As an unabashed fan of tv serials like ‘Boston Legal’ and ‘The Practice’ and an avid viewer of our Supreme Court proceedings live streamed, it’s a no brainer for youtube to push court videos in my feed. The hearing of the macabre ‘Parkland Shooting’ in America caught my attention. On Valentine’s Day five years ago, an expelled student had gone berserk, gunning down seventeen children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Court in Florida. The trial on camera was riveting. The criticism from defence lawyers notwithstanding, I found Judge Elizabeth Scherer who was hearing the case so dignified and in control. Displaying empathy for the families of the victims, she came across as sensitive in that sensational, high voltage court battle.
Moved by her handling of the volatile courtroom, I shot off a message to her on Instagram. It was just a feel-good note. Frankly, as a rank stranger from another continent, I did not expect a reply. The next day a warm response graced my inbox thanking me for “reaching out” and the “lovely message”. It came with a bonus. A pat for my “eloquence” ostensibly after seeing some of my videos.
Truth be told, after close to fifteen years in the national mainstream media and rubbing shoulders with celebrities and the Who’s Who in the corridors of power, I am not enamoured by epaulettes or the colour of office. Common courtesies are a much bigger draw.
Even before entering my teens, I was quite the compulsive letter-writer. My files maintained during my school years contain replies from Chief Justices of India, Union Ministers and Police Commissioners. Courtesy begets courtesy. At NDTV, I made it a point to respond to every email, letter or message – whether it was from a viewer or a student seeking internship. Ditto as a lawyer today. Even if you cannot accommodate a request, you lose nothing by responding and wishing the sender well. It dilutes disappointment and shows you in compassionate light. I must concede that today most of my letters or messages to people who matter – political leaders or senior officials or other professionals invariably elicit replies. This presumably stems from a rapport built over the years coupled with the fact that no favours are sought!
The higher you rise, the humbler you should become is not just a biblical prescription but also an unmistakeable sign of fine upbringing. ‘Big shots’ at the highest echelons invariably have considerable back office support to handle letters, emails and messages on multiple platforms. No matter what the volume of correspondence is, an auto acknowledgment is a justifiably minimum expectation from a holder of public office.
It takes all kinds to make a world! I know of constitutional functionaries playing to the gallery by selectively responding to individuals handpicked by PR experts. Then there are staff of an establishment who evidently fail to recognise the distinction between party and government. Often enough, you will find super achievers at the top, quite down-to-earth but relatively small fry flaunting their attitude and arrogance in their inboxes. Not to forget the cliché ‘God gives but the Priest refuses’.
Just recently, a budding entrepreneur whom I had judged at an inter-collegiate debate a decade or more ago, sent a frantic and emotional voice message on WhatsApp seeking a virtual handshake with a start-up founder. Apparently, I showed up as a connection on linkedin. Although I do not know the tycoon (still figuring out how we got connected) I dashed off a short note. The message has been seen but has elicited a stony silence. One must concede that responding is the prerogative of the recipient. But true class lies in remembering how you came up in life. That someone, somewhere lifted you up. That you owe it to the Universe to spare more than a thought for an anxious soul. Now, what do they say about ‘karma’? Yeah, that!
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author of 4 Books & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7)