Peering through the iron bars he had a narrow view of the world outside. It has been like that for the past eight years. Closing his eyes he could actually count the blades of grass on the small green patch under the coconut tree in the centre of the courtyard. The coconut trees were not lush green like the ones found in his village. These were shorter and the leaves mottled. These never bore any fruit. At least he hadn’t seen any, since the day he has been here.
He idly looked at the blue sky. The clouds looked beautiful. The small wisps of cotton moving gently along the sky reminded him of the sky in his village. It had a similar feel except that his vision here was confined by the bars. On the ground below, the sand was brown and loose. He could see a line of ants hurrying along. He was reminded of the days when he too would trudge along the banks of the paddy field on way to work. ?It had rained the previous night and small puddles of water had formed below the tiles of the store room. The remnant of the rain water was slowly dripping down the leaves of the coconut trees. The fresh smell of earth after the showers was heady.
He could spend hours enjoying the beauty that nature had created. So much of it and in abundance, he wryly thought. ?Why do men fight over abundance, he wondered. Of late, he was becoming philosophical. ?The sole occupant of cell ?8A’ did not have anything better to do. Peering through the iron bars, he knew the seasons changed ? leaves changed colours and shed and then again the cycle was repeated. He however had only two colours in his life ? day and night. The days just melted into nights and then it began all over again. Even his food was the same. Four chapattis and some watery dal for breakfast and the same repeated in the afternoons. The night brought some variation. The dinner was rice gruel and some subzi. It’s been eight years and he still couldn’t figure out what the stuff really was made of. The subzi remained a mystery. It didn’t taste of anything. Have do you taste something that didn’t taste of anything. ?Convict no. 1311 didn’t have anything to complain about.
Rameshwar was now pacing his cell. No one clearly remembers his name anymore. He is only a number on the records - convict no.1311. And the number 1311, seemed to have stuck with him. Literally. It is printed on his jail shirt and also tattooed on his forearm. For identification, they said. It happened the day he was shifted to cell ? ?8A’. ?All the condemned prisoners are treated with respect when they are moved to the ?A’ category cell. Other inmates look up to them with respect and the jail authorities too go easy ? most of them were around only for a short while anyways. It was reserved for those on death row.
The day he was brought into this cell after the judge pronounced his death sentence, they tattooed him. For easy identification they said ? of the body. His daily ration also improved. He was served tea twice a day and some biscuits too. Never mind that they were moldy and tea was just hot water with faint traces of some brown color. He was still treated special. He no longer had to work in the stone quarry nor help in the kitchen. He would spend his days?doing nothing. Looking outside his cell and simply waiting. But how does one wait for the inevitable? Death is a certainty but how does one wait for that? And how does one wait ONLY for that?
A kitten darted across the courtyard. He watched it closely till it disappeared from his vision. ?It suddenly reminded him of his daughter Kamli. She loved playing with kittens. She had four of them at home and they had names too. She loved cuddling them and wrapping them up in old tattered dhotis. They would prance and play around her the whole day and she would be happy. The day Kamli brought the kittens, Rameshwar was alone at home. Her pleading eyes melted him and he relented. It was their big secret and he decided to keep it that way. Away from the prying eyes of Jamuna, his wife, they hid them in the store room. Jamuna did not approve of cats around the house. Nothing was safe she said ? the milk, fish, egg everything would be vandalized. ?It was all fine till one day one of them decided to meow. The look of shock on Jamuna’s face was funny.
A smile crossed his face as he reminisced. His thoughts came back to Kamli. She was all of five years when they took him away. God knows where she would be now. He wasn’t even sure if she was alive.
She had witnessed her father being beaten up brutally by the policemen, who came looking for him. When he resisted they dragged him by the hair to the courtyard and slapped him a few times. He fell at their feet begging but to no heed. They weren’t convinced. ?One of them lifted him by the hair and punched his face breaking his two teeth. Blood gushed out and the pain was unbearable. He continued to beg and cry. He cried out that he was innocent. Then she saw one of them spit on him and slap him hard. He seemed to swoon. She heard them abuse. At five she did not quite understand their meaning. She will live forever with these memories.
They continued to rain blows on him with their lathis till he slumped down unconscious. They continued, even after he fell, kicking him hard on his privates and stomach till he vomited blood. ?Satisfied, they stopped. Two of them lifted his limp body and threw it at the back of the police jeep and drove away into dusk, leaving a trail of blood on the sandy road. The blood was now thickening and it turned ?a deep shade of crimson.
Little Kamli ran crying behind the police jeep, at the bottom of which lay her father, heaped. Her little legs ran as fast as they could; till she tripped and fell. The gash on her forehead was not deep but the blood that trickled along her temples, was also crimson.
