The Final Argument

As a 14-year-old it was beyond me as to why my father wanted my presence when Kailash — a drunkard rickshaw-puller employed for small chores at the hotel owned and run by my father for better part of his life — requested my father to talk his daughter into abandoning her abusive husband for good. Even today I can only speculate, for I never asked and he never told his reasons. But, if he wanted to educate me in the strange ways of the world, well, he did succeed I suppose. 

Her husband lived in a nearby village and kept her with him only so long as her money lasted, after which he would beat her up and throw her out. And she would return back to her native town, start working in the houses as a maid, save money and go back to her husband with the savings. He would readily take her in, eat, drink and make merry till the savings lasted, after which she would again find herself on the street. The cycle continued for long. She had the option of leaving her husband and re-marrying without much fuss, for her husband wouldn’t have bothered. But that was one thing that never crossed her mind, nor did she even as much as entertain the suggestion. 

Her father, Kailash, couldn’t bear to see his daughter suffer that miserably. And so he approached my father to talk some worldly sense into his daughter. My father was his last hope. And I was to witness the undoing of the hope. 

In the early hours of the morning while the hotel waited for its first guests my father sat there hearing intently with a grim, plain face as Kailash retold the whole story while his daughter and I heard on. She was sitting on the floor, cross-legged while I stood with my arms crossed against my chest trying to look as serious as I could manage. Puzzled and startled, I heard the bizarre story for the first time, and I am sure my face must have displayed some funny colours, for my father cast a glance towards me and the hint of a smile appeared on his face momentarily though his light grey eyes remained still betraying no emotion at all.

Kailash had told the story in different words many times over to my father, but — as I would gradually come to know in due course — it was standard practice with my father to make the complaining party place the facts afresh so that the other side could agree or disagree to the presented facts. And if the complaining party changed the facts even minutely or watered down the tone for some reason, he drew certain adverse conclusions. “Those who can’t speak for themselves can’t speak for anyone, and must not be trusted to defend anything and anyone,” he once told me in his typically even tone. 

After Kailash was done with retelling the story as passionately and as angrily as he ever did, my father looked at the girl and asked if it was all true. She nodded slowly. 

I had thought she would say something to the effect that it was not all that bad, and her husband was not quite so evil. None of it. It was how it was. No defenses. No explanation. 

“So, why do you continue with him when he hurts you so much all the time and every way? He does not even provide you with the basics,” my father pointed out without taking his eyes off her as he spoke each word dispassionately. He seemed to note the way each of his word was received and reacted to. The girl nodded sincerely all through, listening. But did not say anything. 

He let a moment pass in silence. And then waited some more. Was it so difficult to understand really? It was elementary to my teenage, public-school mind. But there was a real world outside, which defied reason with dizzying regularity. 

The pause stretched undisturbed. For what seemed quite a long while he did not speak. Neither did she. And then he decided to be more specific and a bit more pointed. “Why don’t you leave him?” 

Kya karoon babu ji. Ab pyar to usi se hai na,” she said very politely and a bit hesitantly, but very clearly and unambiguously. That took me by surprise. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing it said that simply in the real life. It was straight out of any number of Bollywood movies, but was delivered with such astounding ease and such perfect conviction that it took quite a long while to sink in. I looked at my father immediately expecting a surprised look, and met a steady gaze. He had simply nodded in understanding. Not a word. He got up and moved away with a smile. And the smile carried no enigma. It was the easy, pleased smile of understanding, which baffled me even further. 

I and Kailash exchanged glances of incomprehension and puzzlement. We were on the same plane of confusion while my father and the girl existed on an altogether different planet of understanding. And I wanted to migrate. So, I walked towards my father. “Papa…?” He looked at me and his smile deepened while he said — and I can hear it as clearly in my ears even now — “Prem hamesha antim tarq hota hai.” (“Love is always the final argument.”) He was a man of few words, but at times he was a man of ‘very few’ words. It was such an occasion. He went away and got busy in the regular business of running his hotel leaving me perplexed. No further elaboration was on the way from his side, I knew. I was on my own with it.

Originally written and published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [April 2013 Issue; Vol. XIX, Part 4].


