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A matter of judgment


HANNAH SWAMIDOSS DHARMARAJ

She was old and unimpressive, but persistent. It all started when Tang, the farmer, annexed a corner of her land. It was a rocky strip with a few thorny bushes that the old woman's goat used to nibble at. "It's the principle of the thing," she muttered to her neighbour who placated her. "If Tang wants a bit of my land he should ask. I would gladly have rented it to him." However, Tang was unheeding of the old woman's protestations or her neighbours remonstrations. The old woman decided to take her case before the Judge.

Now the Judge of those parts was a hard man who cared for no one. He had never married, did not keep in touch with his siblings and did not call on his parents. He was a man who only cared about his clothes, food and wealth. So when the old woman came before him, his eyes narrowed and his lips were pressed into a hard thin line.

"Your Honour," began the old woman, "I have come to lodge a protest against farmer Tang. He has stolen a part of my property. Your Honour, I ask for justice."

"Justice? What do you know about justice, you old crone? Property? That scraggy bit of land at the bottom of the hill - you call that property?" and the judge burst into a laugh.

Flame entered the old woman's eyes and colour burned in her cheeks. "Your Honour, may I remind you that all land belongs to the king and that therefore, none of it is to be despised. The king's edict is clear that no land can be sold once it has been given to a person by the king. I have the deeds here with the king's own signature and seal regarding my property. I am willing to rent the land to Farmer Tang on the condition that he acknowledges what he did was wrong."

The judge merely rolled his eyes and got up to leave. "Go home and be content with what you still have, old one. Do not bother me," he said curtly and left for his afternoon meal. The old woman did go but with a glint in her eyes.

The next morning the old woman waited at the entrance of the court. When the Judge appeared she cried out, "Before God and the king, give me justice." The judge looked irritated but chose to ignore her and hurried inside. Day after day, the old woman met the judge with the same petition, "Before God and the king, give me justice." Farmer Tang laughed at the thought of the woman wasting her time. The court clerks, annoyed with her daily disruptions, taunted her. Her friends tried to dissuade her. Her children pleaded with her, but the old woman was adamant. Day after day the old woman was there before the Judge.

"She will weary of this," thought the Judge, but a month passed by. "She will soon be worn out," he muttered to himself as yet another month went by. "Surely, she cannot keep this up much longer," he reflected as the third month rolled on. She will soon become disheartened, he thought as six months passed by.

One of the town wags suggested that the old woman should try to bribe the Judge with one of her goats. "No," she refused stoutly, "I will only accept justice."

The Judge's advisors were growing worried. The old woman had become the talk of neighbouring towns. What if word of it reached the king? The Judge, however, would have none of it. "I fear no man, she will soon be worn down you see."

Nevertheless, the old woman was not worn down. Day after day, she came before the court and cried out her petition in a loud voice, "Before God and the king give me justice. Eight months went, nine, and then it became a year. Every day the old woman trudged the path to the court and stood before the Judge.

The Judge was still a hard man, but he was beginning to feel a weariness. A weariness that went to his bones knowing that the old woman would be there the next morning and the next morning and the next. A weariness that would have pervaded his soul if he had acknowledged one. It was a weariness that he had never known before and which was becoming more distasteful by the hour. A weariness so overpowering, that on that remarkable Friday the Judge had his horse saddled and rode out to the old woman's property. He ordered Farmer Tang to pay a stiff penalty plus rent for the elapsed year and a half.

After watching impassively while Tang paid out the money, he rode back to the court impervious to the cheers around him, still weary of the whole thing.

Justice came to the woman that day but she did not exult. She was an old and unimpressive woman but persistent.

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