Lily Thomas pulls herself upright, straightens her hair, and stares into the camera when a fellow Malayali walks into her lawyer's chamber in the Supreme Court to take her photographs. "Don't move, Lily. No James Bond is arriving to marry you. You have missed the bus," he says, with easy familiarity of someone who knows her well.
"There is no bus," says Thomas, who by being determinedly single at 87, has proved that, at least for her, marital status or the 'bus' she has missed is an insignificant issue. Her silvery peal of laughter breaks above the din of lawyers' voices as she preens in new-found limelight. This reporter is informed by her staff that foreign journalists have just left after interviewing her.
Two lawyers are ensconced with Thomas, here to ask her to look into the constitution of a new club of women lawyers of the Supreme Court, to "fight women's cases, to work together, for our own protection also", says Prerna Kumari, a Supreme Court advocate and deputy attorney general for Haryana. She cites the case of a male clerk peering into a ladies' toilet in the high court as an example of the kind of stuff women lawyers are up against.
Lily Thomas patiently reads the proposed club's constitution and makes corrections. She then looks up at this reporter. "Oh, I didn't notice you," she says, pulling out papers of 'the case' a reporter is most likely to discuss.
The Supreme Court, ruling earlier this week on a petition Thomas filed and chased since 2005, said members of Parliament and members of state legislative bodies, convicted of a crime or in jail, cannot from now on run for elections or hold an elected seat. "The court said 'Conviction is disqualification'," said Thomas, holding a copy of the judgment on a table littered with paperwork, but where Thomas can put her hand on the exact file that she is looking for.
The Supreme Court ruling has created the fear of political leaders being framed on trumped-up charges and convictions by rivals, and will most probably make the government seek a review. Prior to this judgment, members of Parliament who were convicted but had filed an appeal could go about their regular business, including being elected and holding seats. Now they can't.
Thomas is gleeful, loves describing her struggle to get her petition to be heard, but is also humble enough to quickly point out that she did not argue the case. "In 2012, Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who is a very kind judge asked me: 'Lily, what do you want?' I told him 'I want a satvik Parliament," says Thomas. Justice Kabir admitted the writ, and Thomas requested noted lawyer
Fali S Nariman to argue the case on her behalf.
"I knew I did not know enough to argue the case," said Thomas. Nariman did not return calls for an interview. His office said he does not comment on cases where he appeared.
Thomas' insistence on a satvik Parliament - in Sanskrit, satvik derives from satya or the truth - reflects her knowledge of, and fondness for, Hindu philosophy. She, a practicing Syrian Christian, ponders over questions such as what would Jesus have replied if Arjun had asked him whether he should fight. "Jesus would have given the same answer," she says. "Whoever has his hand on the plough and looks back, he does not deserve the kingdom of god".
Lily's hand on the plough is a firm grip.