Tuesday, 5 May 2009

'Tis a Long Road that leads to the Old Wig

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It is an exhilarating feeling to be formally called to Bar, I have walked that road.
Few things in life can compare to the climactic upsurge when you are clothed in the robes and receive the venerated wig unto your head. When you are inducted into that enclave of the most prestigious vocation, barricading the oaken door to non-initiates as you settle down to establish a bond with the masters over dinner. Nothing beats the air of mystery as you reappear from the dinner, wearing an inscrutable expression that befits your new status, smiling inwardly at the muted questions of awe-struck family and friends, altogether transported to the pinnacle of their regard, a revered figure. You are positioned to tread the highly acclaimed road of being a custodian of the law.
It is indeed a once-in a lifetime feeling.
 Alas! Like all once in a lifetime things, it soon wears off… and you are brought back from the nine clouds with a thud!

Your first day in court.

You walk into the room puffed up, well maybe a bit by the elaborate raiment of your new office but more from an exaggerated feeling of importance, and stride majestically towards the bench for the day’s cause list. You expect the world to stand still and acknowledge a special one; you constrict your countenance to the right level of dignity…. ‘Smiles cheapeneth the face’, didn’t somebody say somewhere in history. You strain your ears for the murmur of awe that should accompany your impeccably shimmering appearance.
None of this happens, rather you are shocked at the snicker -from no more a person than the half initiate court clerk, you turn to descend on him until you discover the source of his merriment, you almost drop the cause list (which by the way you are holding wrong side up) he is literally looking over your head, so you adjust your headgear…then the bombshell drops, ‘You’re a new wig are you not? It’s so obvious. Relax, you’ll get used to it’ You dutifully ignore him; the day is so momentous to be dampened by irreverent rantings of a flippant clerk.

But your travails are not yet over.
As you take your seat in the bar, drinking in the dizzying fact that you are now part of the esteemed circle, the other lawyers are all reaching out to pump your hands, and the room is filled with a hum of ‘New wig! New wig!’ ‘Congratulations boy! You are thankful when the door is pounded to announce M’ lord’s appearance.
He sits and surveys the hall with stern features, and all of a sudden, his eyes light up with a twinkle… ‘Oh I see we have a new wig today, please stand up’ you look back praying it is not you, but the tell-tale wig draws you to your feet and you answer a few personal questions revealing more humbling details of your neonate status. For the older lawyers, the session has started on a comic note. You catch the court clerk’s glance again and there are tears in his eyes, he is helpless with laughter. The rest of the day crystallizes your lowliness, your case is high up on the cause list, but you are called last. You shakily stutter out your motion and flee the premises.

Again and again the cycle is repeated…the glossy wig , with all the threads firmly in place coupled with the shiny blackness of your gown spot you out for miles as the profession’s latest green horn. And friend, it is indeed a long wait before that wig of yours begins to grow old.

The road is long that leads to an old wig…it is paved with incredible tales of bloody conquests, bruising defeats, close shaves and a quagmire of soul-selling compromises. The wig gets blackened by smokes of sustained crossfire, stained by the muddy pitfalls dug by foes, gnarled and twisted by the rough weather of the profession. But what an enviable place awaits him on whose head the old wig is perched.

He shuffles slowly into the courtroom (none of that sprightly overzealousness of the young) and is ushered into a reserved seat at the bar. When his case is called up, he demonstrates that there is an uncanny dignity in the tremulousness of voice and limb, he squints at documents and the court stands still until his presentation is made. His deep throated submissions ring with the finality of an adage. The opposing side does not object with vehemence ….he merely begs to disagree. And if sustained, the judge turns away his face in apologetic embarrassment.

Can an old wig lose a case? When his writings contribute to numerous persuasive precedents…When other lawyers quote him…he may have even taught a judge or two…Be it in silk or of the ordinary stuff, the old wig stands as the symbol of experienced knowledge. Like Dorian Gray’s portrait, it is the outward reflection of the time worn innards… Naturally, the old wig continually wears thin; revealing a deep portion of the grey beneath…grey meets grey…wisdom embraces wisdom…an earth shaking communion!

The aged wig reflects the law in its perfection. He is a jurisconsult; the lawyer’s lawyer. He oozes self confidence, his knowledge is a fortress; there is no trick in the bag he has not practiced. Do not be deceived by his occasional absent mindedness, he is not senile…at such times he merely releases his spirit to the secret dwelling place of the law…he is the medium that transcribes its darker mysteries. It is whispered that many a judge sits at his feet in the twilight seeking direction for a decision of the morrow.

He smiles at the excesses of the young, he watches them rush to their ruin in their mad play to the gallery…the race is not for the swift footed nor the nimble…it is for the seasoned warrior sure of where to place his feet and defeat the raging quicksand. The real world opens up new chapters uncovered by the theories and ideals of law school…The young is befuddled by the discrepancy…The old wig has seen it all.

When the wig grows old…it also grows prosperous. Youth believes so much in its strength, thus it gambles and explores, nibbling only at the edges, never becoming a true master,
For the old wig, there is only one profession…the law…he grows old in it and it pays him. He is celebrated…his hallways are lined with plaques and medals. He is grand patron to a horde of eager disciples.

The wig does not grow old at the bottom of the dresser…it is a regular helmet on the battlefield of law practice. Again and again, it marches to gory swordfights and comes back stained. Every crease, a notch of glory. Every tear, the scalp of a foe.…Rugged statements of invincibility.

When the wig grows old, it captures the sentiment of D.H. Lawrence when he penned the lines:

It ought to be lovely to be old
To be full of the peace that comes of experience and wrinkled ripe fulfillment
The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows life…
My new wig is very smart, in fact it is a fashion statement, but I dream of the glorious days when it shall grow old…


First published in Thisday Newspapers: May 5, 2009