No ‘clean chit’ possible, Mr. Modi

Modi’s ‘clean chit’ flag-hoisting followed by the pompous ‘fasting’ and the post-fast boasting was a three-stage tragi-comedy of no consequence and left me more disgusted than amused exposing my misgivings about my ability to go giggling even over the most ridiculously phony theatrics. 

Mr. Modi, who had maintained a ‘studied’ – rather, ‘tactful’ – political silence, finally found a bit of his voice when he came across what his supporters thought of as a laundered, disinfected, polished and ironed ‘chit’ of some kind somewhere in the Supreme Court to be held up as a symbol of victory with the victory bugle blowing prematurely in the background. 

His supporters and detractors both have unduly reacted to a simple, dispassionate Supreme Court order directing the trial court to proceed in the matter in accordance with the law. The apex court exercised restraint and did not touch the merits of the case in the interest of justice. Therefore, there is no question of its giving a ‘clean’, ‘soiled’ or semi-soiled chit to anybody. 

The investigation and collection of evidence was undertaken by two independent entities — the Court-appointed SIT and the ‘amicus curie’ — and the findings are now to be placed before the trial court, which is now compelled to also consider the amicus’ report together with the report of the SIT. It is for the trial court to convict or acquit on the basis of the evidence placed before it. Any Supreme Court observation, howsoever fleeting or moderate, on the merits of the case could be prejudicial to the trial and would also be uncalled for, the proceedings not being a trial, which is why the apex court restrained. If the Court did not say “prosecute Modi”, it did not say “don’t” either. There is nothing more to it. 

The question is not if Modi has been granted a ‘clean chit’, the question is whether such a ‘chit’ for Modi is possible at all. Are we supposed to believe that Indian state is incapable of protecting the innocents in the time of need? Like laymen, let’s ask the basic questions. Let’s leave Mr. Modi’s political calculations aside for a while for the sake of argument and also his thinly disguised emotions against the minority community. 

That done, are we to believe that while Gujarat was burning, Mr. Modi was so far off in some political meditation within a soundproof Hindutva cocoon that he could not be reached even in the emergency of such kind? If it was beyond the power of the police and other forces to control the situation, why wasn’t the army promptly called in? And if the police and other armed forces at the disposal of the state were sufficiently equipped to deal with the situation, how did so many people turn up dead? It could only be either a criminally culpabale negligence on part of the state or a willful and purposeful abstention. Either way, it was the state that ‘allowed’ the genocide, no matter how one looks at it. It being so, can the Chief Minister be absolved? Even if Modi is not the murderous monster he is sometimes projected as, he did look like an extremely inefficient and ineffective CM guilty of criminal neglect, if not wilful malice. 

But then, if the progress of Gujarat is anything to go by, Mr. Modi is not really ineffective or inefficient, and so far we have not been told that he was ill or otherwise rendered incapable of making sound decisions. So, what got into Mr. Modi when so many people were so systematically massacred? What made a man with a reputation of being ‘strong’ make such an obviously wrong decision of going soft on those who wantonly killed, raped and burnt? The ‘wrong decision’ could not be on account of such a rare bout of ‘Ministerial incapacity’ that was never glimpsed until or since. Modi’s projected innocence and his claim to fair-play makes no sense in face of the undeniable facts reported by multiple, independent agencies. The only version that talks of Modi’s ‘innocence’ is the ‘official version’.

From the national and international media to NHRC and Human Rights Watch, every single independent agency that looked into the pogrom found state complicity in the killings too glaring to be ignored even with closed eyes. So, the apparent lack of control of the all-controlling Gujarat CM was not a ‘failure’, but a daringly planned and systematically executed malfunction of the state machinery with political ends at its heart. That’s the only theory in which all pieces of the puzzle fit in perfectly. And all theories that seek to absolve Mr. Modi must necessarily reject all facts reported in national and international media, which, quite certainly would be an exercise in blanket denial of the undeniable truth. 

However, the worst part was not the pogrom but the fact that Mr. Modi, despite being clearly ‘unclean’, managed to find electoral mandate to be the CM, and the Secular India tolerated the dirty dance of number politics. The idea of democratic accountability thus failed to clear the basic morality test. Humanity hung its head in shame while we watched then as we watch now, powerless.

