Saturday, 31 December 2011

Reflections: Introducing Perry Mason....

Reflections: Introducing Perry Mason....: Introducing Perry Mason, a lawyer unlike any other you will encounter in books, or even in real life. A passionate believer in the law, a...

Introducing Perry Mason....

Introducing Perry Mason, a lawyer unlike any other you will encounter in books, or even in real life. A passionate believer in the law, a crazy risk-taker, a fighter, an inveterate optimist, a supporter of people in trouble... adjectives fail me in describing the man! Perry Mason is the central character in 82 books by Erle Stanley Gardner. Each book is a murder mystery, and the plots are unlike any you will find anywhere. 

Most murder mysteries begin with the murder and follow the investigation. Not so in Perry Mason mysteries! The plot usually opens with a small, almost ludicrous situation that unexpectedly explodes into a murder, leaving Perry's client holding the bag and in an almost hopeless situation. That is the standard format, and yet the treatment of each story is so different that the reader is stuck to the book till the last page! Perry Mason is one of the widest read characters in the whodunit genre of Fiction books, and is in a class of its own

The Perry Mason books have been penned by Erle Stanley Gardner, who was a practising criminal lawyer in the USA. That brings authenticy to the legal points and forensic points that are highlighted in the series. In addition, the plots and storylines are superb and unique, and contain many elements to draw the reader. For example:
  1. Unlike most murder stories, forensic details like size of entry wound, bullet striations, body temperature, time of death, rate of body cooling etc are specifically explained in such a manner in court scenes that even a layman can understand
  2. The stories are superbly laid out, with a stunning twist every few pages that leave you gasping for breath
  3. Legal points in relation to evidence are clearly and lucidly explained
  4. Witness examination and cross examination - where liars are exposed, sometimes simply by deduction are engrossing material
  5. Each story and each plot is unique - a parrot or a gorrilla, a buried clock at the murder site, 3 guns at the murder site, a man shot twice by 2 people - both shots could be the fatal shot; so who is the killer?; A witness trying to get a goldfish etc etc. 
  6. Fascinating plots - and each very very believable. What at first seems outlandish turns out to be both logical and clear
  7. Enmity with the inefficient local police, who are paradoxically led by a very capable Police Officer
  8. Constant efforts of the police to trap Mason, who has broken no law!
Yet, beyond all of this, it is the endearing character of Perry Mason that is the drawing factor. Perry Mason has a series of qualities that mark him as almost a superhuman in a very believably human form. At no point do you get a feeling of disbelief, of unreality regarding the central character. He provides the attraction point in the serious background of murder. 

The main character trait of Mason is his judgment of people and risk taking - he takes risks for his clients.  The basis of his risk-taking is a spot-on judgement of the client, a belief that each person is innocent until proven guilty, his trust in the clients' innocence and an encyclopedic knowledge of the law. Having made such a judgement, Mason stops at nothing to prove innocence - sometimes even stretching the law to do so. Mason has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law, forensics and firearms, and proves the official statements regarding cause of death, time of death, weapon etc to be wrong on a regular basis. These interchanges are the stuff of legend, and are a superb read that will draw your breath. But most of all, the most vital aspect of Mason is his detective ability with the courts, judges and police all accepting his detection abilities as paramount. 

The icing on the cake is in 2 forms- the first being Mason's nature of fighting for the down-trodden by fighting cases for free / fighting cases for poor clients  and even spending his own money / taking on the giants of society and defeating them. This imparts an aura around the character of Perry Mason, who becomes not just a successful lawyer but also a very nice and warm person. The second is a lovely, classic and bitter-sweet love relationship with his secretary,  a relationship which grows steadily in each novel till it reaches enduring levels.

Both Perry Mason and Della Street are unmarried, enigmas in a sense - and it is this engimatic nature of the Hero and the Heroine that make the novels the stuff of legend... 

Do take a look at the novels- they are short (180 pages aprox) but pack a tremendous punch!

Reflections: Is Lokpal the solution?????

Reflections: Is Lokpal the solution?????: Lokpal - the central topic of discussion, in fact the first topic to actively engage the entire society at large, without exception. Driven ...

Is Lokpal the solution?????

Lokpal - the central topic of discussion, in fact the first topic to actively engage the entire society at large, without exception. Driven by the Utopian dream of Zero Corruption, it has been galvanised into a movement that dreams of removing corruption from our country by creating a powerful Lokpal. Initially even I was pulled in by its allure, my eyes blinded and my thoughts totally engaged and dominated by the promise of finally tackling corruption...

This is not about Annaji, or about Congress vs BJP. It is not about the prevailing chaos surrounding this matter, and at the outset let me clarify that I am not against Lokpal. In fact, I very much want a strong central body like the one advocated by the Jan Lokpal. 

