My Four Years at Army Institute of Law, Mohali

Written by Pragati Sharma. If you want to share your law school experience, write to [email protected]

Stomach rumbling with half eaten breakfast and anxiety, on a humid July Sunday, I made my bed, my mother sat on a chair, sparsely dusted by my absent roommate I had not yet met, she tapped her feet, looking at me like I was still a five year old, hoping I’d let her make my bed, but I didn’t let her. She watched as I tried to act like a responsible adult, who probably could wake up without her dad calling her out at six every morning.

That was not just me but sixty seven others, our faces torn between the departure of adolescence, and onset of adulthood; the things we’d left behind and what we were here to achieve – between the future loss of innocence and the lessons we were here to learn in life. Army Institute of Law, for a vast majority it was more or less a continuation of our school life, since they were all coming from defence backgrounds, it was easy and at the same time difficult. I somehow sat through the orientation which included a basic introduction of oneself and their hobbies, a part I had come to hate every tastefully over the years. I hated the first days of everything, when I met new people I wondered if we could directly time travel to the second day where I already knew them. There were others like me, who hated the introductions and chose to sat in the far back of the hall, and then there were those who could not get enough of being a public figure – the over enthusiastic social butterflies.

In many ways I’ve come to learn that this college is a thriving paradox, with both extremes existing in the same space, with and without conflicts. I suppose then everything in life is – a coexistence of dualities, but here it is in the same moment, two things, entirely opposite, together at once.

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I think when you throw in eighty people from all over the country together, for five years, they become a strange kind of joint family, with their peculiarities, the annoying habits, the unity, the conflicts, the resolution, it all becomes not only a part of one of those college stories which a junior after five years would retell with most of it their fiction than the truth that actually came to pass. But, in many ways, it becomes your own story, your life, it shapes you and if you let it, it defines you for the rest of your life.

As a first year, I was mostly scared and over-cautious, curious all the same, watching from side lines, learning second hand life lessons, for e.g. don’t drink more than you can handle, or throw up at the gate if you do.

However, I learnt later during my college year, well, to be honest more recently, that every other law college is like that – throw in eighty people with varying degrees of curiosity and their own idiosyncrasies together for five years and watch what happens. It’s a recipe for endless drama, competition, and gossip. I really wish there was a TV show on law school and its five years, at least five seasons. It’ll have the highest ever ratings.

As in every Bollywood mafia movie, the novice is taken under the wings of a gangster lord and there begins his journey to the top where he becomes the gangster’s left hand. I was taken in by a couple of third years, which by the end of my first was up to five and one to of them till date is my best friend and in many ways, a guide and mentor. I guess that was the turning point, because in later years, you’d realise that life has strange similarities with Goodfellas – “sometimes the good guys gotta do bad things to make the bad guys pay.”

Being a wallflower and being a complete outsider in the legal world is pretty terrifying for any first year, especially when you’ve been medical school bound throughout your life until the moment you sign the admission forms of a law school. Anything that wasn’t E = mc2 didn’t make sense, but after four months and three exams later, it made more sense than everything else.

The one thing that makes a mark more permanent than someone telling you that they have faith in your potential is someone telling you that you cannot – that is a driving force like no other. In a typical military fashion, we were subjected to the ‘do you have it in you?’ lectures and scolding sessions every other week, by the seniors who were more focused on their prospective careers than living in the present. Well, obviously it was bona fide and was intended in our benefit, it did nothing for us. It was like adding fuel to a dying ember, it’ll glow brighter in a moment then go back to fading into the dark eventually. Such sessions always threw me into the dark pit of self-introspection where every achievement seemed to be insufficient. However, once you know where you want to stand, it gets easier. It always does.

In four years you learn a lot, and then you unlearn another lot of it. There are times when I’ve sat with my head in my hands wondering what I was even doing with my life, and then there were extremely paradoxical moments where I felt as if I had everything figured out, the good old five year plan, everything in place, except probably it wasn’t but then, that was not the point. There are moments of victory, when you see the entire student body cheering for you, you are the object of everyone’s envy; then those strange lows every human is susceptible to.

