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 every one 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’ table.
Two bottles of wine allowed to each group of four, and as I did not touch them, I was ever in demand to form a quarter, so that three might empty two bottles. And there was a ‘grand night’ in each term when extra wines. I was therefore specially requested to attend and was in great demand on that ‘grand night’.
I could 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 any one 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 Equity 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 Edwards’ 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 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.
To be continued…
Read previous chapters here: The Story Of My Experiments With Truth