24. 'CALLED' óBUT THEN?
I have deferred saying
anything up to now about the purpose for which I went to England, viz.,
being called to the bar. It is time to advert to it briefly.
There were two conditions which
had to be fulfilled before a student was formally called to the bar: 'keeping
terms', twelve terms equivalent to about three years; and passing examinations.
'Keeping terms' meant eating one's terms, i.e., attending at least six
out of about twenty-four dinners in a term. Eating did not mean actually
partaking of the dinner, it meant reporting oneself at the fixed hours
and remaining present throughout the dinner. Usually of course everyone
ate and drank the good commons and choice wines provided. A dinner cost
from two and six to three and six, that is from two to three rupees. This
was considered moderate, inasmuch as one had to pay that same amount for
wines alone if one dined at a hotel. To us in India it is a matter for
surprise, if we are not 'civilized', that the cost of drink should exceed
the cost of food. The first revelation gave me a great shock, and I wondered
how people had the heart to throw away so much money on drink. Later I
came to understand. I often ate nothing at these dinners, for the things
that I might eat were only bread, boiled potato, and cabbage. In the beginning
I did not eat these, as I did not like them; and later, when I began to
relish them, I also gained the courage to ask for other dishes.
The dinner provided for the
benchers used to be better than that for the students. A Parsi student,
who was also a vegetarian, and I applied, in the interests of vegetarianism,
for the vegetarian courses which were served to the benchers. The application
was granted, and we began to get fruits and other vegetables from the benchers'
Two bottles of wine were allowed
to each group of four, and as I did not touch them, I was ever in demand
to form a quartet, so that three might empty two bottles. And there was
a 'grand night' in each term when extra wines, like champagne, in addition
to port and sherry, were served. I was therefore specially requested to
attend and was in great demand on that grand night.
I could not see then, nor have
I seen since, how these dinners qualified the students better for the bar.
There was once a time when only a few students used to attend these dinners,
and thus there were opportunities for talks between them and the benchers,
and speeches were also made. These occasions helped to give them knowledge
of the world, with a sort of polish and refinement, and also improved their
power of speaking. No such thing was possible in my time, as the benchers
had a table all to themselves. The institution had gradually lost all its
meaning, but conservative England retained it nevertheless.
The curriculum of study was
easy, barristers being humorously known as 'dinner barristers'. Everyone
knew that the examinations had practically no value. In my time there were
two, one in Roman Law and the other in Common Law. There were regular text-books
prescribed for these examinations, which could be taken in compartments,
but scarcely anyone read them. I have known many to pass the Roman Law
examination by scrambling through notes on Roman Law in a couple of weeks,
and the Common Law examination by reading notes on the subject in two or
three months. Question papers were easy and examiners were generous. The
percentage of passes in the Roman Law examination used to be 95 to 99 and
of those in the final examination 75 or even more. There was thus little
fear of being plucked, and examinations were held not once but four times
in the year. They could not be felt as a difficulty.
But I succeeded in turning them
into one. I felt that I should read all the text-books. It was a fraud,
I thought, not to read these books. I invested much money in them. I decided
to read Roman Law in Latin. The Latin which I had acquired in the London
Matriculation stood me in good stead. And all this reading was not without
its value later on in South Africa, where Roman Dutch is the common law.
The reading of Justinian, therefore, helped me a great deal in understanding
the South African law.
It took me nine months of fairly
hard labour to read through the Common Law of England. For Broom's Common
Law, a big but interesting volume, took up a good deal of time. Snell's
was full of interest, but a bit hard to understand. White and Tudor's Leading
Cases, from which certain cases were prescribed, was full of interest
and instruction. I read also with interest Williams' and Edward's Real
Property and Goodeve's Personal Property. Williams' book read
like a novel. The one book I remember to have read, on my return to India,
with the same unflagging interest, was Mayne's Hindu Law. But it
is out of place to talk here of Indian law books.
I passed my examinations, was
called to the bar on the 10th of June 1891, and enrolled in the High Court
on the 11th. On the 12th I sailed for home.
But notwithstanding my study,
there was no end to my helplessness and fear. I did not feel myself qualified
to practise law.
But a separate chapter is needed
to describe this helplessness of mine.