Small Talk

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He opened the window and leaned against it.

The night outside was quiet.

She put the glass down by the bedside and lit a cigarette.

“If you don’t mind, I like to be paid in advance.”

He took out his wallet, counted out the money and put it by her side. She checked the amount and dropped it in her purse.

She looked around the room. Her gaze lingered on the rows of books on the shelf.

“You don’t look the type,” she remarked.

He stretched his arms behind on the window sill.

“What type?” he asked.

“The type who would pay money for women”.

He smiled as he said, “looks can be deceptive.”

She continued looking around the room.

“What do you do,” she asked, flipping the ash off the cigarette.

“I am on study leave,” he answered.

She took another drag.

“Leave from what?”

He looked at her quizzically.

“Why would you want to know that?”

She shrugged.

He folded his arms across his chest and crossed his legs.

The clock ticked on the table nearby.

“I am on leave from the army,” he replied.

She looked at him closely and pursed her lip. Then she picked up her glass and drank some more. She put down the glass carefully on the side table.

“You don’t look the army type.”

He smiled.

“What type do I look?”

She considered him, stretching her legs.

She was wearing one of those knee length embroidered cotton skirts that he liked. The fabric rested on her shapely legs.

She didn’t answer.

“Why don’t you sit down,” she said, after a while.

He pulled the cane chair and sat down on it next to the bed.

She picked up the TV remote and fiddled with it. Then she sat up straighter, tucking her legs under her.

A small silence fell.

It was broken by her asking, “are you married?’

He leaned back and scratched his chin.

“I was married, but separated now.”

She was quiet.

She studied her fingernails, “mind if I ask why?”

He rubbed his face.

“May be because she was very intelligent, highly qualified. I wasn’t offering her much”.

“She is doing well now,” he added casually.

It was quiet again.

Abruptly, she swung her legs off the bed and stood up.

“Mind if I see if there is anything to eat?”

“Help yourself,” he replied with a smile.

He heard the sound of the refrigerator door being opened. After a few minutes, she came back with a plate of green salad.

He got up and switched on the night lamp; turning off the main light. Then he went out and switched off the outside lights. When he came back, he found her nibbling on a tomato slice.

“You are right,” he said sitting down again.

“Right about what?” she asked laconically, still nibbling on the tomato slice.

“Well, not fully right; – but partially right. I am not the hired woman type.”

“Then why did you bring me?”

“To talk,” he answered.

She looked up at him but didn’t say anything.

“Its been sometime since I talked to someone, specially a woman.”

She looked him up and down and then went back to eating.

“I don’t think you would find it difficult to get a woman to talk to – without paying,” she remarked after sometime.

He didn’t say anything.

“You bring in women regularly? ………For talking as you say….,” she added with a little emphasis.

He laughed.

“You are the first one for whom I have paid.”

“Well I am flattered.”

She turned to look at him, putting the plate aside.

“And may I ask what made you give me this honour. I am an ordinary looking girl, aren’t I?” She lifted her eyebrows and smiled.

He rested his face on his palm and looked at her.

“You smile a lot.”

She inclined her face and the falling strands of her hair hid her expression.

“Did it surprise you that I am ….how do you put it…yes; … that I am a woman for hire?”

“Not really,” he answered.

“I don’t have anything against hired women”.

They are often better company,” he added.

She laughed, “Well, you seem to know a lot about hired ones, given that I am your first one!”

He smiled. “I have friends who have been around.”

She looked at him – made as if to say something; but didn’t.

Then she picked up the TV remote again and switched on the TV, toning the volume down, selecting a movie

“I am not a regular,” she said as she watched the movie.

“What?”

“I said, I am not a regular.”

She was still looking at the TV.

“I have a few customers who treat me well and are nice in their way.”

He shrugged.

“As I said, I don’t have anything against the oldest profession.”

He put his legs on the bed, stretching them.

Someone was firing a gun in the movie.

“Have you ever killed anyone??” she asked suddenly

His face changed. He didn’t answer.

“Sorry! At times I say stupid things……”

“I don’t think I should have asked that,” she said after a while.

