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   Prashanto Banerji - Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
Prashanto Banerji
Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
[26 Feb 2007]


Arguing with a lawyer, I've realised, is like competing in a tree-climbing time-trial against an orangutan. Well, perhaps not unlike many, I too enjoy the occasional bout of ridiculous self-humiliation. And recently, as there are far more lawyers in my immediate vicinity than orangutans or trees, I merrily took on one of the former in an interesting debate. Be forewarned, however, that a lawyer, especially the portentous Portia type, is a far more formidable opponent outside a courtroom than inside.

Barely a week ago, I was driving to Bareilly to attend a wedding reception with the bride, the groom, a bevy of wonderful friends and my dear wife in tow. After the usual enthusiasm and chatter that accompanies the start of a journey had settled down, the car cabin became rather quiet. Heads lolled and swayed to rhythms dictated by NH24 and Lobo, while I struggled to stay awake at the wheel. At a certain point between Gajraula and Bareilly, I began conversing with a friend of the bride's who happened to be a practising lawyer. It began on a fairly cordial note but as we veered toward the legality of morality, our stances and our jaws hardened.

My learned friend (isn't that what they like being called in the movies) insisted that morality was separate from the law but the same as culture and therefore all that a socio-religious framework within a community upheld to be correct and right, was and whatever it did not, was not. However the same need not find legal endorsement. "For instance", she said, "bearing a child out of wedlock runs against the grain of our socio-religious consciousness and is therefore immoral and wrong, though it might not be an offence from a legal perspective. But the same might find acceptance in the West and therefore is moral and right within that set-up". She also went on to state that morals were subject to an individual's conscience and therefore the 'rights' and 'wrongs' of a given situation were governed only by two factors - the prevailing culture around the situation and the individuals conscientious response within that framework.

I, on the other hand countered that rights and wrongs weren't subject to cultures or religion but were universal. Correctness is subject to consequence and therefore, the consequence of one's actions determined the correctness of that action. But consequence is subject to purpose and only when an ideal purpose is determined can the ideal consequence of an action be ascertained. For example, the purpose of 'life' is to grow and evolve, and human civilisation, being a minute component of this life-force ought to be governed by the same principle. Thus, every human action that furthers and supports the evolution and growth of life, on a physiological, intellectual, spiritual and a social plane is good and right and every action that does not, is not. And it doesn't matter whether it is the genocide in Darfur or the barbarity of Khairlanji that finds local and communal sanction, they're both crimes against 'life', as have been various culturally accepted practices like honour killings, sati and witch hunts. The same ought to hold true for the jihads of our times and every war on terror that apparently counters it.

I was just getting warmed up, when the decibel levels in the car prompted the other occupants to wake up. One by one, they all defected toward our learned friend except for my wife who chose to abstain with a dignified smile and a loving look, and the bride, who was too sleepy and too happy to care. The long reach and reinforced voice of the law and her battery of well-wishers prevailed. I gave in before I could give voice, but in your court, dear reader, I rest my case.

While I might pretend to be an armchair philosopher like almost every other Bengali, I'm pretty sure our friend-in-law would only consider herself an articulate and well informed pragmatist. Neither is a qualified expert but I hope the above account will encourage fellow philosophers to build a paradigm that'll bring them that much closer to deciding whether 'Bushes' are meant to be beaten on or around or if fossil fuels are fuelling our lives or our pyres. But next time you're in the mood for a challenge, I suggest you look for a tree and an orangutan... you might have better luck. Cheerio!

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