Originally written to be published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE in October 2011 Issue. However, it was found too ‘hardhitting’ and harshly critical of Narendra Modi, and the Editorial at LAWYERS UPDATE thought it prudent to withhold the piece.

Mahatma’s Sin

A paintbrush runs across the canvas drawing the bare outline of a bald head. A pause, and the brush returns to draw a pair of round spectacles. In two simple strokes with no facial features drawn the portrait is complete. “The greatness of this man lies in his simplicity,” declares the voice in the background carrying a ring of unmistakable and indisputable truth. 

“He is just one of the freedom fighters to me. Nothing more,” said one of my students on Facebook. Oh yes, there are some useful discussions on Facebook as well involving the teenagers. 

The reasons she had for disliking Gandhi are the same that I have heard countless times from countless people who choose to deride the man who was by far the most compelling Indian reason for the British to think of sailing back home for good. 

Her point was that the old man was responsible for the partition and was in some way responsible for the execution of Bhagat Singh and his extremist companions. Also, Gandhi did not get us freedom from the colonial rule. Many would naively say that it was the extremist violence, whereas some of the discerning lot would want to credit external circumstances just to take it away from Gandhi. So, going by that argument, could Britain not hold on to any of its colonies after the Second World War? Well, Singapore, for one? 

Could Gandhi save the extremists? Assuming he could, the hard question is: Why should he have?

Of course, Gandhi can easily be defended by history and additional facts can always be marshalled in his defence to nullify the naïve attacks. But I don’t think even that is quite necessary. For now, let’s leave history aside; and resort to common sense and depend upon the information that can be safely relied upon no matter which side of the fence one prefers. 

So, the basic questions are these: Could he want partition? Could he have genuinely believed that Hindus and Muslims were two nations? Although he was not a politician, and did not believe in ‘political pragmatism’, but even if that is conceded for a moment; could it serve any political end to alienate Muslim population? 

The Mahatma who believed in peace and brotherhood in a united nation could not have desired two nations, nor could he have thought that the people who had been living together for centuries and had fought the intruders together were so completely divided that they could no longer be one nation. Also, Mahatma’s goal was a noble society based on truth and non-violence and not a state based on any particular political ideology. The idea of two nations – one for the Muslims and one for the rest – simply doesn’t fit in Gandhi’s vision of India. So, partition could never have been his will. 

No doubt extremists like Bhagat Singh also wanted freedom, but they believed in violent means, which Gandhi was dead against. To Gandhi the means justified the end. Only just means could achieve just end to the old man. His unwavering belief in the virtue of truth and non-violence formed the core of his moral and spiritual being. Besides, a society founded on violence could only be violent because in such a society violence is legitimate depending upon the significance of end to be achieved. And significance is just a matter of valuing one thing over the other, which simply means anything can be significant at a certain point of time justifying the use of massive violence for reasons that might otherwise be insufficient to swat a fly. The Mahatma knew this, and considered it a battle worth fighting. Violence begets violence, and there is no end to the cycle of violence before at least one of the two sides is completely annihilated, which is why he famously said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” 

The rightness of means was central to Gandhi because to his mind all human actions produced consequences depending upon the nature of the actions. So, what you do, you must face its consequences as well. Violence was evil to Gandhi, and if the likes of Bhagat Singh were facing the foreseeable and painful consequences of their violent actions, why would Gandhi intervene? Was the mere fact that they were his countrymen striving for the same goal enough for him to try blocking the consequences that they had consciously brought upon themselves? Should he have allowed his moral judgment to be clouded by petty considerations of nationality and common objective? Violence was evil to him. So, should he have treated an evil practiced by his countrymen as noble or less evil? Gandhi considered violence so unacceptable that he would not tolerate if his successfully running movement was marred by violence and would be quick to withdraw it. Why would he condone anybody’s indulging in it no matter how noble the objective? He was true to his principles and valued his beliefs over all other things. The extremist freedom fighters themselves embraced death, for they too were true to their beliefs. To blame it on Gandhi is plainly mindless. 

Let’s toss all this talk away and consider just one thing. For all that the Mahatma did for this country, what did he take? A sheet of cotton cloth to cover half his body. And what did we give him? Bullets. Period. 