I have spent a major part of my four years in a continuous whiplash of emotions which the college and its people has inspired, struggling to overcome the awful ones, then just stumbling around with whatever shards of positivity you could collect. To simply say it, there isn’t much of legal education as compared to the life education you get, I suppose that’s why colleges are there, after schools. I personally believe that everything a person has to learn in their lives, they have already learnt it in their school years, rest is just application of it all – and I, more than anyone else, am pathetic at it. If I had to list the most stupid decisions ever made – coming here would be one of them, but well, since medical school would have kicked me fairly in the gluteus maximus, this is better than that.

There’s a popular saying in the college, “these are going to be the worst five years of your life, but once you get out of here, nothing bad in life would ever compare to it, so all in all, your life should be easy.” Of course, we learn how to thicken our skins, develop muscles, and be so tough that literally nothing can permeate our conscience unless we let them. Unfortunately for myself I’ve left quite a few gaps, thanks to which my conscience refuses to shut up and sit down.

I remember a class moot proposition wherein I was to side from the defendant’s side, who had been charged with rape and causing grievous hurt, so in order to defend my client, I was supposed to say things like, “why had the victim left her office building at 0330 hours without anyone to accompany her, when she was going to attend to her seriously ill mother, she must’ve needed help, however, the fact that she left alone, casts a serious suspicion over her intended destination – was it to rendezvous with a paramour?” for half an hour after writing down this argument I battled with the idea of slut-shaming a fictional deceased person, who had allegedly been raped, but then a close friend said, “it’s a court of law, not of ethics and morality.” Such things seriously make me wonder if my super soft and insanely sensitive conscious are fit for such a world wherein ethics and morality are mere guidelines typed on a booklet which is stuffed away in bags and pockets.

But then there are those days, when law is the best form of adrenaline rush, a pop quiz on Indian Penal code sections, winning a moot court competition, being able to defend your fictional and incredibly imprudent and stupid client of yours successfully every semester.

The best parts are when you do know something and your opinion matters, when you try and you understand something you hadn’t previously – when something that Supreme Court says resonates your inner activist. Our driving forces are Palkhivala, KTS Tulsi, Arun Jaitley, Soli Sorabjee, Ram Jethmalani and Harvey Specter!

There is something inherently attractive and tempting about law, and that precise thing which I have still been unable to put a finger on, is the reason I’ve persevered through four years at law school – and the fact that I have no other options.

I’ve had the best, and the most life changing moments happen here, while simply walking with a friend with a cup of terrible cafeteria coffee in the parking lot, discussing life options and courses, what we can do and what we are capable of. Saying things like, “I want to be a lawyer, practice law, be an author, a scholar, and an interior designer at the end of the day in this one lifetime, there’s too much to do, but not enough time.” and how you want to turnout five years from now, and someday probably becoming the Chief Justice of India (that’d be quite something, eh!)

Law school, is five years of a kind of life which is not possible elsewhere, a random assortment of people who are so different yet so alike, the debators, geeks, mooters, scholars, coexist with the dancers and the sportspersons. In law school, being a nerd is not that much of a taboo as it used to be in school, I guess, here everyone is cool, in their own way. Some of us continue the way we had, some change drastically, acting like tough guys who shouldn’t be messed with, and some get a second shot at life which they perpetually keep blowing up.

In my case, I’ve changed, in many ways, too much, but for the better. I have friends I can say with a great degree of certainty that they will last a lifetime. I have professors who believe in me, who think that I will make something out of me, as will my remaining batch-mates. It’s nice to have someone believe in your hidden potentials for once. There are things, like being a united front during exams, arguing over things that will not matter after the weekend, choreographing performances, organizing things, partying so hard that the next morning everyone has literally the same level of hangover – learning that everything is transient and yet, all the more same.

There is no way I can sum up the experience in a few hundred words, it’ll never suffice, there is something so much deeper than just tangible things that we learn. You learn that there’s more to law than shouting “objection!”, or “lawyered” or “you’ve been served!”, it’s something different. And law school is so much more than Indian Penal Code, Constitution, Contracts, and Evidence, it’s about friendships, heartbreaks, big life changing choices and then a billion inconsequential ones. Mahatma Gandhi, who was one of us, had aptly said, “Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it because, you can’t know; you can’t ever really know the meaning of your life, and you don’t need to. Just know that your life has a meaning.” Ironically this life altering quote was in a much obscure indie movie called Remember Me. Yes, law schools are also about binge watching series and Woody Allen and Wes Anderson movies, finishing Star Wars in a day, courtesy the ruthless exploitation of the college wi-fi.




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