He was looking at his hands.

“Its alright – maybe even a natural question to a soldier,” he said quietly.

He looked up at her, his eyes veiled now.

He thought of the elite counter strike group that he commanded. A blur of visions and memories passed in his mind.

He then smiled, as if ruefully.

“Killing is bad business,” he said.

He watched her slender fingers working the remote.

Suddenly she slapped her palms together and said in a grave voice, “bad business”.

“Bad business,” she repeated gravely.

He lifted his eyebrows, puzzled.

“What bad business?” he asked.

“See, I killed a mosquito! Bad business!”

He laughed and nodded, “point taken ma’am”.

She got up and walked around the room barefooted, picking up things here and there.

Then she sat down again and watched TV.

He went out of the room and washed his face and hands. He came back rubbing his face with a hand towel.

“You can use the bathroom if you want,” he told her.

“Were you ever afraid?” she asked abruptly.

“What?”

“I said…. were you ever afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of dying, – getting killed in battle.”

He got up and picked a book, turning its pages.

His face was in shadows.

He sat down again.

“Some in the army put it this way,” he said, still playing with the pages.

“There are three types. First is what we call the A types – those who feel fear but often become more careful because of it. They make good fighters”.

“Then there are what we call D types. Not many of these. They don’t know much fear – they may do extra-ordinary in battle, but can blunder also.”

He paused.

“Then there are what we call Q types”.

“What’s a Q type?” she asked.

He looked at the floor, “Q type is difficult to kill; and – finds it easy to kill”.

“Why so?”

“Can’t really say; – maybe because they rely much on instinct. Instinct often finds a solution where none appears.”

She had switched off the TV and was looking at him. Their eyes held.

“What type are you?”

He smiled, “I don’t know.”

She looked long at him and then lay down on the bed.

“I am not a nice person. I can be a real pain; especially to those whom I like,” she said slowly looking at the ceiling; – and then turned on her side to watch him.

He laughed out aloud.

“You should laugh more. You look different when you do,” she said, her fingers tracing lines on the bed.

“Different?”

“You look much younger.”

He didn’t say anything.

“And you have nice eyes,” she went on.

He got up. “I’ll get dinner for you”, he said.

“I am not hungry. Sit down. Let’s talk some more – I am liking it.”

He sat down.

“Tell me; – what would you like to do when you leave the army,” she asked, cupping her face.

“I would like to be a lawyer,” he replied.

She burst out in tinkling laughter.

“Why do you laugh,” he asked.

“A lawyer with nice eyes! The thought made me laugh!”

He grinned.

Then he got up again. “Listen, its getting late. I’ll warm some dinner for us.”

He was away for some time, – selecting things from the refrigerator and taking his time in putting together what he hoped would be a presentable dinner.

When he came back in the room; she was sleeping – breathing evenly and deeply. He stood looking at her; then put a cover over her.

He went back to the kitchen and had his meal there. Then he went to the sitting room and went to sleep in the reclining chair.

Very early in the morning, he heard suppressed, subdued sounds. He pretended to be asleep. After sometime, he heard her passing out through the door.

When she had left; he got up and went inside the room.

On the side table lay a piece of paper.

Something was written on it in bold and capital.

It read, “ALL TALK  AND  NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY!!”

Beneath it, there was something further in a neat flowing hand –  “Q types are dangerous – the money is under the pillow….”

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A GOOD MAN DIED TODAY

Thick heavy drops

“A good man died today,

Not many knew,

But the word soon spread

and then they all came,

  Strangers sat silently,

Some wept openly,

And down the street,

A dog started howling;

 

As the afternoon lengthened,

The wind had freshened

blowing leaves off the pavement,

Soon dark clouds gathered

And thick, heavy drops fell,

As if a deep wound had opened again

And shadows loomed

so much heavier than yesterday,

A good man was gone today”

THE BUS WHICH WENT TO THE MOUNTAINS

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The road twisted now – broken here and there. It was narrow with wide expanses of dirt and bare earth on either side. But it was well shaded with branches of densely grown trees hanging over it.