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [September 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 9]

Babaji’s Satyagraha

Democracies are noisy and are also conveniently arithmetical, for they rely on simple process of counting and being counted. If you have the numbers on your side you might justifiably fancy bulldozing virtually anything howsoever sturdy, including the government of the day.

A certain Babaji found this particular truth conducive to his dreams and desires. But then, he seemingly missed something crucial. The number game has its own intricacies. And Babaji turned out to be a complete novice in that respect. His chit-waving adversaries did not fare too well on that count either. It was a battle of two elitist parties with political naivete writ large. They apparently had no idea of how an emotional common man of this country reacts to such things.

Need I specify that India is an emotional country and can be taken for a ride in the name of religion and corruption alike? And we, being a gullible people, can easily trust the seemingly pious ‘babas’ to deal with the palpably corrupt ‘babus’. So, our Babaji here took a leaf out of the bulky black book of corruption and zoomed into the issue of black money stashed away abroad.

The black money talk has been around since the Stone Age, almost. Supreme Court brought it to the fore and the Babaji decided to use it as a springboard to take a plunge into the political ocean of the world’s largest democracy.

The nation watched eagerly the tussle between the most popular Yoga guru of the day and the Central Government, but the closed-door talks complicated the issue right from the start. Corruption is best countered by transparency, and closed doors are the very antithesis of transparency. It suits tactful diplomats, but to simplistic Satyagrahis, truth — and not ‘tact’ — is the weapon to fight with, and also the ideal to fight for. They put up a fearless fight for the right and the truth and do not do a ‘Shivaji-in-feminine-garb’ without an Aurangzeb. It’s hard to imagine our mild, gentlemanly Prime Minister as the Mughal fundamentalist emperor.

On the other hand, it is equally hard, if not harder, to see Babaji as a Gandhian Satyagrahi, which is the only acceptable kind of a Satyagrahi anyway.

Babaji missed both the political and the moral nuances of Satyagraha. Fasting is a tool, a way, a mode of Satyagraha. Satyagraha is not as much about results as about the right endeavour for the right ends very much in line with Lord Krishna’s teachings in Srimad Bhadwad Gita.

One hangs in there to bear the heartless caning and thrashing, and does not seek an escape shivering in terror. The path of non-violence which is a necessary element of Satyagraha is not for the frail hearted and weak spirited, or for those who seek security behind a wall of numbers. One has to step out and submit oneself to merciless violence of the heartless oppressors without looking at the effect it might or might not be having on the circumstances one wishes to change by one’s efforts.

One has to do choose one’s own ‘right path’ and stick to it without resorting to violence of any kind against anyone. It is a form of ‘Nishkaam Karmayoga’ that has no tolerance for egoistic traits. Self-defense by way of violent retaliation has absolutely no place in the scheme of Gandhian Satyagraha. Therefore, any talk of raising a ‘protection group’ or ‘counter force’ for self-defense is clearly out of sync with Satyagraha. If it was inappropriate against foreign oppressors, there is no way to justify the same against a democratically elected government fully accountable to the people as well as other Constitutional authorities for the purpose.

Satyagraha is a tool of protest that can only be employed in its pure form with its essentials unadulterated. There can be no such thing as ‘armed satyaraha’ just as much as there can be no such Satyagraha where the group that protests is different from the group that gets beaten up. So, there is no way to defend the ‘self-defense’ protection group that the Babaji talked about.

May be the Yoga Guru has self-destructed much of his appeal with the people, for even his most ardent supporters find it difficult to defend some of Babaji’s actions.

The issue would keep bouncing back and around for quite some time, for the one good thing that the recent anti-corruption protests have managed to do is make corruption a mainstream debate. And we have clearly expressed our unwillingness to submit to it like meek cows the way we had begun to. However, despite the gravity of the situation the protesters must stick to Constitutionally permissible methods.

Most importantly, religion or communal inclinations of the protesters are likely to do more damage than good. Not even a hint of saffron or green or any other colour except white — the colour of peace and harmony — has any place in the nationalistic struggle that anti-corruption protests necessarily are.

