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Published in:
Outlook Money
Outlook Traveller
The Indian Express
Assorted: Chess stories
Assorted: Humour

Pico Iyer
'Tiger' Pataudi
Anita Ratnam

The Chennai Music Season
Leh Diary
Dhar: 'Middle Kingdom'

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Law of the Land

By V. Venkatesan

"Law," says James Stewart in one of his delightfully droll movies (the name of which eludes my memory for the nonce), "is entirely a matter of geography."

What good old James -- or, more appropriately, the scriptwriter who penned that line -- was driving at was that what's illegal in one country is altogether above-the-board in another. In other words, the latitude your actions enjoy depends on the longitude of the place you're in.

Take Youngstown, for instance. A friend from across the Atlantic assures me that residents of this small town in the United States are expressly forbidden from tying giraffes to municipal lamp-posts. A stiff sentence inevitably awaits anyone who takes recourse to such action. And in Rumford, a small town in Maine, it is downright illegal for a tenant to bite his landlord, however noble his intentions.

How any country that so severely curtails tenants' elementary right to give homeowners a friendly nip from time to time can call itself the "land of the free" is, frankly, more than my simple mind can fathom.

Measured against this legislative yardstick, any Indian city would appear to me to be a much freer place, offering plenty of scope for unfettered self-expression. I have never actually bitten my houseowner, but were I so inclined, I would doubtless derive strength from the knowledge that the bewigged judge who would deliver verdict on my conduct would take a dispassionate view of the matter and consider the merits of my case.

In the matter of tying giraffes to lamp-posts too, civic corporations in Indian cities take the broad and flexible outlook. No such repressive piece of legislation of the sort that sullies Youngtown county's rule-book applies here, and a good thing this is for giraffe-owners, few though their numbers may be.

In fact, there are times when I wish that the expansiveness that so evidently marks the chaps at the civic corporations would manifest itself in the Secretary of the apartment complex I live in. A genial sort of bloke in every other respect, he has a pestilential habit of dashing off lengthy legal notices peppered with 'whereas'es and 'hereinafter's, holding out dire threats and grim warnings to occupants who violate, say, Clause 3, Section 2, Sub-section 1.

Of course, some crimes and misdemeanours draw unanimous reproach from legal eagles the world over. For instance, no judge or jury -- however broadminded they may be -- would look kindly on your hurling medium-sized rocks at perfect strangers. Such a course of action would inevitably land you in a loony bin, whether you are in Nagercoil or Nagorno-Karabakh.

Likewise, for a shareholder to attempt to scoop out the insides of a company chairman -- even if only to induce him to fork out larger dividends -- would be considered incontinent on any continent! n

(Published in Business Line.)

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