Divorce diary: Rookie in the Courtroom
Pre-court tension: 8 am
What do you wear when you go to court? I wondered standing in front of the mirror. Two years of separation and the @#$%% I married was about to appear in court for the first hearing of my divorce case. He had received summons! The initial euphoria of having thus saved a few months of repeated service of summons to a moron living abroad had soon been replaced by the usual fears and anxieties of my separated-but-not-divorced state. But what if he doesn’t appear today? What if this case just goes on and on and…..my lawyer easily throws around words like “ex parte” and “mediation” and God knows what else, but what does it all mean really? Will he appear or won’t he? Will I get a divorce decree or not?
“Never speculate on litigation.” Another favourite of my lawyer’s. Easy for him to say.
But its probably good advice as far as advice goes I sigh and focus on the much more important issue at hand. What on earth does one wear to court? The only time I had been in the Family court I was so focused on fighting back the tears while babbling about the disaster of my marriage that I really hadn’t noticed the dress code.
Red? Too flashy. Blue? Too mellow. Yellow? Noooooo. Ray of sunshine I am not, not today. Black? Looks like I am in mourning. Well, I am in mourning aren’t I? But I don’t want him to think I am in mourning for him. But you are mourning the loss of your marriage, your family, your faith in the permanence of marriage, of love, aren’t you dear?I don’t like this particular nasty snarky voice in my head.
Can we leave the psycho-babble for later and just wear something and get to the damn court already? (And it is perfectly, perfectly normal to talk to yourself dear, no you are not crazy, well not much anyway, nothing incurable) Black it is. Goes with my mood.
In the court: 10.30 am
Usually, the looming brick building housing the Nyayadegula of Bengaluru is a place I associate with salvation. The place where I was finally able to take a stand, where I could submit my pleas, where I could finally put up a fight against the mess that my married life had become. How sadly naive.
Today I stepped out of the auto, feeling apprehensive about the looming structure in front of me, no longer an abstract concept where justice(gulp!) is served, or at least sought for, desperately, painfully. Suddenly the reality of filing a court case hit me. The reality that this was one of the several hundred (gulp, thousand?) times that I would come to this place. I morosely climbed up the stairs, crossing tiled floors, newcomer in an alien world where the predominant species seemed to be a penguin-like animal that wore black(black coats, black pants, black black black) interspersed with these immigrant species, the hapless clients of these lawyers.
I gulped again. Deep breaths, take deep breaths. Was it just me or was the air here different? The atmosphere appeared to my befuddled mind to be swirling with throttled dreams, congealed desires and brutal hopelessness. Maybe it was my depression making a comeback. Maybe it was all this black (on the bright side, I fit right in: my mood like my clothes like their clothes was black black as black can be).
I sit in the empty waiting hall. Relieved that its empty. Look furtively around to see if the @##$%# has arrived. Nope. Wonder why no one is here. Talk on the phone to my lawyer who tells me I must go to the III additional court on the second floor. Ah, so that’s where everyone must be. That’s where (gulp) the #%$#%$#$^ must be.
I trudge up the rickety court stairs, even the stairs look sinister to me today.Furious thoughts battling in my crazy head. I am on constant lookout for that familiar egg-shaped head that I had held and loved for the 7 years that we were husband and wife. For the billionth time I asked myself, how had it all come to this?I quell all urges that tell me to turn and run for my life.Instead, I turn my mind to more pressing questions.
What will you do when you see him? “You must learn to be adversarial” or so I had been advised and these were snippets I clung to at times like this. Yes… so I must be adversarial, but how does “adversarial” look? Is it an angry pouty look? No, might look like a child throwing a tantrum. Maybe a frowny pointed look? Um can you even pull that off? Lets face it, you can barely keep a straight face in the official meetings you attend. The dour-looking higher-ups only tolerate you mostly because they have a mistaken belief you are good at what you do. There’s that snarky voice in my head again.Be that as it may, I tell myself, adversarial is how I should look today. Or be.
Before I can decide exactly how “adversarial” looks I realise Ive reached the second floor. I let out an inadvertent sigh of relief when I see the $%%^@@@ is nowhere in sight. That’s not good is it? I could feel a growing sense of dread blooming right where that bit of relief lies dying. I walk up to the bulletin board in front of the III additional court.
My matrimonial Case (legalese for divorce, for the blessedly ignorant) is up first. My lawyer is no where in sight. Neither is the #$#%#@ (mixed feelings there- tug of war between yay! I don’t have to face him today to dammit Ill be stuck here forever if he doesn’t tango). I slip into the courtroom and make a beeline for the front row.