On its part the government must engage constructively instead of raking up issues like place of birth, passports or somebody’s income issues because it can only be seen as an attempt to oppress protesters. And if tyranny is added to the concoction of rising inflation and rising corruption, the ruling party might find itself left out in the sun to dry by the electorate as soon as it’s time for the people to issue a fresh mandate.

We Indians might be emotional and dynasty-worshiping fools, but we do have a knack for ousting anyone who starts acquiring dictatorial colours. Of course, we give second chances but not before heaping loads of embarrassment.

What I fail to understand is why the Babajis and the governments think that we would believe whatever they say when even children no longer trust what their parents say? Did that sound too bad? Well, let’s go back to sleep then.

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [August 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 8]

Starline Cricket Club – III: The Team

Finally, the Paper Team comes of age

Our desire to give our best stemmed from no grand sense of duty or purpose, but simply from there being no option. The truth was that we were bad players and while the good players could play for any team, we could play only for ‘our’ team. It was this shutting out that bound us together. All outcasts are similarly empowered because closing of options makes determination natural.

We lost to deserving opponents. They were good. To our credit, we came back to be defeated over and over again. They wanted to win, we wanted to play. And in the end the difference turned out to be decisive.

The Code was in place. All on-field decisions were to be Captain’s while the rest had to be taken by the team through a democratic process. The Captain strongly recommended daily practice in the evening hours, and the rule to that effect was made.

It might be noted that the rules under the Code could be passed by a simple majority just like the laws are enacted, but the Code could not itself be changed, particularly the democratic form of decision-making in off-field matters. Even the Captain was answerable to the team for his on-field decisions. So, the Code operated as the constitution under which other rules could be passed and decisions arrived at.

The Captain knew fully well that his team was not really a bunch of supremely talented cricketers. And if the ability is not gifted, it has to be inculcated. Practice, it had to be. Now, it might be a warped way of thinking, but the Captain was convinced that batting and bowling were both athletic abilities and could be automatically improved if one practiced fielding well enough. He did not share it with anyone, but in his mind he was working with the basics – the eye-limbs coordination, fundamentally. Also, he was aiming at the raising the field confidence. So, the entire team began practicing fielding two hours every day.

One of us would take the bat and hit the ball randomly around while the rest of the team fielded. The Captain himself never took the bat and always fielded with other players encouraging every attempt, failed or successful, and also admonished over lousy motions of attempting. The small collective gestures of encouragement improved performance a great deal. Soon enough, from three regular bowlers we went to six regular and occasional, which allowed enormous room to experiment with the ball.

Honesty was another strict rule the Captain made. We were to play with integrity and honour and accept defeat, if it comes our way. Conventionally, the umpires came from the batting team because only the batting team had players to spare for the purpose, and, generally, in close cases the umpires took the side of their own team. Not so with our team. The players sent to umpire the match had clear instructions to be impartial. A strict watch was kept by the Captain on his umpires, and erroneous umpiring decisions were promptly recalled on the instructions of the Captain. The Captain clearly meant business when it came to honesty and sportsmanship. The opposition reciprocated, and the matches turned into non-acrimonious sporting tussles instead of no-holds-barred approach to winning.

After each match the Captain had to write a report on the match detailing the particulars of the match together with his opinion on the performance. The Vice-Captain was also required pen his own viewpoint. The Report would be submitted to the team in the next meeting. The Report was read out to the players with each player signing the Report. Players were also free to their opinion on record in the same notebook, if they so desired. The Report Book was kept for future reference. It was all this paper work that made some of our conventional opponents to mockingly call us the ‘Paper Team’. But the Reports made every match significant because the praise and criticism, being in writing, was there to stay. We were writing our own history, concretizing every match in the frozen drops of time. So, we tried harder to perform better.

Soon enough we were winning. And then came a month in which we played some nine matches – five more than our monthly four – against all three of our conventional opponents and won all of them! Every single match was convincingly won. The Paper Team had grown decisively formidable. When we played the last of these nine matches, many players from the other two of our regular opponents came over to watch us play. That was indeed a significant compliment with all three of our opponent teams – including the one that lost – congratulating us on our transition from puny challengers to sizeable opponents.