Shaded as it was, it was pleasantly cool and comforting.  He walked along, a tall lean man, his boots leaving imprints on the powdery, padded dust.

His eyes roamed the road ahead, but it was bare and devoid of any human form.

Somewhere ahead, in the distance, lay the mountains.

On either side of the road, between the trees, could be seen expanses of planted fields interspersed with thickets and lines of trees. Hidden from sight, a water pump worked; its regular monotonous sound hanging in the air.

There were squirrels on the road, nibbling and then taking quick flight as he came near.  He could hear the birds on the trees around and see them swirling over the fields on either side.

He took out his water flask and drank long and deep.

It was a moment seeping into his consciousness and he wished it to prolong.

As he walked ahead, however; suddenly, with a tinge of disappointment, he saw a human figure sitting on the right side of the road on something that looked like a big stone or boulder.  The figure was clad in white and, as he drew near, he saw that it was an old man, wearing glasses,  with a walking stick lying on the ground by his side.

The old man was looking contemplatively straight ahead towards the fields on the other side of the road and didn’t seem to be aware of his approaching presence.

Slowly he continued walking up the road.

He drew close to the old man and thought of passing him by.  Just then, the old man turned his head, looked at him and smiled.  He stopped.

“Lovely day”, he said, smiling back at the old man.

The old man nodded his head.

“Yes, especially this time of the year when the fields are planted and the weather is turning cool, it becomes quite beautiful,” the old man replied, lifting his head to look up at the sky where scattered tufts of clouds lay.

He put his hands in his pocket, looking around.

“The road perhaps could be in a better condition,” he said after a while.

The old man shifted slightly on his seat and looked up and down the road.

“Further on, it gets much worse.  Till this point, it’s still not all that bad”, the old man replied.

He stood there, not knowing what more to say and thought of moving on; when behind him, on the road, he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.  He turned sideways, watching the road behind.

“It’s the bus.  It passes through around this time of the day.  It’s a little late today,” the old man said, bending forward to look down the road.

The bus was now in sight as it turned the bend.

As they watched, the bus reached them.

On an impulse, he lifted his hand for the bus to stop.

The bus stopped on the side of the road.

“I think it’s better to get on the bus,” he told the old man.

The old man smiled and nodded.

He walked rapidly towards the bus and climbed into it.

The bus was largely empty.  A couple of persons were sitting in the front, their back to him.

A bearded, thickset man of indefinite years, wearing something like a uniform was sitting on the back seat.  Probably the conductor, he thought; which was confirmed when the fellow took out a whistle and blew it.  The bus started forward with a jerk.

He sat down.

After sometime, he noted that the road – if it could be called a road anymore – had become much more broken. The bus lurched from side to side as it tediously negotiated the broken stretches. He bumped and swayed hard on his seat.

He tried looking out the window. The planted crops were much less now and it was more of a growing wilderness. He felt uncomfortable.

He had never come this far on the road.

As the bus bumped hard into a pothole again, he regretted getting on the bus.  For some time he sat undecided and then, finally making up his mind, stood up and walked down the bus to the conductor.

“I’m sorry, but I would like to get down.  Could you please get the driver to stop the bus,” he told the conductor, a little apologetically.

The bearded fellow looked up at him, scratched his chin and took out the whistle again – blowing it sharply.

The bus slowed down and stopped on the side of the road.

He got down and took out the water flask and drank deeply.

The bus started and moved on slowly up the road, finally disappearing from sight.

He turned around and started walking down the road towards where he had come from.

After some time, he felt he was close to the spot where he had seen the old man sitting.  He walked slowly and quietly now, trying to avoid being sighted if the old man was still there.

Then suddenly his saw the spot where he had got on the bus and – with relief – noted that the old man was no longer sitting there.

He walked rapidly down the road now, crossing the spot where he had met the old man.  It was getting on towards evening and the fields on the either side were golden with the evening sun.

As he slowly disappeared down the road; the old man, hidden by a tree, watched him going back as he himself had done many years ago; looking so much the same…….

