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Delhi is a city of opportunities and new beginnings. It is often said that most people who visit the city end up falling in love with it. In this ode to Delhi and its undeniable charm, Mr Jasmeet Singh, Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court of India, reflects on his days as a young lawyer in the city and his evolving relationship with its ever-changing landscape.
For most of us who graduate law school, especially from a National Law University, with our respective fathers still far from being the hotshot of a constitutional court, the natural choice is to pursue “riches and fame” in either Delhi or Mumbai. Those with interest in litigation, with dreams of becoming “the next Harish Salve” one day, prefer Delhi, and those who prefer fat paychecks, opt for Mumbai (the city better known as the financial capital of India, and more importantly a city perceived to be more modern, more professional and safer for women, when compared to Delhi).
I chose Delhi in the year 2008. My reasons were neither unique nor exceptional. Delhi was closer to my home (Beawar is in Rajasthan) and winters are great in Delhi. I also had a pre-placement offer from Amarchand-Delhi. The cost of living is low, roads are wide, connectivity is good, and most importantly Delhi has Punjabiyat in its culture. My parents, like parents in any other middle-class family, took it upon themselves to “settle me” in Delhi, and we all stayed in Gurudwara Sis Ganj for a week.
During this period, we spent most of our time searching for a suitable flat for myself (priorities – closer to office, affordable for single occupancy, public connectivity and no interference from a landlord), buying a folding bed, essentials for the kitchen and basic luxuries (TV, small fridge and a water cooler). A week like that gives you the flavour of this city. You can compare it with the small bowl of dal or sabzi, which your mom gives to you while cooking, to check if the masala portions are just what they should be
After that initial “settling in”, you are on your own. When you are in college, you are surrounded by friends, alive almost every moment, and suddenly, here you are – in Delhi, working 14 hours a day on an average, coming back home with “things to do” on your mind, taking daily note of repairs to be done over the weekend and then postponing all of it to the next weekend.
You realise that not only are you deprived of sleep and fun but also of knowledge (since the books you read and the 8 pointers you scored are not what the clients seek), and the only things which you have in abundance are – stress and responsibilities. It is as cruel as it sounds and maybe more, at least till the time you get your first paycheck (but not entirely true because a Tier 1 paycheck has the right number of digits arranged in just the right manner to soothe the stress).
If you worked in a Tier-1 law firm like half my batch mates did (please bear in mind that the year was 2008, and recession began just after our placements), you felt like a billionaire, and if you worked with a litigation chamber (few of my close friends did), you drew just slightly more than the pocket money you used to get in college. This paycheck theory, however, is true only for the first few months.
I did B.B.A. LL.B. and economics was one of my favourite subjects. There cannot be a better example of “diminishing marginal utility” than a law firm salary. With each passing month, you’re doing almost the same work, seeing almost the same faces, giving almost the same advice to clients (Tier-1 law firms work on super speciality) and what is even worse, laughing on almost the same jokes of seniors, making the fat salary checks feel lighter with time.
Perhaps the managing partners understand this concept better, so they keep the Diwali bonuses, year-end bonuses and salary increments at bay, to keep flushing in the “utility”. The litigating friends, on the other hand, narrated interesting court stories, better jokes and pretend better job satisfaction.
Why did I use the word “pretend” in the last line? That is because now I know that the “fun” part of litigation was only for the seniors; and they, on the other hand, were running around in court corridors with a bundle of files, struggling to find auto-rickshaws (no Uber in 2008) to commute from one court to the other, fabricating multilayered excuses for (a) not finishing the briefing note in time, (b) not giving pinpointed research, (c) not filing the petition within limitation; (d) leaving some defects in the filing, and sometimes (e) not doing what only the judges knew was to be done.
This article is not a 101 on “Law Firm Job” v. “Litigation Practice”. This is about Delhi – the city which charmed me with its winters, vibrant street food and countless car-o-bar adventures. One is bound to fall in love with this city or at least some parts of it. I did too. Steadily, the weekdays were less chaotic, you learn to take traffic jams with a pinch of salt as you do the occasional abuses (in a Punjabi tone) hurled at you from your boss.
With time, I got used to a few things- (i) partying till sunrise and still making it to office in time; (ii) making some new friends and then even more; (iii) not trying to please seniors and giving yourself some priority; (v) getting lost in the hidden gems of the city every weekend, leaving behind all the worldly din which fills your mind; and much more. This city has a lot to keep you joyful and give wings to your dreams.
