ETHICS

“Old habits die hard…” I murmured, thinking about my past. Being a 70 year old ex-High Court Judge, all that I could see before me was not the television screen adjacent to the ‘emergency alarm’ or the fruit baskets my relatives brought me or the ECG monitor embracing my life line taped to my arteries; but the nostalgic flash backs glaring back at me.

***

At the age of five, I never thought that, one day I would be lying like this on my death bed, counting the few seconds left. Cancer had mercilessly eaten off my bone marrows. Moreover who would think about anything that would happen 65 years later? All I could think about at that time was “why the battery of my dinosaur died so early”. As tears deluge my cheeks, my grandmother solaces me with a pat on my back.

“Boys do not cry. When his toy’s battery is worn out he would go to the store and buy new batteries.” There began the first lecture of ‘ethics.’

“But look grandma, I have tears. See… boys also can cry!” I murmured through the sobs. But grandma just gave me a knowing smile.  A smile I couldn’t understand.

“You always have an answer for everything, don’t you?” She gave me the smile and caught me flashing my teeth when she handed over a new set of batteries.

***

“Objection, Your Honor. There is proof for domestic violence against my client by her mother-in-law and also have witnesses.” I blurted out to the Judge.

“Hey! She is my son’s wife and I have the right to treat her as I like!” The mother-in-law shouted.

“Mrs. Dalal… In this court you shouldn’t shout at others. You will be given the chance to make a statement.” The Judge maintained order.

“Your Honor, my client was physically and mentally tortured by her mother-in-law and she demands divorce from her drunkard husband and a compensation of fifty thousand rupees for the harassment she had to face.” My client gave me smile that was in fact the sharing of her joy.

After many hours’ arguments and exhibition of evidences, the court was in favor of our plea.

“Thank you Adv. Menon. God bless you for the help! Now I can escape from my husband live with my boyfriend.” She brightened.

“Are you aware that this was my first case and you made me argue my very first case a nothing case? Your mother-in-law was never so harsh on you; in fact and you were always short tempered. Anyway you won your case; where is my cheque?“ 

“You South-Indians are always like this! Even for a small issue, you people make it seem like it would cause catastrophe to the world. You lawyers and you’re stupid ethics. Here is your cheque; keep it!” the slim Bengali woman handed over the piece of paper and brushed past me.

“What a coquette!” I grumbled under my breath. From now on, I will stick to true cases with ethics. Making a resolution in my mind, I walked over to the tea stall for a hot cup of tea to refresh my mind. The damp climate, wet with the morning rain caked my shoes in mud. I thought of my childhood when I played in the muddy water after the summer drizzle. The air smells earth just like those days. I and my dinosaur splashing on the muddy pool formed of rainwater. My grandmother came out of nowhere to pinch my earlobes and scolded “I have told you a hundred times to not play in the mud. Do you wish ringworms coming out of your ears?”

The irony hung in the air. Her nails hooked deep on my earlobes and ears hurt more than anything

That added another item in the list of Do’s and Don’ts.

Why do we have to follow all these rules? I thought as I washed myself under the shower.

***

“Aren’t you ashamed? You are fifteen and you still want that dinosaur with you when you sleep and you still want to play in the puddle. Grow up boy!” my grandmother shouted in a crescendo.

Raising a teenage boy might have been a hard job for her and if that teenager is childish like me, then her job is much more difficult.

That was another item on the list of ethics.

“You should act your age.”

***

The sip of hot tea snapped me back to present. Five years since I argued my first case. Now I am a reputed lawyer thriving to become a High Court Judge. I am studying my latest case.

“Hmm… medical ethics. A case of negligence; and interesting one. A Doctor’s negligence while performing an operation on a pregnant woman. Cord winds around baby’s abdomen and baby dies purging out vital organs. Mother and child die on delivery. A rare case.

My, my! What has the world come to?!

The hard work that I had put in to advocate for the dead woman’s family in rejecting the plea of doctor for bail was rewarded by great reputation and happiness.

***

A year later I beamed with joy when I was appointed as the High Court Judge of Mumbai. I was chaired to make decisions in cases on merciless doing beyond our imagination. Some of them used to haunt me for so many nights. Then, there were some which made me laugh for eighty years straight! And some others will leave me working out in my mind for weeks but always left me answerless. Nothing is ever locked. But sometimes the keys just don’t fit.

***

“Lawyer, Madam. I want to become a lawyer when I grow up.” “That’s great my dear boy; great ambition. My husband is also a lawyer. I hope you will be a successful lawyer as my husband. Welcome to the school. Your test schedules and results will be mailed to you. Enjoy the eleventh grade.” The vice-principal of the school remarked with a diplomatic smile.

That night falling to sleep was not easy. I wondered why children have to wait to grow up to become someone they wanted be. Why can’t a child become an accomplished person at an early age? Ambitions don’t have to be aimed towards jobs.

My grandmother entered the room to switch off the lights.

“Sleep!” she shouted.

I wondered what she would say if I share this thought of mine with her. Probably that will result in one more addition to the List of Ethics.

It didn’t surprise me when I easily passed out of college with flying colours. But what actually surprised me was the sudden death my grandmother faced the next day due to stroke. I controlled myself to not cry. I remembered the way she would have scoffed me “boys do not cry!” I made it a habit; never cry. Even when I faced cases and situations which were cathartic enough to rip my heart off its shield rib-cage, I hold on to control tears.

***

My phone buzzed.

“Hello Mr Menon. I am Mrs Dash. I want an appointment to discuss a case of domestic violence. A case by me against Mrs Dalal, my mother-in-law.”

Agreeing to Mrs Dash’s false accusation on her mother-in-law, I eyed my dinosaur, remembering the rule book of my grandma. She would never like what I am doing right now. I could even feel her snare from heaven. Or from hell?

Clutching my dinosaur, I listened to the hum of the ECG machine. My pulse rising and falling in arrhythmic beats. Like in life; every rise will have a fall. It’s another rule of life.

My whole life was surrounded by rules, laws and ethics. I realized that freedom is just a virtual hope everyone cherishes. The laws of time, money, race and gender keep everything in check.

I had always wanted to escape the rules set out for me by my grandma. Breaking free off them was my dream. Irony is that, I became a lawyer who enforces rules and laws. So maybe, I was destined be surrounded by the ‘ethics’ and rules always.

A flood of pain derailed my train of thoughts, reminding me that only a few seconds of my life remain. I inhaled a long breath to block out the numbing pain and returned to my thoughts; clutching my dinosaur to me tightly.

Pain gaining more powerful, pushed me past my breaking point. I could feel the tear globes swelling up to flood my vision. But, I willed myself to stop. The face of my grandma gave me strength.

“Old habits die hard.” I repeated as my eyes obeyed my mind’s order and started to dry up.

As ready to let go off this material world, I gave one more thought. I will be surrounded by ethics and rules again. I’ll meet my grandma soon.

Freedom does not exist; ethics make sure of that. It felt like my grandmother came in to switch off the lights like always.

“Sleep!”

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Panchami Menon

 

 

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