Standing there silently, the old man wondered if he could still catch the bus – the bus which went to the mountains.

                                           …………..

THE WILL WITHIN

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What would have been the scenario if the Dadri lynching had not been strongly protested against?

In the aftermath of the Dadri lynching, a union Minister and certain other prominent personalities associated with the ruling coalition and its affiliates downplayed the incident; while the Prime Minister chose to be silent even while tweeting on relatively inconsequential matters.

Now suppose there had been no return of awards, no strong protests by large numbers against the Dadri lynching and its implications. Suppose our countrymen had chosen to remain by and large silent or indifferent to the Dadri lynching in this backdrop where the conduct of the Central government definitely, at the bare least, failed to inspire confidence in condemning this lynching. What would have been the implications then? Wouldn’t it be correct to say that in that situation, killers such as that undertaking the Dadri lynching would have found fair encouragement and such lynching, with passage of time, would have spread.

This is the under-appreciated significance then of the strong protest in the aftermath of the Dadri lynching and its related episodes and events. This strong protest stood to be the INTERNAL CHECK so vitally required to contain acts amounting to terrorism by way of threatening, injuring or killing innocents ostensibly in the name or grounds of religion. Without such INTERNAL CHECKS, terrorism cannot be contained simply by way of police, military measures.

Armed men with rabid minds finding justification in killing innocents on ostensibly religion related grounds are difficult to stop as history has demonstrated. Armed measures – preventive or offensive – have again failed to contain terrorism in effective manner.

It are the INTERNAL CHECKS – such as recently witnessed in India – where large numbers of Hindus strongly protested against the Dadri lynching – which prevented, undoubtedly, such killings from going berserk.

Fundamentally, there is no difference between a person of religion “A” and a person of religion “B” who are willing to kill innocents on what they see as being justified on grounds related to their religion. Persons of different religions who have killed on grounds ostensibly related to their religion would willingly kill again on such grounds if opportunity availed. IT IS HERE THAT INTERNAL CHECKS HELPS TO KEEP SUCH PERSONS IN CHECK; – BY WAY OF  STRONG PROTESTS BY MEMBERS OF THEIR OWN RELIGION.

While armed preventive or offensive measures against terrorism are ongoing for some time; efforts on mobilising internal checks as in the sense stated above are still weak. The importance of India particularly arises in this context; –  at least in recent times, in the protest by large sections of Hindus against acts by Hindus, such as the Dadri lynching, which helps so much to check further such tragedies. Such nature of protest or INTERNAL CHECK has to be manifested UNIVERSALLY if killings of innocents on grounds ostensibly related to religion are to be avoided or effectively contained.

And here it is to be remembered that there is no justification whatsoever for the killing of any population or personality owing different or contrary nationality, religion, race or philosophy; wherever or in whatever manner; and all such killings have to be strongly condemned and resisted to the level best extent possible.  Humans born in this world remain entirely INNOCENT  when made targets of violence owing to their different or contrary nationality, religion, race or philosophy.

There can be no killing of innocents as a reprisal against killing of innocents elsewhere; as that only heightens the tragedy and the sacrifice of innocents over power games, feuds and conflicts becomes relentless and fervent. It are these power pursuits, feuds, conflicts that have to be battled against and wherever any killing of innocent takes place on grounds relating to such feuds, pursuits and conflicts; they have to be resisted as much by INTERNAL CHECKS, as in the sense above, as by anything else; if the killing of innocents is to be effectively stopped.

SANJAY KUMAR SINGH

THE COLLEGIUM – TO BEEF OR NOT TO BEEF

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So the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional amendment setting up the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). The collegium system – where a handful of senior most judges of the Supreme Court constitute the said collegium – has been revived and would continue to appoint judges to the superior courts. Hearings would commence shortly in the Supreme Court to consider ways and means of improving the collegium system.

Reading the judgements of the Supreme Court which struck down the constitutional amendment setting up the NJAC and revived the collegium system; certain impressions are hard to resist.

The judges, sensing the importance of the issue and having their name stamped in history, have been prone to be much more lordly than usual; leading to much unnecessary verbiage.