As a litigating lawyer, Delhi is where I want to be. It has quality work, satisfying challenges, recognition for effort, opportunities to do big if one has the mettle, so much so, that on materialistic yardsticks, even average success in Delhi is much more than extra-ordinary success in Tier -2 cities.
Despite that, a lot of my settled friends, especially with a baby or two, still talk about the day when they can move out of Delhi, plan to retire soon, move out of the country, go back to hometowns or weigh shifting to a Tier -2 city. The major reasons – exhausted with the mad rush and pollution/traffic.
The Mad Rush
If you want me to describe “life in Delhi”, I would show you people de-boarding a metro and climbing down/up the staircase. Everyone seems to be galloping, in a rush to get somewhere or be somewhere and if you were to find yourself in the midst of this crowd, you would find yourself galloping too before you realise you have no reason to do so.
Then there are some, who will amble through politics, law, writing, policymaking and still find time for jogs and wine tastings. Delhi provided me with the privilege of interacting with the latter, on more occasion than one – and I am reminded of what my father once said –
“It is not the maddening rush outside which challenges you, it is actually the one inside”.
So when I hear that Delhi fosters this mad rush, I completely disagree. In the last few months spent at Beawar and Jodhpur, I have witnessed people suffering from such a mad rush in smaller towns too. There is a class, which has used its time to meditate, paint, cook and read during the lockdown, and then there is this majority which has cribbed about business, stayed pessimistic and troubled people around.
Winters were once the best times to be in Delhi. Everything was a little cosier, a little more intriguing and a little more glamorous in Delhi winters. Then came terrible pollution. Now there are breathing issues and skin rashes, air purifiers and masks while the government adopts odd measures to get even with pollution, the Hon’ble Supreme Court bans firecrackers, halts construction, summons principal secretaries of neighbouring states, and reviews remedial steps taken by the administration and so on.
Traffic takes things from bad to worse. All appointments are fixed with a caveat – “subject to traffic”. I know people who reach the Supreme Court as early as 8:30 AM (pre-Covid of course) and then take a nap in their car. All office goers have spare clothing in their cars to change into and attend weddings/other invitations straight from the office. There are people in my colony who have purchased second-hand scooters just to block parking.
I would be a fool to say that there is any other side to this problem which is as real as reality gets. Moreover, it’s not as if my father has any words of wisdom for Delhi’s pollution or traffic. But I must ask this question – is it really going to be long before these problems crop up in the cities you are thinking to move to?
The Present and the Future
There is still a lot to be done. Delhi, I love you, and I want you to dress up with more trees, smart flyovers and have considerate residents and neighbours too (no stubble burning please), and you will be the best city to live in. Till such a thing actually happens, let us keep discussing – “Yaar, I have had enough! I am seriously thinking of leaving Delhi”.
Delhi can give you more earnings for the same work, as compared to any other city. However, Delhi will also offer you more competition to generate that work. Delhi can offer you more recognition for every big deal you are involved in but it will also bring you more shame for every big deal not done right.
The race to earn more, get more, buy more, be seen more, meet more celebrities, get involved in more policy making, handle more high-profile cases and have more bedrooms in your house – is a never-ending race, and the destination, a mirage.
No, I am not trying to bring in a philosophical conclusion to this by asking you to not chase your materialistic dreams. This thought is as momentary as the nihilistic bubble which looms over at funerals, bursting as soon as one finds themselves back in the car, checking e-mails, returning calls and fixing appointments.
For the last five months, I’ve been living a life away from Delhi, spending quality time with family, especially my new-born daughter, Meher. I try to ensure that she gets up after I finish my online court work so that I get to see her wake-up with her endlessly amusing smile and yawns. Gossips with my wife, ludo games, video games (Mario/Contra), long drives, marathon run of TV shows occupy a significant portion of my time in a day of which I keep no track.
There is clean air, zero traffic, good food and negligible stress. I spend hours sitting on the terrace with my parents, talking about the journey of life as the sunsets. But as I pen this down and see myself moving back to Delhi, I know I will be chasing sunsets (read rich clients in legal soup).
The pie in Delhi is just too big, and you get the slice which you deserve. Just relax, and follow the mantra of Baba Ranchoddas, “All is well”.