Qabliyat

Wasi Mohammad is a professional flirt. He’s also a professional lawyer at the Patna High Court, but I would not have believed that of him when we met at college. Fair, with a dark mop of hair that falls in a flick across his forehead, molten caramel eyes and what most people would call a ‘charming personality‘, Wasi can talk his way out of any situation. He was a great ally to have during the hard, punishing years of my legal education; if I was missing lectures and needed notes, I called Wasi. If I was in a seminar and needed a nap, Wasi’s shoulder was there. If I was unable to meet a deadline and needed to copy someone’s assignment, I asked Wasi to email it to me. Today, he takes on big cases for railways and banks, assisting an Advocate for the Government of Bihar. I even found a citation of one of Wasi’s cases and I felt incredibly proud.

When we were in college, we went out a couple of times but found that friendship worked best for us. I felt a real spark with him, but then again, every girl felt a spark with him. That was just Wasi’s way. He’s got a real talent for petitions, loves to debate and has a great sense of humour. When he was on a train to his hometown during term break and I asked him what he’d eaten for dinner, he said he’d ordered the chicken curry off the pantry. I told him that was a great choice and he said in a rather droll way, Wo toh kal subhey hi pata chalega (I’ll find out tomorrow morning).

There’s a sombre side to him that most people, perhaps, would be surprised to see. His family has been entangled in a legal case for the last 8 years, a case that has not only drained his financial resources, but also pushed him into occasional bouts of despair. As much as he enjoys the friendship of his compatriots and colleagues, Wasi keeps this side of him a secret. A scandal such as this would bring unnecessary infamy and unneeded sympathy. His father is being tried for a crime that he claims he did not commit. Knowing Wasi and how god-fearing and upright his family is, I don’t doubt it for a moment. However, given that it is a legal case that is sub judice, we cannot talk about it.

And we don’t. What I want to understand from our interview is how exactly does a young man watch his father suffer through such an ordeal, while trying to keep a level head and chart an independent course for himself.

Wasi’s parents had him very late. He talks about the unique relationship he has with them. How over the years they have not only been his Ammi and Baba, but also his best friends. They talk about everything: from politics, academics and career choices to the daily menu, vacations and girlfriends.
He tells me his father’s trials and tribulations have been taking a toll on his health. He suffers from IBS and gall bladder issues and this has been a serious concern for the family. Being ensnared in a legal matter at an advanced age, with failing health and barely enough community support, is something that we see in films without realising what it’s like when you’re up against the legal system.

Since we cannot talk about the case itself, we talk about Wasi’s grief. I remember how he first confessed his fears during a coffee date in our final year, where the bright ambience of the coffee shop was offset by the grim undertones of his story. Today, he and I reconnect after a long time, to talk about he’s been holding up so far.

So you were quick to pick up a job after college ended. Most of our friends went for their masters or changed careers altogether or like me, chose legal counselling and activism. How did you land a job as an associate with a prestigious firm in Patna?

I’d interned with them during term break. So once I’d completed my internship, I stayed in touch with them. I used to check their website regularly, message my colleagues and generally exchange news with my seniors. So after I graduated, I applied to the firm for a job. There was an interview and I got through. Vidhi Associates was a good place to start for me.

But that didn’t work out? You left?

Yeah, I was there for a few months. They were great but the only problem was, there was no exposure to Court. I wanted to go into litigation and they were basically giving me drafting work.

That could have been a firm policy for new associates?

Yeah it must have been because the firm was dealing with complaints from all over the country. So there could be a complaint from a remote part of India, you’d get a scanned copy of it, you’d prepare a reply to it, get it stamped by one of the senior associates and then email it. But I wasn’t really getting the chance to fight anybody’s case.

So you quit the firm and decided to approach an Advocate?

Yes, a Mr. Abbas Haider, with experience of nearly 30 years as an Advocate. I was very lucky to have found a job as one of his associates. When I joined his chamber, I got the chance to assist him in a lot of cases. I’m not an advocate on record, which is a system we have in Bihar, so I can’t be a part of any of the government cases, but I work under him on a lot of civil cases. There are civil matters and commercials matters.

So did you do any course on company law when we were at college? That would’ve helped with the commercial side of law right?

No that’s a myth that commercial law is only governed by corporate law. We file a writ under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution which requires that the Government does not discriminate while allotting tenders; that’s basically my job. Mostly it’s interpretation of contract clauses and the constitutional aspects. So, like, a company gets a tender and another contests it and we have to fight for the government and say “The company got the tender because they were more eligible and fulfilled the criteria- there was no discrimination by the government.”