Only one of the judges – Jagdish Singh Khehar, delivering the leading judgement – has attempted to put forth what stood to be the greatest difficulty with the working of NJAC. Even then, his exposition of this greatest difficulty with the working of the NJAC falls short of clearly bringing out the full implications of the same.

The greatest difficulty with the working of NJAC stood to be the matter of the two “eminent” persons as members of NJAC. These eminent persons would have been appointed to NJAC by a panel comprising of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the leader of opposition. Where no leader of opposition availed, the leader of the single largest party in the opposition instead would have been the member of this panel appointing the eminent persons to NJAC.

NJAC consisted of six members. Three of them were the senior most judges of the Supreme Court. Fourth was the Law Minister and the other two were the eminent persons. The candidature of any person for appointment as a judge to the superior courts would have been blocked if any two members of the NJAC voted against him or her.

 Now, the panel appointing the two eminent member persons of the NJAC had two politicians and one judge. Using a different terminology; the panel appointing the two eminent member persons of the NJAC consisted, apart from the single judge therein, of the sitting head of the union executive (PM) and a keen or key aspirant to future union executive (Leader of the opposition; or where there is no designated leader of the opposition, then the leader of the single largest party in opposition).

Or in other words, the panel appointing the two eminent member persons of the NJAC was dominated by politicians or by persons having substantial interest in being a part of the union executive and the functioning of the union executive. Given the same, the chances of at least one of the two eminent member persons of the NJAC siding with the Law Minister stood to be real and noteworthy.

Nearly all High Court judges aspire to be elevated to the Supreme Court. Given that the chances of at least one of the two eminent member persons of the NJAC siding with the Law Minister was such as not to be dismissed easily; serving High Court judges would have been extra wary of riling or displeasing the union executive.

Now the union executive is the largest litigant. And government power is what needs so critically to be kept in check as events in Indian history from emergency onwards so clearly demonstrate. Now this extra wariness of the serving High Court judges in displeasing or riling the union executive would have made a big dent in the impartial or independent functioning of the High Court judges so critically required for the welfare of the Indian Republic.

The most damaging impact of the NJAC, therefore, was on the independence of the High Court judges. None of the judgements has brought out this clearly as required. Only one of the judges – Jagdish Singh Khehar, delivering the leading judgement – has attempted to bring out this aspect and though he has devoted considerable lines to it; his exposition has failed to bring out the crux of the matter in such clear exposure as was required.

The collegium system has its drawbacks. But the NJAC was a disaster.

The union executive, by virtue of the NJAC, would have acted greatly on the minds of the serving High Court judges; restricting and restraining them even further from acting against the union executive in their official capacity.

 Judicial activism is necessary for upholding the rule of law where the executive is found to be wanting or lacking for some reason or the other; and rule of law is another basic feature of the Constitution which cannot be detracted from.

Blocking the candidature of activist judges – with whom the executive is far from happy, but who for the public are often a boon – would have been a matter of distinct feasibility on part of the union executive given that all it took was to get one of the eminent member persons to side with the law minister on such blocking. Given the appointment of these two eminent persons to the NJAC by a panel dominated by two politicians or two figures keenly interested in exercising the power of the union executive; such siding of at least one of the two eminent member persons with the Law Minister, as stated, was distinctly and prominently feasible.

And such blocking of candidature of activist judges – a matter of distinct probability and feasibility as above stated – stood to be a considerable threat and attack on independence of judiciary and rule of law, both of which are basic features of the Constitution as long judicially settled and cannot be detracted from by any constitutional amendment such as that setting up the NJAC.

There are 24 high courts in the country. Their power to protect fundamental rights or other legal rights under article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India is more flexible as compared to the power of the Supreme Court under article 32 to protect the same. The great deterrence that NJAC posed to the independence of the serving High Court judges and judicial activism at High Court level was a disaster. Thank God the NJAC has been struck down. Though one would have hoped of the quality of judgements striking it down to have been better. On the reverse side, the single minority judgement upholding the setting up of NJAC is absolutely riddled with flaws of reasoning.