Their worlds had separated and would remain so..
Rameshwar did not remember for how long he was unconscious. He heard someone call out his name. But the voice was very far away and unfamiliar. Suddenly he felt cold water being splashed on his face. He remembered the sensation of cold ? cold floor and cold water. He opened his eyes but he could see the world partially. His left eye had swollen up and wouldn’t open. His lips felt engorged. Yesterday’s beatings had taken its toll. He lay naked on the cold floor of the police station. His dhoti heaped next to him; bloodied with his own blood.
Through the partially open eye he saw a khaki clad man towering over him. He was saying something but it was incoherent. Rameshwar strained hard but his ruptured ears did not capture the words. He slowly tried to pull himself up but he was immobile. His right leg was fractured and had swollen twice its size.
He could not distinctly remember the next few weeks, as he drifted between conscious and unconsciousness. He did vaguely remember being taken on a stretcher to a hospital. He remembered his name being called out by voices, some near - some far. He remembered the white colored walls and warm feeling of a blanket. ?He again lost consciousness. Then one day they brought him back to the police station. He was to be produced before the Distt. Magistrate, next day. He was shackled and bundled into the waiting police jeep. He was now a criminal.
The Distt. Magistrate, an elderly man with graying hair and large belly, peered at him from behind his glasses. He patiently heard what the police had to say and then turned to him and asked.
?You have been accused of murdering your wife Jamuna. Do you accept the charges??
He broke down. Murdering his Jamuna, how can anyone think of it? He felt dizzy.
?Saab, I am an illiterate person. I do not know what the thanedar Saab has written and given to you. He forcibly asked me to put my thumb impressions on a few blank papers and I did. I am an honest man Saab. I am innocent. They beat me up and took my Kamli away Saab. I am innocent. This was all done by Banke. He is our village headman’s son. Saab I am innocent.? He started sobbing again.
?I don’t know what the thanedar Saab told you. I know it is Banke who killed my Jamnua. ?I saw him with my own eyes. Saab where is my Kamli? . She is very small and must be scared. Saab please let me go. I am innocent. Saab, Banke is an evil man and very powerful too. He is a bad man. Saab please save me.? Rameshwar rambled on. Emotions that were kept in check over the last few weeks now welled up. The courtroom was full. He saw a grimace on Banke’s face as he sat smugly in the corner with his father, the village headman. The inspector sat at a distance. He had a menacing look. ?Rameshwar winced at the thought of going back to the police station after the day’s proceeding. He was sure to make a mince meat of him.
Sensing futility, the Distt. Magistrate intervened again.
?Rameshwar, you will be given full justice. Don’t fear anything or anyone and tell the court what happened on that day??
?Saab, I am poor farm laborer and work in the farms of our village headman. On that day I was very tired and decided to finish work early and go home. On the way I stopped at the baniya’s shop and bought some rice and some ?gud for my Kamli. She ?loves gud from baniya’s shop. As my body was aching after day’s hard work I stepped in at the local thadi shop for a quick drink. On reaching home I found Kamli outside the hut playing with her kittens. But Jamuna was nowhere to be seen. As I neared the door I heard smothered cries of Jamuna. I pushed the door but it was bolted from inside. I banged on the door but there was no response. Suddenly she let out a loud shriek. Sensing something wrong, I went around the hut and pried open the window.?
Rameshwar paused as if reliving the scene in front of his eyes. His face was contoured and alternating between anger and grief. He continued..
?To my horror I saw Jamuna lying writhing on the floor and Banke forcing himself on her. Her mouth was foaming and her saree was in disarray. She was flaying wildly trying to push him away. But Banke pinned her down with his body. She was struggling and vainly trying to dislodge him. But his one hand covered her mouth, choking her, while the other pinned both her arms above her head. My poor Jamuna, Saab, she was helpless and struggling. I screamed at Banke, he looked up, terrified on seeing me.?
Rameshwar paused again, to rub his eyes off the insolent tears which had made its way up. ?He continued
?I ran to the front of the hut and with all my might kicked opened the door. Seeing me Banke panicked and was about to flee. The instant his hand was off her mouth, Jamuna shrieked loudly. ?I pounced on Banke and pushed him against the wall. Jamuna was still coming to her sense when she again shrieked. I loosened my grip on Banke and turned to her. Seizing the opportunity he picked up the heavy stone mortar from the kitchen and hurled at me. I ducked and it missed me and hit my Jamuna with full force. ?She didn’t make any sound Saab. She simply collapsed. Her head was completely smashed. Before I could react, he ran from there Saab. He killed my Jamuna, Saab?. ?Rameshwar was now uncontrollably sobbing.