You’ve been getting a lot of experience in Civil and Commercial cases which is pretty good- but I’m getting bored of this now so I’m going to ask you about your personal life OK?

(Laughs) Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

Tell me about your parents. There’s this expectation that Muslim families are conservative and patriarchal and traditional, whereas I know you to be open-minded and passionate and very egalitarian, so what were the values that you grew up with?

The only way I can explain that is- the section of society that I belong to- is like that. My mother went to St. Joseph’s Convent School for girls and Patna Women’s college, one of the best in the State and she also did her post graduation and B.Ed. She was a teacher.

She’s super-qualified.

Yeah. And they say your mother’s lap is really the first school you ever go to- so my first school was pretty good. My father was in government service for most of his career so, again, there was was this acceptance of education being normal. I think I’m very circumspect about Islamic tradition- if it exists, why does it exist? What is its origin? What purpose does it serve? So I don’t blindly follow any tradition, I’m quite rational.

So you’re very progressive.

Yes. Any tenet or custom, I try and figure it out before embracing it.

I know you’ve been in one very serious relationship for about 4 years and you were quite sad and nostalgic when it ended. What happened there?

I can say with some confidence that I wasn’t sad, I was depressed. (Chuckles) I think because when we broke up, it was a complete breakdown of my belief system. Everything we had said to each other, everything we had planned, had gone awry.

It was that serious?

Yes. Then there was a turn of events. The reason I was given at the time, was that she was focusing on her career and she didn’t want the relationship to get in the way of that. But what made my depression worse was that I found out later that she’d gotten into a relationship with someone else soon after and whatever we had planned she was doing with someone else now.

My God. That’s so hypocritical.

Yeah exactly. This break up actually brought a change in me that I hadn’t seen before. I’ve stopped trusting people. I always verify the facts before I place my trust in anyone. Also, I think I’ve given up on any sort of expectation from people. Earlier I used to be affected by it if my friends didn’t return my calls but now I’m cool about it. I’m not into expectations of any kind anymore.

It’s easier that way, for you.

Yes because when your expectations are dashed, it can be quite painful.

Have you ever met anyone else after that or gotten serious about any girl?

I don’t think I’ve looked for anyone after that. Also I feel that if I had just moved on from our relationship the way she had, what would be the difference between us? So I gave myself some time. And now I’m too busy for anything.

Now moving onto a more sensitive subject, you told me that you found out what your father was being accused of when you were still in school. You obviously had no choice, you still had to finish the 12th grade, but I believe you heard about it in the middle of your finals?

Yes, I’d just finished my English Paper on the 1st of March, my Physics Paper was due on the 5th. And on the 3rd of March we found out about the arrest.

So, I mean I’m having a hard time even putting it into words, how did you even begin to come to terms with something like that? You’re in high-school and your father’s just been arrested, do you even remember what that was like?

For us it was just unbelievable. We couldn’t imagine that someone could be accused of something so false and so big. I was completely alone in this and my mother was trying to deal with the shock. So we were just- shattered.

And you were not expecting this at all, you had no warning of it?

No! I mean, look at how it played out. My father was the informant originally, he was the one who went and filed an FIR. And then they turned the tables on him and arrested him for the same thing. I was naive, I was incredibly young; I could not imagine something like that happening to someone I loved so dearly.

How has this one incident changed you? How has it impacted your family and changed your life?

The biggest way it’s changed me is that I’ve realised that you need to be prepared for everything in life. If your loved one goes out somewhere, a parent or a family member and then you get a phone call telling you they’ve had an accident, you can’t just shut down and decide to give up.

You can’t say “Oh I’m going to go and have a breakdown now, excuse me.”

Yeah! You can’t just pack up and decide not to deal with it. One thing I know is that you need to do your bit, whatever your bit might be, whatever role you need to play in that story, you have to do it. Do anything that you can.

So your philosophy is, life is unpredictable, anything can happen, I’m just going to have to do what I can do, the rest is up to God.

Yes. And that is true. We have very little control over our own lives. The rest is up to God.

Do you struggle to live a normal life with the case and everything? Because you have a job and you’ve got to show up for that every day, do you try and distance yourself from everything that’s happened?

I think at this point we’ve all developed a temperament to deal with it because this case has now been going on for almost 8 years.

But my question is, when you’ve got a job where you’re dealing with civil matters and at the same time there is this criminal matter going on, how do you juggle both? At some point you’re having to face the fear and the anxiety and the uncertainty, how do you push that away?

