My current pre-occupation, a case under the Domestic Violence Act, involves a couple who dated for ten years and then got married in their late 20's, which is a great step towards a "mature" relationship, right? Some months later, the Husband smashes her nose into a bloodied pulp in an alcoholic rage, but they make up over several rhinoplasties, she gets pregnant, he gives her a hard time, and even when a baby can't salvage the situation, she leaves the house to retain her sanity, and when she tries to go back to talk to her Husband, he isn't home.
And he's changed the lock on the door.
After a much contested order from what can be only described as a very stoned Magistrate, I obtain interim relief for my Client in being able to enter her house and reclaim her belongings. So braving an auto strike, me, my Client and her Dad travel in an Armada to the back of beyond suburb in an attempt to reclaim her life.
The house was already teeming with people - the Husband (who had been sweet talking me all week), his friends, his lawyer (who only was asked to come because I was coming) and his lawyer's friend, my Client and her father, and her friend (a celebrity nutritionist), and me. It was like a funeral - everyone recounting the good times and the eventual demise of the loved one - in this case, the relationship.
There was a clear divide - there were some, like the Husband's friends, who all had participated in the couple's clandestine dating rituals and seen them right from the time that he "proposed her", who still looked hopeful and all maintained that "he didn't mean almost trying to kill her", and still calling her Bhabhi much like bereaved relatives who keep calling out to a dead person in the hope that they will suddenly awake. There were some who were actually relieved that it was over - like the nutritionist friend. And then there were some who probably would have killed it had it not died its own death - like her father.
"She's so educated," he lamented, "and she married this disgusting man." He had sneered at his soon-to-be-ex-son-in-law's attempts to offer him Iced tea "to refresh himself". I rejected on the ground of added sugar (and perhaps added sedatives. Dude, he disfigured a woman's face. Don't think I was going to push my luck). "Actually whatever happened, and what ever is happening now, only she is to blame."
The Husband's lawyers put down their newspapers and suddenly leaned forward, having obviously heard this strange admission. I was also shocked. "Why on earth would you say something like that?"
"She was the one who wanted to marry him, she married him, it was her mistake. He is like that only. We all knew his character, we told her so many times. But she was stubborn."
The eavesdroppers leaned back and went back to their newspapers. I was intrigued. "What do you mean you knew his character?"
The Father removes his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He inhaled deeply.
"We used to hear her speak to him on the phone. All she would be doing is soothing him and apologizing. Some parents hear their children say 'I love you', we had to hear 'Sorry, sorry, sorry'. But she was stubborn."
I remained silent.
"And then he breaks her nose. The sick, sick man." I thought he would spit, but he didn't. "And she didn't tell us. She told us, she fell in the house. And we thought OK, she must have fell in the house. That sick sick man."
'Sick' was obviously this man's equivalent of the worst vernacular cuss-word I knew.
"I spent 8 lakhs on her wedding. 8 lakhs. And I didn't even want her to get married to him. If she had told me, then, then... well, even we know people. We could have gotten things done. He only did this to her because he knew that he could get away with it."
I could sense his helplessness mount and his cynicism about me handling his daughter's case (he was slightly shocked to see me on the first day of the hearing) was slowly withering away. In the meanwhile, my Client was huffing and puffing over all of the items "mentioned in para 30 of the Petition" and some which she forgot, which her husband was, in a clear attempt to pacify, handing over to her.
She looked around at the things she set up, she paid for, all of the things she had done to her own house, her very own house, and now, she was stuffing all that into Big Bazaar bags and carting them unceremoniously into an uncertain future.
The packing was mingled with her Husband's trying to make polite conversation with me and the nutritionist ("He hates my guts and didn't let her even speak to me throughout the marriage", whispered the Nutritionist, "He's really pulling out all the stops now."), some small memories which seeped through the building concrete of pain ("we bought this in Australia, don't you remember?", "this was a birthday present to you, you should keep it"), and despite everything, little moments of tenderness. As she was going through her books, she found the Holy Bible.
"Keep this properly ya, or your parents will kill you." There was a slight tone of warmth and humour, probably some inside joke. The Husband smiled in recognition.
A quick relook at the things she needed to take back, she walked into the kitchen and opened a cupboard to see a huge stash of foreign liquor, that he collected from the duty free on the way back from his last tour.
"This is all yours only na!", quipped the nutritionist, sarcastically, referring to the Husband's reply to our domestic violence complaint in which he called her an alcoholic.
My Client gave her Husband a scathing look.
"Come on sweetie. Yeh sab likhna padta hai. She should know." pointing to me, of course.
"Nice try." I retorted.
Packing over, it was time to leave. But not just yet.
I was obliged to bring up the fact that since the Husband had made an offer to "Settle out of court" that now we were willing to try and end this "as smoothly as possible". At this, Husband makes a cool "why don't we have dinner" offer to my Client.
"What is there to discuss?" she asked him.
"Everything!" he replied earnestly.
"Arre..." she looked at him, began to say something, and then stopped and urged him to enter the bedroom to discuss the situation in private.
From the hazy reflections on the bedroom door, which was slightly ajar, I could make out vigorous hand movements, agitated expressions and even a very filmi tug-and hug. For a minute, I wondered if they would come out of the room, hand in hand, ready to renew their vows. I was then disappointed at the fact that I was so vehemently against this happening. It seemed like the ultimate anti climax. But weren't we supposed to work towards preserving the family, I thought wryly as I remembered the preamble to the Domestic Violence Act.
As we all sat in anticipation, the father of the Client came up to see what was taking us so long.
"They are talking", I informed him.
"There's nothing left to talk about" he said, under his breath, and charged into the room and asked his daughter to come out. A very timely intervention, because my Client was visibly irritated and stormed out as soon as she heard her father's voice.
Thereafter we had a very late lunch and lots of girl bonding between the Nutritionist, the pained survivor of Domestic Violence, and me, the buy-a-lawyer-get-a-friend-and-shoulder-to-cry-on-free. Beyond the call of duty, and moreso when I even went up to say hello to my Client's 7 month year old daughter.
Can you really know a person well enough to eliminate the possibility of having to enter your own house on the strength of a Court Order and trying to remember which of the fab india pillow covers you had bought with your own money? How does love end up resulting in pulverized nasal bones? I remembered the first time I supervised this kind of job, I saw a girl, 5 years younger than me, sitting there and packing her school books (the "urgent" belongings we got a Court Order for), shaking her head over having married her College Sweetheart in a fit of QSQT like headrush. Especially when he placed her under house arrest and wouldn't let her attend College, and beat her with a bamboo stick if she would protest. It left me shaken, and I realized that this time, I was still shaken, and even more so. God forbid tomorrow I would have to hold the hand of a friend who had to undergo the same torture - mental, physical, emotional, in the end, they all leave scars which take as much time to heal. These women all have the same pattern - the surrounding society disliking the guy, her slowly sinking away from her friends, and silent suffering. While the women themselves may be responsible for the relationship and the man for the violence - every single loved one and well wisher of that woman is responsible for not telling her what she needed to hear - dump the bastard now. But of course, would she be listening?
I don't think, with this level of involvement, that I would make a good "lawyer". But then again, is that really what I want to be?