There was pin drop silence in the courtroom as he finished.
The Magistrate listened intently and then adjourned the day’s proceeding. Rameshwar remained stoic as he was led out of the court into the waiting jeep. He was remanded to judicial custody and was taken to jail. In the following weeks and months, he was made to appear before different judges as the case progressed at a snail’s pace. In the initial few hearings he saw Banke and then saw no more of him. The case dragged on for months and then years. During one such hearing someone told him that Banke had got married and now soon would become the next village headman. His father’s the money power had turned the case in his favor. In the Jamuna murder case, Rameshwar remained as the prime accused. And no one was inclined to prove otherwise.
Going to the courtrooms had become a routine was Rameshwar. On the appointed day, he would get a haircut and a nice shave and was given a fresh set of clothes to wear. The whole day he would be kept waiting outside the courtroom, sometimes chatting with other undertrials. Sometimes the havildar would be kind and offer him a bidi. When his name gets called he would saunter in and the judge would ask for the defence prosecution and finding none present would push the case for a further date. The routine was followed month after month. Years passed by and no one cared about convict no. 1311
Then one day there was a government decree to speedily clear all pending cases that were more than five years old. Rameshwar turn came. He went through the routine drill of getting ready for the court except that this time an unknown fear was gnawing at him. When his name was called, he was produced in front of a new judge and for the first time in seven years he saw Banke also in the courtroom. Old files were re-opened and the case argued by both sides. Rameshwar was confident that the new judge would now see the facts and set him free and punish Banke for his crime.
He was so very naive.
The judge heard the case patiently and then pronounced. Rameshwar’s head was racing as he heard the judge give a long drawn verdict. This was not correct judge Saab he thought. This is not what happened, this is not how it happened, his heart cried out. ?He didn’t hear the rest of it ; his eyes misted and his head spun. His faith of eight long years came apart. He collected himself in time to hear the last of the ruling ????. and the accused Rameshwar to be hanged by neck till death?
?His world crashed.
Back in his cell, his days were spent waiting?waiting for the day. And then one day the jail superintendent walked into his cell and handed him a court decree. ?He was to be hanged ten days hence. The ten days flew by and the nights dragged on. Rameshwar was scared to sleep, lest he did not wake up. . .
The time on the old wall clock in the prison courtyard showed 06.05 AM. The day had dawned.
The Jail superintend raised his hand to signal the hangman. He pulled the lever that opened the trap on which Rameshwar stood. He dropped five feet straight down into emptiness. It would normally take around three quarters of a second for a person to reach the end of the drop after the trap opens. The force produced by the body weight, would violently jerk the head back breaking the C3 and C4 vertebrae of the spinal cord causing instant death.
But something went wrong. Terribly wrong. The noose around Rameshwar’s neck did not secure properly and instead of breaking his neck instantly, it choked him. The witnesses around the gallow looked in horror as the noose tightened around his neck constricting the trachea that supplied air to his lungs. His body convulsed violently as the noose agonizingly drew out the remaining air from his body. The feeling of asphyxia is perhaps the most gruesome of all fears ever known to man. Rameshwar experienced it in the final four long minutes of his life, never to confront it again. He flayed around wildly letting out one final shriek ? a blood curdling cry.
His body was now convoluted. Under the black hood his face would have engorged popping the eyes off their sockets. The tiny capillaries in the face would have burst and the tongue turning blue would have rolled out. The nails of his hands there were tied behind dug deep into back of his thighs pulling out chunks of flesh. The knees bend at chest took a fetal position. The body finally went limp, leaving a deep hissing sound and hung.
The jail superintend came back to his room and reached for a glass of water and slumped on his chair. What a day it had been. What a horrible and agonizing death it was. This was the first hanging in the jail since he took charge ten years ago. Then he noticed it. There on the table, under the pile of neglected files was an envelope.
He reached and pulled it out. It was larger than the regular ones. Light brown in colour and slightly frayed at corners. He recognized it as an official communiqu?. The letters O.I.G.S was written in bold. On the other side was a half broken bright red seal. The lac seal was usually used in communications confidential or urgent in nature.
The faint and ineligible delivery stamp on the letter showed the letter was received two days ago.
The letter was from the Collector’s office and the content crisp.?
To, ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ??
The Jail Superintend,
This is with reference to the mercy petition submitted by Shri. Rameshwar to the Hon President of India, I wish to inform you that the same has been accepted.
Having reviewed the merits of the petition and the extraneous circumstances of the crime, the Hon President has approved the grant of clemency to Shri. Rameshwar.
I am hereby directed to inform you to halt the execution of Shri. Rameshwar and present him to the court for appropriate legal proceedings.