Since I’m in the same field, I think it helps for me to know that I can do something about it.

Does the fact that you’re lawyer make you feel more confident about what is to come?

Absolutely, absolutely. The thing is, I speak to my peers and my seniors very freely about it. Instead of brushing it under the carpet, I try and come out openly about what’s going on and I talk to people about it and I get advice. There are times when one thing is more urgent than the other. So if there is a choice to make, I go to work. But if there is anything going on at home, I take leave. So it’s all about priority.

Do you feel professionally you’ve been a lot luckier than say, other law graduates at this point who are struggling for a job? There are people who have left law after completing their degree, so it’s a very volatile field right now. Do you think you’ve been lucky?

I do consider myself lucky in that way because it all comes down to guidance at the proper time. I got great advice after I graduated, from people who genuinely wanted to see me do well. So there was a time, when I was dissatisfied with how things were going, and someone told me not to just sit there and wait for things to happen but to actually go and put myself out there till something worked for me.

There’s a word for it. You’re a hustler.

Thanks! Yeah, I have to keep trying.

Everyone considers you to be the kind of dude with a very, I don’t know, there’s a complaisance there about you that everyone takes for granted. But when you’re feeling down, are there people that you can talk to?

Yeah I have two best friends I can talk to anytime. I’m currently on a break with one of them, because we’ve had a fight.

Oh man. That’s really sad.

(Laughs) Yeah and we haven’t spoken in months so there’s been no cease fire just a cold war. But I try and be vocal about how I’m feeling, so if I’m feeling low, I talk to my friends. I think what works best with me is distraction. I try and divert myself.

And what are these diversions that you employ?

When I was in Pune, I remember I’d just start walking from home and keep walking. Just go out into the city.

Go exploring?

Yeah, I have this restless spirit where I just put on my pants and jacket and go people-watching.

Another thing about you is your zest for food. You are totally obsessed with good food. Tell me about your connection with food.

You know, at our house, if you count three meals a day, every meal has five dishes.

Five?!

Yes. If there are times when my mother doesn’t cook, there are many restaurants around. I’m all about gourmet food. In fact, it’s a fantasy of mine to go to restaurants and be a food-critic. My friends call me up and ask me where they should eat whenever they want to eat out.

This is just an idea, but why don’t you open up an Instagram account or something where you can go to restaurants and give reviews, ratings and take pictures of the food? It’ll be a fun hobby and you can actually get something out of your love for food. You are a connoisseur at this point.

That’s such a good idea. I could do that but the problem is, the only famous dish here in Patna is Litti Chokha.

So have you kept up with the finest traditions of the Bar and got a nice paunch now?

Yes. I’ve put on because there is no concept of taking a walk here during breaks. So I’ve gotten fatter and people are starting to comment on that now.

Don’t worry. One bad case and you’ll lose the weight.

(Laughs) I’m thinking of starting cycling or skipping or going to the gy-

Wasi. Wasi. Listen to me. Let’s just call those preliminary plans.

OK, OK. You’re right.

What is your happy place Wasi?

Poetry. I love poetry. That’s where I go to hide.

Any lines that come to mind?

mire junūñ natīja zarūr niklegā

isī siyāh samundar se nuur niklegā

Wah! Do you know the poet?

(Pause) Uh. No.

The last time we talked, you couldn’t help flirting because you’re incorrigible and you asked me whether I missed you. So I’m going to turn it around; have you missed me?

Of course! How could I not?

So now, as we’re wrapping up- about this friend of yours, the one you’re not talking to, if there was one thing you could say to him-

It’s a she. (Grins)

Oh it’s a girl? Ah. So if there was one thing you could say to her, and if she were to read this interview, what would you tell her through this medium?

Please message me, because you know well enough I’m not going to message you first.

I wanted to do this interview because I wanted people to understand three things about mental health: One, we often think we know someone without actually knowing what personal hell they’re living in. Two, there is a lot more to life than having fun, for example, it can simply be the relief of knowing that you can be there for your father. And three, just because someone looks happy, does not mean that they are. It could just mean that they have the cability to try. In Urdu, capability is expressed as Qabliyat. You won’t know this when you first meet him, but underneath the layers of gourmet food, flirtations and romantic poetry, lies Wasi’s capability. His Qabliyat.

And the lines he quoted? They come from Ameer Qazalbash and when translated, mean:

There will be some resolution to my mad passion, from this very dark ocean, there will be light