Saturday, 15 October 2016

Book review: Legal Confidential

Legal Confidential: Adventures of an Indian Lawyer
Ranjeev C Dubey
Penguin Books India 2015

If like me, you believed that the legal system has been designed to help the wronged, uphold dharma, and deliver justice to one and all, think again.  This book reveals the truth behind some of the notorious underhand deals that take place in the great Indian courts.

That our courts frequently fail to deliver justice to the aggrieved was a given, and I wrote as much in my book, Angst.  But just how bad the system is, and the reasons why the legal system is bereft of any moral principles is revealed in this no-holds-barred account by Dubey.  

The shortcomings of the legal system is laid threadbare even as Dubey recounts his own personal struggle with the system.  Beginning with his struggling days at the Tees Hazari courts in Delhi, moving on to Dubey's liaison with the managers in the law firm that he is a part of, his struggles thereof, and his eventual exit from the company, it is one startling revelation after another.

Dubey does not mince words, and reveals the nature of the characters he encounters during his legal career, and their misdemeanours as he interprets them.

So we get to learn about the way Tees Hazari courts function, the role of the key players inside of a trial court, the corruption inherent in the legal system, the debauchery that some practitioners unhesitatingly indulge in, the unscrupulous nature of the legal system, the dog-eat-dog competitive nature amongst lawyers, and several examples of legal proceedings involving national, multinational and government agencies. 

Dubey declares, rather ominously, that he learnt soon enough that justice didn't necessarily have a great deal to do with legal system.

And consider this damning excerpt from the book:
When the courts did function - about half the time they should have - I had myself a crash course in amoral pragmatism.  I was bewildered by the idea that the legal community rarely looked at the rights and wrongs of any legal issue.  As far as lawyers were concerned, there was the law, and then there were the loopholes.  If they could fit the facts of their case into a loophole, well that was great.  If they could not, they could change the facts to fit the loophole.  When it comes to helping your client win a point, the truth had no space between two cynical lawyers and a bewildered court.  No one tarried a moment before lying through their teeth, posturing about things they knew were untrue, or putting on an emotional drama based on complete fabrications.  Within two years, I had become an existential nihilist: there was no objective truth in the world, only random data reinterpreted and packaged into a court case.  I had discovered the ethical void.     
It is this ethical void that is probably responsible for all the cases of injustice that we get to see in the country: be it in the case of Jessica Lal, Nirbhaya, or the pampered superstar getting away with shooting animals and running over people.  

The writing throughout the book has an irreverent, pithy, devil-may-care tone.  Apart from the introductory note by the author, there are no other appendices, references, or acknowledgements, which sets the book apart from the usual narrative non-fictional accounts.

It would have been interesting to know about the role Dubey's family played in his struggles, which could have shed some light on just what goes on in the personal lives of legal eagles.

Towards the end, when you are screaming at Dubey not to listen to his chief tormentors, the narrative ends rather abruptly leaving you wondering if he did leave them to launch his own law firm.  Does this mean there a sequel in the offing?

Also, is that his son on the cover page?

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Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Book review: Beyond the Call of Duty

Beyond the Call of Duty
V Raghunathan & Veena Prasad
Harper Collins India 2015

We usually look back at the British Raj with derision - for very good reasons.  However here is a book that shows the opposite: a look at the few notable exceptions to the usual horrid British agents, who went beyond their call of duty to work for the upliftment of the 'natives'; as in us. 
We usually only remember the Clives and the Simons, as their exploits are recounted in our history books, but this book comes up with a list of some well known and some less known names of British civil and/or military establishment.  They worked - sometimes willingly, sometimes more indirectly - to make a difference to the society they were part of at the time.

So the book recounts the following names and their field of achievement in the period of the Raj:
  • William Jones: Asiatic Society
  • W H Sleeman: fighting the thug system
  • Mountstuart Elphinstone: education
  • James Prinsep: Indian history/geography & numismatics
  • Arthur Thomas Cotton: building dams
  • R M Stephenson & John Chapman: railways
  • The Cunningham brothers: archeology, Sikh history & advocacy of Mysore royalty
  • Ronald Ross: malaria research
  • Mark Tully: journalism
Of these, Prinsep's story is astounding due to the sheer number of useful pursuits he undertook during his brief lifetime; Ross' painstaking research on the cause of malaria is awe-inspiring and gets the maximum coverage in the book; while Tully's is the only contemporary British example of any significant contribution to the Indian cause.  

Raghunathan and Prasad relate the accounts of these gentlemen in an engaging manner, and their belief in the justness and magnanimity of their actions is evident throughout the book.  

It is interesting to note that it was the Madras royalty of those days that conspired against the King of Mysore, which resulted in the annexation of the Mysore throne by the British.  

I guess the inter-state rivalry between these two states predated the Cauvery issue!  

Personally I would have liked to find out in depth about Francis Cunningham's role in the King of Mysore getting back his right to adopt a heir to the throne.

Nevertheless this is a noteworthy contribution, and should be taken into account by those looking to rename our towns, roads, circles and parks, so that deserving names such as those above are not erased in error.

The rest of the names, if at all retained, should be kept only to remind us of the grave error we committed in letting someone else occupy the country and loot it, so that this never happens again. 

Another bonus is the watered-down but easy-to-understand-and-remember account of the establishment of colonial rule in India in the introduction to the book.

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