Esplanade Court, which celebrates its centenary today, has been a milestone in my life. It is where I began as a reporter. And I was not the only one, a whole generation of Bombay reporters began there. Some of them even ended there.
We used to come by tram, from Chicago Radio, which is what the stop opposite the university was known as, jump off opposite the court at Bori Bunder, pick up the stories, then rush back to the office and type them out. Eight times out of ten they would be the lead stories in the Free Press Bulletin. They would be lead stories in the Evening News and the Bombay Scentinel also. In those days, the evening papers depended almost solely on the magistrates' courts and the police for their front page stories.
Esplanade Court was as dirty then as it is now. Perhaps, I should not say now, because I have not visited it for some years (the last time was when I caned a domicle certificate at the ripe old age of 56). There were as people, and the floor, table-tops, chairs, were covered with pigeon droppings.
Court procedures were muchthe same as in the metropolitan magistrates' courts now (the last time I visited a court was the Andheri court last week for a defamation case in which I was, and still am, accused No. 1). The court clerk, normally it was Mr. Diwan, would call out: Yellowgate Police." The accused would be brought in in groups, men who looked both sullen and indifferent and were probably in their predicament because of poverty and lack of opportunities rather than criminal tendencies. A policeman would echo the names of the accused as called out by the clerk: "Govind Bhikaji Rajappa. Rafiq Liaqat Hussain." Another policeman would at regular intervals interrupt the proceedings with a loud; "Chooop."
They would be further remanded, almost automatically. "Saat tarik, dus tarik, aagla mahina ka pundra tarik" the policeman would echo. Occasionally, one of the accused would try to say. The policeman would shout: "Chooop." If there was a kindly magistrate, he would look up from the remand paper and ask: What does he want to say?"
Fortunately, most of the magistrates were kindly, and definitely all the chief presidency magistrates, as they were know them. I remember several of them. Mr. Oscar Brown, pink, bald, short, as cheery as an English jockey after pushing in a winner. Once a pickpocket removed his wallet, right in the court. There was Mr. Khambata, Mr. Rege, Mr. Nasrullah, Mr. Shellim (Major Shellim), Mr. Hattea, Mr. Hattangadi.
Sometimes the big lawyers would descend on the magistrate's court to defend a prominent client: Edulji Ghaswalla Somji, A.S. Kably, Haribhai Desai, Ram Jethmalani. No, not Soli Sorabjee. In those, days he used to sit in the barlibrary at the high court and read, read, read.