We won consistently enough for our kitty to swell with win money. And we organized our annual party with the surplus funds, in which our star performers as per our statistics were honoured with certificates of appreciation signed by all team members.

I resigned from the Captaincy thrice to allow other players to take over, but was recalled as Captain every time within one month or so. My Captaincy finally ended when I left for Allahabad to pursue Graduation. For some reason Starline Cricket Club did not survive my departure and disintegrated soon after. I owe quite a lot to my experience as SCC Captain. Even after witnessing it at such close quarters, I still find it incredible that 12-year-olds could demonstrate such a degree of grit, determination and unrelenting perseverance.


Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [July 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 7]

Starline Cricket Club – II: The Code

The new 12-year-old Captain was all set to lead a team that had neither been ‘led’ before, nor had the concept of being led. Every single player in the team knew what each one of them was supposed to do, and they did it automatically without even looking at the Captain. Who bowled the first five overs, who came in after that, who bowled the last few overs, who opened the innings and who fielded where was all preset. The team played by convention rather than by strategy, for there was no strategy worth the name. The little Captain had instinctively realized that he was fighting two formidable adversaries – the other team and the mindset of his own players.

The question is why couldn’t he be like all previous captains – indifferent and inert? Why did he choose to actually ‘lead’? He just couldn’t walk the same line as his predecessors for no reason nobler than existence and honour. He wanted to play, and the only way he could play any real cricket was to play for a team. One, after all, can’t play cricket alone. Existence meant coexistence.

As for honour, it was disgraceful that the opponent teams could simply defeat his team and walk away with the money at will. There were too many changes to be made, but the first one was to ensure that it looked and behaved like a team instead of an assortment of players. A sense of identity was to be necessarily cultivated.

Interestingly, the necessity of coexistence and sense of identity is also what makes nations come into existence and continue to exist. The moment this sense of identity is lost, the talk of division and partition invariably follows.

The first match saw no great results. We lost, again; not so badly though and we did manage to give a fight. But the opponents did spot a change that the team was no longer in auto-pilot mode. It was clearly following orders. There was someone who looked in control. The field setting was constantly changing and the bowl did not fly from one bowler to another, but went through a certain pair of hands before going to another bowler. The newfound discipline was rather unsettling and made the opponents a bit jittery. The team did not look as familiar before and by sheer dint of temperamental change, they looked less easy to defeat.

The new Captain was prepared to be held accountable, but he knew that the wisdom of a decision can always be challenged, and sooner or later the man in command was looked upon as a dictator, particularly when too many changes are made too soon. The only way to bring legitimacy to a radical leadership is to make it democratic. Rules of fairness tend to reduce the arbitrary-look of the commands. So, he decided to draft a Code.

In a couple of days, before the next match, there was a Code in place called ‘The Code of Conduct’ and its provisions were, surprisingly, not called ‘Sections’ or ‘Rules’ but ‘Articles’. To this day I can’t explain why I called the provisions ‘Articles’ despite having no knowledge of any constitution whatsoever. The very first provision provided for democratic strategic decisions-making. The decisions were to be made collectively by the team during any of the two meetings every week.

Captain was to be elected by simple majority and could also be similarly removed except during an on-going match. Captain was all-powerful on the field, and all his field decisions were binding on every player. His decisions might be a matter of debate during the meetings, but were not challengeable on the field, and any player who violated the command made himself liable for disciplinary action and also vitiated his right to any remedy against the Captain.

All players had to contribute Re 1/- every week, which was the membership fee. The match schedules and the opponents were to be decided by the team collectively.  The system of weekly matches could thus be dropped. Interestingly, certain rules could be altered including those pertaining to the powers of the Captain, but the Captain had the power to veto certain decisions of the team, and that was one power that could not be taken away or diluted. In case of a deadlock occasioned by Captain’s veto, the Captain could be removed but his veto could not be nullified.

Therefore, the veto was basically a counter measure against such a decision of the team that the Captain strongly disagreed with. So, the Doctrine of Checks and Balances was in full play, unknown to the team or the drafter of the Code, who went by his instincts based on the understanding of human behaviour. The veto, however, was never exercised.

