“Bloody Moron! This place is not for you to day-dream. Keep your ass moving.”
The cold harsh voice of Nitya Babu arises his senses again. For a slight second, Nakul had moved into a world of expectation which has in turn forced him to forget about moving forward in the queue. Several other guys are throwing the nastiest of the slang towards him when he realized he has slowed down the entire process by moving into his own world of thoughts. Nakul has been waiting for this day for long. 16 years behind the bars and then comes the moment of expectation from Manas Sir. Mr. Manas Shukla – the Jailer serving for a time more than he has entered into this harsh world of survival. Only the previous night, during the daily headcount, Manas Sir was there to visit them when he heard him whispering to that fat and ugly attendant about something, which reached his ears.
“News came. Sentences gonna be reduced, some are gonna walk free on Monday!
“Any count Sir?” The fatty asked the Jailer.
“Not specific but maybe in or around 120 something! Orders from the Director General it seems.”
Prisoners ears! The one thing which Nakul has earned living these horrific days in Tihar. A major car accident gained attention when a 19 year old orphan named Nakul Sapui drove the truck straight into the bodies of a lady and her 6 year old son. The lady turned out to be the Minister’s wife and Nakul’s life turned out to be the headline on the following day’s news.
“Hit and Run shatters City’ – It read. The brakes didn’t work that day. Neither his destiny. Time was too short to move them to hospital and save. Common case of a spot death and the convict sentenced for life-long imprisonment. Since then, Nakul had made up his mind. He doesn’t have a family and fortunately or unfortunately no family leads to no dependencies. But these kind of sudden news rise hopes among convicts like them. He isn’t an exception.
“What’s special on Monday?” He asked Ratan, his 7 year long inmate.
“Indendence Day dude. Some bull-shit rituals and ceremonies and announcements.” Ratan seemed least interested.
Independence Day has always been respite for them. And just like that, just a day before they are here in the compound standing in a long queue. But today is not Independence Day. Tomorrow is 15th. Then why the rush today? News have come that the Director General of Prison has arrived today to make some announcement about reduction and release of convicts upon certain terms and conditions, those which are still unknown to Nakul. A few minutes more and then maybe, his curiosity will find an answer.
“There is a special announcement today for you people here. There has been a decision taken from government to reduce the sentence of a number of convicts who have showed improved behavior over the past few years and were sentenced for life-time imprisonments. After that we will call out the list of names who will be set free on this independence day 2 days later. I hope this brings justice and order among you all”
A loud cheer and roar spreads through all of them as the Director General of Prison Mr Shyamakanth Rathore gives a pause to his prudent speech.
“I will call out the names of the convicts who will have reduced sentence first and then we will move on to the freed convicts.”
“You are the guy caught for that truck accident case in 1997 right?” Nakul’s attention turns to the person sitting beside him who asks him a question.
The guy looks aged and ragged giving a clear implication of his long stay here. Normal people at his age don’t look so crooked. He is wearing a hijab on his head and kohl in his eyes. Much older than Nakul, this guy seems a bit awkward.
“Yeah! But how do you…?”
“Karim Chacha knows everything Beta! 43 years in prison. Not a big deal for me.” The guy interrupts Nakul. “So you expecting release?” Karim follows up.
“Yeah not sure. But maybe! What about you?”
“Zaroor Beta! For the past 16 occasions when this decision was being taken, i have been here everytime. On this very spot. Expecting my name being called out. But these people are not happy with my conduct it seems.” Karim smiles.
“What were you accused of?” Nakul is curious.
“Forgery and drug dealing” Karim has a wry smile on his face. “But i tried improving you know. For my family i tried improving here..”
“Ghulam Yadav – Inmate Number 1132 – Sentence Reduced”. His statement gets interrupted by the sudden continuation of the general’s announcement again.
“Michael D’Souza – Inmate Number 54 – Sentence Reduced.”
Nakul’s nerves start freezing as the officer keep calling out the names. A sense of hope! A sense of expectation, as the names are being called out. He looks at Karim Chacha. Same look of desire, same feel of anxiety.
“Now we will call out the names who are going to be set free this Independence day on Monday” The General continued. For him, those letters on the list are just numbers. For convicts like them, those are entrance to lives.
“Nikumva Sarthi – Released on terms of behaviour and conduct” Loud applauds spread out again among the prisoners. Nakul knows Nikumva. He is a good guy.
“You know son. This time I need to be released. Its a must!” Karim Chacha has a urgency in his eyes which Nakul can not ignore.