Now the challenge before the Supreme Court is how to improve the functioning of the collegium system.

Now that the constitutional amendment setting up the NJAC has been struck down; the pre-amendment provisions of the Constitution – which had been interpreted earlier by the Supreme Court to give rise to the collegium system – stand revived.

The wordings of these provisions – namely article 124 and 217 of the Constitution of India – had given discretion to the union executive to consult such judges of the Supreme Court and of the high Courts as the union executive considered fit for the purposes of appointment of Supreme Court judges with the rider that the Chief Justice of India was to be necessarily consulted for appointment of judges other than the Chief Justice of India.

Now since only a handful of the senior most judges of the Supreme Court constituted the collegium dealing with the task of appointment of judges; the effect was to nullify the discretion of the union executive to consult such judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Court as the union executive considered fit for the purposes of appointment of a Supreme Court judge.

This nullification posed a substantial challenge to the legality of the collegium system as indeed argued vehemently by the government in the just concluded NJAC cases. The answer to this challenge in the NJAC judgement is far from satisfactory. A feeble answer has been given that the government is still free to consult such judges of the Supreme Court and high Courts as it may consider fit and there is no bar to that. The answer is feeble as such consultation is of no effect given that it is the collegium which matters so far as appointments are concerned. The Supreme Court has to improve the collegium system in a way as to give a worthwhile answer on this issue.

In law, no discretion of the executive or the government is unfettered. This is absolutely settled. This principle could have been utilised by the Supreme Court to lay down that the power of the union executive to consult judges of the High Court or the Supreme Court with respect to appointment of judges had to be exercised reasonably; which then would have given a scope to the Supreme Court to expand the collegium system in such manner as to give a worthwhile answer on this issue.

Where the matter of appointment of a Supreme Court judge is concerned; each High Court can send a nomination for such vacancy through voting by all the judges of a given High Court for the purposes of such nomination with the Chief Justice of such High Court having a casting vote in case of any tie on such nomination.  The totality of such nominations – with the Supreme Court Collegium having the power to add to such nominations – can then be considered by a much expanded collegium of Supreme Court judges. By including all the High Court judges on the issue of selection and appointment of a vacancy in the Supreme Court; it can no longer be said that the provision of consultation of High Court judges has been nullified. And by expanding the Supreme Court collegium to say 50% of the Supreme Court’s strength; the said collegium can be said to represent in a reasonable manner the views of the Supreme Court for the purposes of consultation with respect to appointment of judges to the Supreme Court. Why not including all of the judges of the Supreme Court as members of the collegium is advisable is because to judge the suitability of any serving High Court judge to a vacancy in the Supreme Court requires adequate experience with judgements delivered by High Court judges; which would exclude new and recent appointments to the Supreme Court from being members of the collegium. 50% of the total strength of the Supreme Court would be more in lines with reasonability for the collegium system to represent more adequately the views of the Supreme Court on such matters of appointment.

With respect to appointment of High Court judges; the Collegium has to call in nominations, if not already being done, from the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court – with the Supreme Court Collegium having power to add to such nominations – to make the collegium system more in line with the applicable provisions.

The question of consultation given by the judges on the matter of appointment of judges being binding doesn’t offer much difficulty. Consultations in certain cases are binding. Take the example of medical consultation. Dominant medical opinion given by respected medical practitioners ought to be binding; and is indeed, in practice, invariably binding. In the matters of governance, particularly with respect to the appointment of judges to the superior courts and the critical importance of the same, this ought of consultation to be binding – as given by a suitable collegium of judges – has to be binding.

One aspect which the NJAC judgements have ably answered is to point out that it cannot be said that executive has been side-lined in matters of appointment to superior courts. Intelligence reports – which can have the involvement of both the union and the state executive – plays a material role in the appointment of judges to the superior courts.

So, to reiterate, it is the working of the collegium system which has to be improved if the collegium system has to be within by and large acceptable meaning of the related constitutional provisions. Let’s see what transpires. But in any case, kudos to the Supreme Court for  striking down the NJAC, which was a disaster !!