The doubts and questions assailing my mind have more to do with the underlying problem: corruption, its players, its nature and its effects. The first pricks of doubt in my mind emerged when I read the latest corruption ranking index update, which firmly places India among the last countries. India has consistently been rated as being among the most corrupt places in the world. Then I recalled all the earlier updates that I had read in the news... this has been a consistent placement for us on the index. This caused a very basic disconnect within me: can laws alone suffice if we have to reign in corruption? Yes, laws are very important: they provide a "maryada rekha" for us to stay within. They provide a fear factor, and they entail  a loss for the transgressor of established boundaries. But are they alone enough? If laws alone were enough, then there would be no murders and looting anywhere... Ram-Rajya, as it were. Women would be safe at night, there would be no need of locks etc etc...

You might say that it is a far - fetched comparison. Had the 2 cases (Loot / murder vs corruption) been comparable, then every home and every street would be bathed in blood or robbed. But wait a minute, and think. There is a basic fundamental difference: morals. The basic Human nature is good, and the internal moral codes of society act as a deterrent that prevent us from looting or murdering etc. We don't loot simply because it is a wrong thing to do. The thought that I cant steal because I will go to Jail does not enter our minds at all. In fact, the very thought that I can steal from the Shop or the house next door does not enter our mind. Our internal moral systems, our sense of right and wrong prevent us from doing so.

Which brings me to my fundamental question: what happens to our internal sense of right vs wrong in the case of corruption? Why does it not kick in? And even more pertinently, why should the thought itself occur to us? Remember one thing: corruption has 2 parties - the bribe taker as well as the bribe giver. So long as there are people ready to give a bribe there will be people willing to take a bribe. The stronger controls will undoubtedly have some impact, but simultaneously, people will find more innovative ways to escape and avoid detection. During prohibition, Booze was readily available despite strict controls and laws. The case of corruption will be very much similar to that, methinks. 

The problem is our own internal sense of right or wrong, which cannot understand that giving a bribe is basically wrong. Most of us just do not see anything wrong in giving 10 Rupees to a traffic cop, for instance. Why, boss? You are in the wrong - you have parked in a no-parking zone. So, in  order to escape punishment, you decide the easy way is better! Are you a part of the problem! Follow the thought process to its logical conclusion, and the same reason emerges in the bigger scandals - winning a contract, or buying a land etc. 

There are a host of factors to this problem. The scarce resources being chased by a larger number of people is one, for example. The plain fact is that there is cut-throat competition with a norm of winner taking all. And, in our pressure of living, we resort to unfair means to achieve our goals. It is a sign of the times that we live in, unfortunately. And so long as demand outstrips supply by a large margin, this is a reality that will exist. 

There are a host of manifestations of this problem. But the core of the issue can be encapsulated in a few points:

  1. What happens to our sense of right or wrong when giving or taking a bribe? If the thought of stealing does not occur to us, why is the thought of bribing coming to us?
  2. In the larger scandals, people at all levels of hierarchy have been involved. Why has no one complained, or resisted? Major scandals cannot happen without the passive support of hundreds. It is the silence of normal citizens that is at the core of the problem. Each person remains silent simply because he is scared of being victimised and caught in a minority, while the majority keep silent and enjoy the fruits. The need of the hour is to vocalise the majority of passive supporters into speaking out.
Can the lokpal bill alone solve this? It remains to be seen. A lot will depend upon implementation, of course. As far as the first point is concerned, I have no clue to the solution. For the second, Lokpal might just be effective into galvanising the silent masses. That will depend upon the performance of the Lokpal. And far more importantly, the masses will have to be galvanised into action for this to be effective - they will not come into action by themselves. A body in inertia needs an external stimulus to get out of its inertia! 

The silence of normal citizens can be put to 2 simples causes - they see the silent people prospering, and secondly peer pressure and ostracism. The reality is that whistle-blowers are victimised simply by being ignored by the peers or even ostracised. This can take the simple form of people ignoring you, or can take the ugly form of being passed up for promotions, vicitmisation etc. Unless this is tackled, there can be little hope for any lokpal. One way out could be to focus the attention of everyone - media and normal citizens both - on the problem. This is where Annaji's movement (hopefully) - which will focus the exclusive attention of society - becomes important. It is a simple legal way of forcing people to look at themselves, of highlighting how corruption is making your own lives difficult and making it good to be right. We need a lokpal, but we also need a social movement to galvanise the masses and make it even acceptable to be a vocal anti-corruption person. If that happens, we might just make it. 

I have just looked at a few issues of the problem - the ones that occur to me. There might be other issues, too - but my objective in this article is simply to highlight that the Lokpal Bill alone will not be enough. The Lokpal bill is just the beginning of the long road, I am afraid....

Edit 1: 2 Jan 7:03: : Looked up, an excellent blog with views somewhat similar to mine, only more developed and well thought... interested parties might look it up