The powers of a briyani-infused paper
What is your view on briyani? Does it have magical powers? Justice Prasad Abraham, a former Federal Court Judge, recounts a second (real life) anecdote from his days at the Bar.
The powers of briyani are not to be sneezed at. They can stifle court proceedings. I say this on good authority.
In “The Mahaguru”, I spoke of the great respect Seniors enjoyed at the Bar.
If they asked you to do something, you did it.
I continue with another anecdote in this vein.
One busy afternoon a Senior telephoned me.
“Could you ‘take another date’* for me at the High Court tomorrow?” he asked.
[*to ask the court for a postponement of a hearing].
He laid out the background briefly.
The case had been set down for trial.
It was before a High Court judge.
He had spoken to all opposing counsel.
There were numerous parties.
They had all agreed to the adjournment.
It was an “open and shut” case.
Hearing this rather reassuring briefing, I asked his file be sent over.
Late in the evening, instead of the file, there arrived a single sheet of paper.
Upon it were typed spartan instructions: the file number and the name of the parties.
The next day, the case was to be heard in the afternoon.
So lunch beckoned.
The famous Kassim Briyani Restaurant was near the courts.
The instruction paper accompanied me to Kassim.
Unfortunately, during a somewhat enthusiastic feast, stains of curried briyani splashed upon parts of said paper.
When I strolled into court, it was as if I had stumbled into a Roman colosseum. Like gladiators readying for battle, lawyers wielding books and files filled the Well of the Court. I was to discover they were mostly my learned opponents.
There I stood, and all I had to show for a weapon was said curry-stained paper.
The High Court judge ascended the bench at 2.30 pm sharp.
When the case was called, the moment I mentioned the word ‘postponement’, it was as if hell’s spawn were unleashed upon the court.
All of my opponents sprang up in unison.
Breathing hellfire and brimstone, they told the judge that they had ‘never agreed to any adjournment’, and this was ‘the second day of trial’.
The public gallery, by now overflowing at the seams, fell into hushed silence.
Parties and members of the public regarded the proceedings with interest, at my opponents in admiration, and me with disdain.
Compared to my opponents’ fiery objections, my response could not have been more than half-mumbled gibberish.
In all that time the judge’s entire fascination seemed riveted upon said briyani instruction nervously fluttering in my hand.
Miraculously the judge allowed the adjournment. With dark muttering, Hell’s spawn settled.
The moment the judge was out of sight, I bolted.
A few hours later, when reality hit me, I realised that I had escaped by the skin of my teeth.
I guessed the Senior realised he was sending a lamb to slaughter.
He knew full well I’d be thrown under the bus.
He’d have expected his opponents to maul me.
But he had gambled the judge would take pity upon a junior, and things would work out.
I did not like it one bit.
Working up my anger, I waited for a chance to vent it.
And waited for two full days.
Then the Senior deigned to telephone me.
With considerable chagrin I related the almost-disastrous events in court.
His nonchalant response was,
“I knew the Judge would grant the adjournment, well done, and thank you”.
I could have wrung his neck with my bare hands; so mad was I.
To this day, I cannot understand why the judge allowed the postponement.
Why had the judge let me off?
Why was he so intent on my briyani-stained paper? Like a snake dancing to a charmer’s flute, he’d been mesmerised by it.
Did he enjoy the food at Kassim?
Did he recall fond moments from the fragrances wafting off my curried instructions?
To this day, I still wonder.
[Datuk Prasad Sandosham Abraham is a retired judge of the Federal Court of Malaysia. He is now an arbitrator. If you wish to comment upon his story, do send an email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or to our usual contact address]