Twixt torch & tray

Published April 11, 2021
The writer is a poet and analyst.
The writer is a poet and analyst.

LAWYERS are known to be a quarrelsome and irritable lot, perhaps a natural condition given the combative nature of their profession and law being a jealous mistress etc. Always picking up a fight though mostly for their own ‘rights’ these days instead of the downtrodden, their most recent peeve is more pompous than humorous.

Three bar councils in the country have accused waiters working at restaurants and cafes across Pakistan of masquerading as lawyers. They seem perturbed that donning uniforms so similar to practitioners of the law may mislead some patrons to mistakenly give them briefs instead of asking for the dessert menu.

Some may say that the lawyers’ indignation is not without merit. There are far too many similarities at play to ignore this slow and insidious creep the waiters have mounted to transgress into the sanctum sanctorum of justice. The word ‘bar’ denotes the calling both to the respected legal profession and the no less honoured counter where drinks and refreshments are served.

Actually, in our part of the Urdu- and Persian-speaking world, the saqi holds such a revered and powerful station that only an imbecile would mistake it as a synonym for a bartender. However, with the belated exit of the British from the subcontinent and the prohibition in Pakistan, a bearer serving tea came to be known as ‘barwala’.

Some may say that the lawyers’ indignation is not without merit.

Another connection between the two titles can be found in the fact that the lounge area next to the courtrooms where the lawyers put up their feet to rest between long arguments in the courts is also called a ‘barroom’. The patrons there will give any newsroom in the world a run for its money where ordering unending rounds of tea is concerned, and those who serve there are known as ‘barwala’.

In the movies, bar brawls start in a tavern and usually finish on the street with one or both antagonists ending up on their backs. Of late, unfortunately, bar brawls more often than not take place in district courtrooms and judges’ chambers where ‘waiters’ masquerading as lawyers attack anything and anyone in sight. The lawyers are right, such brazen theft of identity must be stopped forthwith to safeguard the image and reputation of the legal profession.

While we are at it, all the land grabbing waiters who don’t even discern between a football field and a public street before the illegal construction of chambers must also be brought before the law. Bearers who routinely subject members of subordinate judiciary to physical assault and invective must also face the law.

The tray bearers must not be allowed to bring a bad name to the torchbearers of law and justice. Let us hope that better sense prevails, and the waiters do as they have been told by the lawyers and not try to emulate the general who insisted that the uniform was like his skin and he cannot be expected to shed it. One wonders whether the saying, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’, was coined with us in mind? Remember, the same general used to warn that if dissidents took to the mountains on his watch “they won’t even know what hit them”. A judge of the Sindh High Court has recently been threatened with a rocket attack, only this time around the alleged source of the threat is known — a provincial minister.

A senior lawyer has recently been named in a homicide involving a judge and his family. We all know how registration of cases is used to settle scores and the due course of law moves so slow, if at all, that reputations and lives are destroyed in the meantime. However, the said lawyer’s purported remarks in his defence point towards a deeper abyss. He reportedly said that tribal traditions do not permit harming women and children. In other words, in a regressive society we seem hell-bent on turning Pakistan into (grown men are fair targets notwithstanding), the robe of the victim or the uniform of the accused.

The lawyers may be latecomers to the game, as certain other quarters are trying to dictate sartorial choices of the citizens for a while. Since 2019, orders for mandatory wearing of abaya by female students keep resurfacing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Balochistan University too issued a similar circular prescribing uniform for its students but then Covid happened and the decision was overtaken by events. Sartorial solutions have also been offered to fend off rape as obscenity has been identified as the leading cause behind it. One really wonders what immodest outfits little girls and boys in Pakistan should forsake to ward off the rapists?

Lawyers have many things in common with sportsmen too ie, uniform, practice and of course the bench. While some lawyers may aspire to be on the bench, the sportsmen always dread it.

The writer is a poet and analyst.

shahzadsharjeel1@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2021

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