Theres a round table around which penguins er, I mean lawyers are seated. They may as well be penguins I think as I sit comfortably stretching my legs and surveying this place where my case would be “fought”. They might as well be another species with whom we, the ignoramus laypersons of this land, were being forced to interact because we did not speak this language or understand the complicated rituals of court process. This terrible wave of animosity welled up in me again wondering yet again what on earth I was doing here and why, why, why God, why me?
But sense soon prevailed. No, thou shalt not wallow in self-pity. So what if the woman next to you is sitting with her head in her hands looking like her world had ended (which in most probability it had, mine had too, its when your world ends that you come to this new planet called court and dance with these aliens). I knew then that I better start my breathing exercises because my thoughts were going all screwy. I was on the verge of hyperventilating. My lawyer still hadn’t appeared, neither had the $%$^%&. What was I to do? Phones must be switched off. I wasn’t in the mood to call anyone up either. Wanted to quietly drown in my own cesspool of misery. Maybe head holding like like this woman or looking suicidal like that one, was the way to go.
Luckily, my lawyer chose exactly that pathetic moment to come striding in.He sat at the round table. Everyone in the court room rose as the judge entered and took her place. Suddenly my lawyer was in front of the judge. I was still sitting dazed, when I see him looking around and then gesturing to me to come and stand there. I rush up to him but have no clue why. My lawyer says Petitioner something something to the judge. The judge says something something back.A small voice squeaks out from the small scared lawyer from the opposite side. So that’s the ##$%$#%#’s lawyer I think. He mumbles something and looks as scared as I am. Though he is on the side of the #@$%@#% I instantly feel sympathetic towards him. Here finally was someone who looked exactly like I felt. Lost and completely clueless. I almost smile the first smile of the day. Of course the fact that the #%#^$#$ hasn’t appeared is probably not a good thing for my court case, but then when has that $#@%@ ever been on time for anything important? At least he’s consistent, as consistent in divorce as in marriage.Got to give him that.
Of course I realise that it might be high time to get my head checked.
Meanwhile, my lawyer has confidently said something to the judge and the judge has mumbled gibberish back. And suddenly my lawyer thanks her honour ( though it should be her majesty, really) and walks away from the judge, black coat swishing. I blink and push across the bodies of the next petitioner-lawyer duos trying to keep up with my penguin er, I mean lawyer. I suddenly find myself in this crowd of human beings streaming out of the court room and let myself be swept along. I am too tired. My brain has been struggling with information overload and is threatening to shut down. I have to cajole it into working for a few minutes more, at least until my lawyer translates exactly what happened today.
“Lets go for a walk” he says as soon as he comes out of court. He explains that the Chennai lawyer was the @#$#%@’s lawyer(actually junior of the @#$@#$@’s lawyer) and he had said client is abroad explaining his absence in court. Being from another state, he wasn’t aware of the court process here in Bangalore, but he had appeared for his client and assured the court that the $#$^%#$^ would arrive for the next court date. But that’s what he said last time??? my brain screams and I wonder why I had been so relieved earlier that he wasn’t there(stupid, stupid, stupid). Would he ever come? What if he doesn’t show up? My lawyer as usual goes through the motions of explaining ex-parte and the importance of patience and so on and so forth. My mind began to blank out towards the end.
Outside the court: 11.30 am
A feeling of doom and melancholy was rapidly descending upon me as we made our way to the exit. From the lawyers concerned expression I realised that my hopelessness was showing on my damn face. I readjusted my facial features to make sure I emitted a sunny grimace er, I mean smile, as I said goodbye, and hurried away from what had seemed to me to be the toxic environs of the court, a place where human hopes and desires went to languish in the looooong depressing wait for justice.
For some time I stood blinking in the bright sunlight outside the court complex. The fog in my brain seemed to be slowly clearing as I took deep breaths. All is not lost. In fact nothing had been lost, or gained. Things were as they should be, I reassured myself , as I took steps away from the building. You are where you should be, I reassured myself. Yeah but the #$@$%@ isn’t! So what? I ask. I am not the #@%@%#@’s keeper. I have done all I can. I shall continue to do so. I crossed the road passing a tired hapless traffic policeman. More importantly, I give my thanks for the life that I have, pimples and all. I have a job, my two beautiful children with me and a will to fight for my truth. I turn around and look at the courthouse. From this distance, it had gone back to being an ordinary building, with nothing different about it except for the inordinate number of penguins around it.
Its all a matter of perspective my dear, I told myself. Look at this building and remember you will come back here, as many thousands of times as is needed. You will remain calm, you will remain sane (well as sane as you can be), and you will fight. There will be times when you want to kill yourself but that’s alright, you will bounce back. Most importantly, you will count your blessings and give thanks for everything you do have: lovely children, gainful employment, good friends and a lot of love and joy. This pain will surely pass.
I made my calm steps away from my Nyayadegula battle ground with all the determination of a warrior princess: I will be back.