The Code was drafted in English and each provision was read out, translated and explained to the team after which each member of the team signed each provision into effect. Every new member of team was also to be inducted similarly. Only the players so inducted could play for the team. There was a provision for guest players, but for each match the decision had to be taken by the team itself. The Captain could also take an instant decision in this regard, but for such decision he was accountable to the team.

Thus, the Code turned the team into a single, concrete unit and gave it an identity – Starline Cricket Club. But it was still a formal team, a team on paper – a Paper Team. The Paper Team was to prove its mettle yet.

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [June 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 6]

Starline Cricket Club – I: The First Law

We were an odd bunch of children in seventh or eighth standard playing cricket in a small, triangular park with no walls amidst small houses in a government colony. What the people living in those small houses did not know was that these children had a written Code of Conduct drafted by one of them – a 13-year-old kid. And that they followed the Code to the last detail.

The elders of the colony possibly did not have an idea of the kind of internal struggle that went into the making of the Code, neither were they aware that the Code used such sophisticated concepts as Democratic Decision-Making, Separation of Powers, Decentralization of Authority  and accountability through referendum to the general body. What’s even more surprising is that even the kid who drafted the Code was not aware of the existence of these concepts. He was simply observing human behaviour, coming up with imaginative solutions and responding to the immediate needs. He was not a genius. He was just a sincere problem-solver.

This is an otherwise insignificant story about a small cricket team of young children that had its own, little battles to fight, but what’s striking is the way it took up the challenges and responded with a rusted, long-discarded, old-fashioned weapon – Integrity. Interestingly, these kids of 12 or 13 made their own laws founded upon honesty and self-belief, and followed them unwaveringly.

To begin with, playing together was not a choice we made. We played together simply because we played in the same park and played too amateurishly to play with older kids who played far better and would not let us spoil their game. We would get a chance to play with them only when they were short of fielders. The good thing was that they did not play for too long any day. They would play for an hour or so and then leave the park to us.

I had two hours to play everyday. Not a minute more. My mother was always quite strict about it, which I resented everyday to no avail. So, I had to make the most of my two hours. On Sundays I had four hours to play our weekend match with teams from other parks of the same locality.

Each player of both the teams contributed a certain amount towards the prize money, and the winning team took the entire prize money and redistributed the double of the contributed amount to each player. This provided the additional motivation to the players to give their best to the game.

But that did no good to us, for we lost all the time unless our opposition made a determined effort to make a gift of the game. We were actually a team of the leftovers – the team of those who would not be allowed to play for any other team. Perhaps, that was also the greatest binding force – the oneness of the discarded auto-engineered by the cohesive force of utter uselessness.

We would lose, but would keep playing weekend after weekend. Victory or loss did not matter to me, for I played to play alone and tried squeezing in as much play as possible into my precious playing hours that were subject to tyrannical parental determination. But I was not particularly great at the game. I batted with one-point objective – to be off strike at the earliest without getting out and without wasting any deliveries. So, I was the calm, easygoing batsman who never seemed troublesome, but ended up doing a good deal of harm.

When I was promoted up the batting lineup, we kept losing, but the margin started declining progressively. In other words, we were not really winning, but were resisting defeat better.

Captaincy or the Captain was not significant in our team, for it was understood that good bowlers would bowl the critical overs, best batsmen would open, and hitters would follow down the batting order. So, it was about following a settled strategy rather than making on-field decisions. Therefore, our Captains were, in effect, Captains for the purpose of the toss. I was asked to captain the team. I refused and continued playing my usual game of trying my best to not get out. A couple of weeks later, the question of captaining the team came up again. And I politely turned the offer down, again.

When I was asked the third time to shoulder the responsibility, and I refused yet again, the team wanted to know the reason behind my persistent refusal. I responded by saying that I abhorred the idea of ‘toss captain’. I could captain the team, but I had a condition – on the field, my command was to be the last word; no questions, no discussions. Contrary to my expectations, the team agreed forthwith.

It was the end of ‘toss captains’. The team had their first Captain and also their first and foremost law: The Captain was the unquestionable sovereign on the field, and his command was the law. And we were still a team of 12-year-olds, who didn’t play very well. We were soon to be dubbed ‘The Paper Team’. The fight had just begun.

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [May 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 5]