind rose into a steady blow and fluttered the gowns of the lawyers who walked along, inspiration was all I ever drew.

The evenings were spent in leafing through the bulky briefs that adorned those crammed shelves in our chambers. While I stayed sunk in those papers, and absorbed drafting skills, the juniors remained engaged in their daily slog and the chief in his marathon meetings. By the time I headed for home, the brisk walk of the morning was reduced to a sluggish stagger even as the amber light steadily flashed at the traffic signals. If a late night shower was a thing I was getting used to, then girdling the world in print at 12 o’clock in the night was certainly a new routine.

Sunday came like a catharsis. It signified my liberation from the mundane. Not even one could pass by without the Regal theatre’s rear stalls having me in time for the matinee show. The movie was time and again followed by a flavourful meal at Baghdadi's near the Taj Hotel. So when I headed back in the evening, the reflections on the movie watched, the cuisine tasted and the crowd observed produced a heady mix of thoughts that lasted till I got off at the bus stop.

Those two months in Bombay had passed quite swiftly. One never realized when the scorching summer gave way to the showery monsoon and the humidity succumbed to the drizzle. So on that overcast evening, while heading back to the chambers on my last day at work, as the black sedan sped up the Marine Drive and as I stared at the Arabian Sea, words like 'power', 'money', 'fame', 'Bombay' and 'practice' did several rounds of my head and conjured up a very rosy picture. But as the raindrops trickled down the windshield, I realized that the owner of that sedan had put in more years of practice than I had invested in living. So by the time I got off the car, my thoughts had already trailed off. Nevertheless, the strong gusts of wind still had a taste of rain in them and more importantly, those eyes were still starry.


Anonymous said...

You write well Bantu. Very impressed.

Your cousin in NZ

Debanshu Mukherjee said...

Joi da?

Hope you have been doing well...