Sesquicentennial Celebrations of the Bombay High Court

I have always had immense respect for lawyers, judges and all things judicial. This is because of three reasons. First being that my father himself has done LL.B when he was working with state electricity board as an engineer. And the sort of books he used to read even otherwise like Companies Act, Constitution of India and other law related books used to make me wonder what is it that interests him to read such things? I still remember when a lot of his other colleagues used to visit our home and huddled up in a room to discuss the intricacies of various cases – probably as a part of the course which they were pursuing. It made for an interesting scene - all men above the age of forty pouring over books late into the night and animatedly discussing law cases! There must be something interesting about law, I thought. The second one
is that in Hindi cinema so many movies depict honest lawyers fighting cases defending the innocent with such verve that it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by them – the lawyers. There used to be an interesting lawyer based serial that used to come at prime time and was one of my favorites because of its different theme. And lastly, because people like Arun Jaitley, Kapil Sibal and others who regularly appear on televised debates all have been lawyers. And they used to puncture the opposition’s arguments in a debate like a needle piercing a balloon.

Some days ago I happened to read in a local paper that the Bombay High Court was holding an exhibition open to the public celebrating its 150 years. And it had various interesting items on display. Despite of holding lawyers and all things judicial in high honor, I never had really enjoyed going to courts for stamp papers, affidavits for passports and the like. There used to be so much chaos, the constant clutter of typewriters and the ‘agents’ who could get things done for you. But this provided an opportunity for a different experience like a visitor and not for a purpose. I headed to the Bombay High Court on a Saturday morning. They police was camped near the barricades serving as an entrance. After passing through a detector I asked for directions. The exhibition was on the second floor. The whole court building has got this old British look which many buildings in the south of Bombay have. As I neared the entrance there was a register in which I had to enter my name, address and phone number.

As I entered I somehow got reminded of the permanent Indian historical exhibition at Nehru Centre, Worli. Inside there were few large portraits of the people related to the history of the court and huge display boards. On one side there were innumerable legal papers on display. Some old land deeds of 19th century, some agreements, their peculiar stamps, the circular punches in them so that they couldn’t be re-used – I noticed it all. There was also created a court like appearance with a judge’s chair, witness stand etc. In one of the glass casings there was an ‘Advocate’s Roll 1924-1949’ having entries and signatures of Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala dated 6th September, 1946. It also had those of Taraporewala dated 15th July 1946. A little ahead it had the ‘attorney’s roll 1824-1976’. One of the names was of Darius Jehangir Kakalia dated 21st October, 1976. Another one had a ‘Letters Patent’ of King George III of 1797 establishing recorder’s court.

Near the exit was another long display of fiscal of princely states of India, namely: Baroda state, Benares state, Gwalior state, Mysore state amongst many more. Because of the not so orderly arrangement and no directions whatsoever I somehow ended covering the middle of the exhibition towards the last. And it was the best. It had the application of 1923 for admission as advocate of Mr. Ambedkar signed ‘I have the honour to be, sir, your most obedient servant’. That sign was humbling enough. Then it had a gem. The application of Mr. M.K. Gandhi dated 16th November, 1891 for admission. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at it for minutes together. It was like seeing a small part of history live. And I did notice the three tiny slanted lines for cancelling an incomplete letter between the alphabets of ‘c’ and ‘t’ in ‘practise’. That was monumental I would say. A cancellation signaling he almost committed a spelling mistake in his application and was right in front of me!

Few more wonders followed. The order or whatever it was admitting Mr. Vallabhai Javerbhai Patel as an advocate date 14th February, 1913. I couldn’t help but make a mental note of the spelling of ‘Vallabh’ mentioned below the display. Then there was a request by Mr. B.G. Tilak for supply of prints of evidence. It was followed by an application dated 18th August 1896 of Mr. M.A. Jinnah for admission as advocate. And most surprisingly, there was an order dated 17th January, 1923 for “removal of the name of – Prisoner M.K. Gandhi from the, Roll of Barristers”. This was exactly what was mentioned on the old paper. The huge but spartan chandeliers had large spherical glass coverings seeming like orbs of clairvoyance.

After viewing all of this I went for a second time near the application of Mr. M.K. Gandhi. I stood so near to it that had it not been for the glass separating me from it I could have smelled it. Whenever I get my hands on a book I first smell it. It gives me a sense of pleasure. Then I headed towards the exit and there were hundreds of photographs in black and white of people of Bombay – of tailors, washer men, fishermen, monkey charmers, women, and nurses and alike. And finally before exiting I went near Mr. M.K. Gandhi’s application for a third time to bask in the palpable greatness emanating from that withered paper. ‘Withered Papyrus’ may I mention…


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