“My daughter, Ramiza. She is too weak to control the family.” Karim continues. “Her son, young Raqib. He wants to see me everyday. My wife Nigam is living on her last days hoping that i will return. I want to be freed son. I am too tired to wait. Too tired…” Tears roll down his eyes as Karim slows down his voice
So much attachment. So many dependencies on this guy. A sudden thought strikes Nakul’s mind.
“Where is your home Chacha?” Nakul asks.
“4/5, Jamia Nagar Lane. Delhi! Its near the Masjid. Everybody knows me there.” Karim replies smiling.
“So we are down to the last name in the list. I hope whatever be the result, you guys will maintain your behavior and conduct such that a proper justice gets maintained and a new ray of hope rises among you all.”
An awkward silence makes its presence as the General says his last statement., somewhat due to the curiosity and thrill to know the last name and somewhat due to the realization that after this begins a long wait of another independence day, when convicts will be freed again. Nakul turns his head down. Independence! A strong word.
“Nakul Sapui – Inmate Number 1101 – Freed!” General’s voice reached his ears. He jumped off his place with the utter shock of uncertainty. A sudden, instant disbelief and thought passes through his mind ‘I am free! I don’t need to be in chains anymore. No walls can bind me now.’ A sense of relief flows down his nerves as he slowly cools down his excitement inside.
“Jeete raho Beta! Allah ki lakh lakh shukar hain…” Karim Chacha is still there. For a slight moment of excitement, Nakul forgot about the presence of this man. Slowly and steadily the old man rises up and starts walking.
“You will be freed Chacha! Maybe the next time.” Nakul tries to console him.
The old man do not turn back. His lazy and tired body keeps moving away from Nakul.
The vibrant rays of the shining sun caress his face through the small hole of the 9 by 12 cell . His half closed eyes still could not bear the intensity. He wakes up hastily and looks beyond bars. Somewhere round the corner the distant music of Bande Mataram is ringing in his ears. 15th August, 2016 – Independence day. He looks at the watch. Its half past 7. Time for him to be free.
Nakul Sapui had never expected this kind of day in his life. But yet it came. Against his expectation, agreeing to his will.
Nakul had packed all his belongings in the small bag which had brought on the first day. It was handed over to him previous night only. His inmate, Ratan is still sleeping.
Noise of unlocking the keys turns his attention towards the bars again. It’s time.
“You are lucky Nakul! Not many people see this day. Come on now. Let’s move. ”
The guard expresses his surprise. He has seen Nakul down the years.
Nakul looks at Ratan for the last time and slowly and steadily walks out of the bars.
“This way” The guard guides him.
Nakul starts walking. Each and every step of which is like an act of moving towards his freedom. Time is like stopped somewhere. Somewhere down the middle of his way, he finds a gathering. A big gathering, rather a crowd.
“What’s that? What happened there?” He asks the guard.
“Cell number 156. Suicide Case!” The guard replied, as if it was a normal thing. Suicides have been happening for a long time here.
“Holy Shit! What’s his name?” Nakul asks again.
“Karim Azad. 74 years of age. Hanged himself. Poor guy.”
For a second, Nakul feels immobile. His hands get loosened. His bag feel heavy a lot more than it is. His heart seem to have stopped. The guard notices it.
“You know that guy?” He asks.
Nakul don’t feel the need to answer him. As quickly as possible, he rushes towards the cell. With a strong attempt, he manages to get past the crowd to get near the entrance of the cell. Peeping through a number of standing officers and guards, the stiff statue of Karim Chacha pierced his views. Wrapped in a white sheet, there he is sleeping like he has never slept before. His Hijab is still prevalent though the kohl has dried out. And as Nakul’s eyes move a bit away, he could see three passport sized photos placed on the table at the corner. A picture of an old lady, a young girl and small baby. His family, his reasons for wanting to improve, wanting to be free.
“You have to go Nakul. It’s time.” The guard has followed him till here.
A small drop of tear rolls down his eyes. Nakul turns away and starts moving towards the exit. As he steps out of the main gate, the guard gives him a hug.
“You are a free man buddy. You were always a good person. You deserved it!” The guard throws his heartiest compliments.
Does he really deserve it, this freedom of his? What’s independence to a guy like him who has no one to see after he is free? And the person who kept on waiting and waiting until his hopes gave up – What about him? What about his freedom, freedom from that 9 by 12 sized cell? What about the persons depending on him, could they ever be independent?
Karim Chacha! Why you did this? Why Why Why?
The music of Bande Mataram becomes louder as he moves closer to a local club presiding just outside the jail premises. The tri-coloured flag is hoisted to a much desired height. The breeze has enabled it to show its prowess.
Independence – A strong word.
Nakul starts heading towards his destination. He has an address to go – 4/5, Jamia Nagar Lane, Delhi. People are waiting for someone. Someone whom they could depend upon.