Wednesday, 6 September 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' - English translation of chapter 9 of 'Kuchh Zindagiyan Bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak.


His feet, as a matter of habit, moved for some distance towards the shop. But then he began to wonder why he was going to the shop. Would he work there during the day and go some place, other than home, for the night? What was the use? If he wasn’t going to work at the shop, why go there? He had also taken his salary some six or seven days back. He’d be losing ten days' salary. Unh! Let that be. If he asked for it now, his boss would only make trouble. He stopped. Then walked towards the station without any particular objective. He would look for work over there for a day or two.

Even after he reached the station, he couldn’t think of what he should do. Actually his mind was not in it. His mind was full of mai and Dulaare chacha and also resentment. All through his way to the station, he had cursed them to his heart’s content. He was extremely angry with Dulaare chacha and no less angry with mai. What did she see in Dulaare chacha? Couldn’t she be patient for a little while? Again and again, he remembered the whispered words of last night and the memory made him simmer within. Such a shame! Bappa had been so highly respected. How was he show to his face to any one now?

The sun was high in the sky and the day had become hot. He went into the ‘Company Garden’, sat down under a tree and then lay prone. Over and over again, his heart boiled over and for some time he even contemplated going stealthily at night and hitting Dulaare chacha on the face with a huge rock. Even if he didn’t die, his face would get so distorted that he'd become loathsome to look at – his nose would crack, his teeth break, eyes bulge. For a long time he kept thinking of how repulsive Dulaare chacha’s face would look! Once he also thought of going with a sharp knife and cutting of mai’s nose. And then he kept thinking of how he would go, how big a rock he would take and how he would hit it on Dulaare chacha’s face, how he would hide in the melee and then going quietly round to the other side, make his escape.

When he felt hungry, he took out the roti from his bag, ate it and drinking water from the tap, lay down under a tree. Lay down and fell asleep. Even after coming awake he kept lying half asleep for a long time...thinking he would return to the lane some days later, after he had earned some money, tell the people of the lane with pride – ‘I work in an office (or in a mill), get around fifty to sixty rupees. Also have a living quarter allotted to me.’ Once he found a job, he’d also marry. Once he thought of getting married to Rajee. But no, he would keep no contact with the people of the lane. He would go there just once, talk with dignity and come away.

It was evening when he rose and washed his face at the tap. By the time he came out of the park, the road was bustling with crowd. Passengers were coming out from the station, perhaps a train had arrived. The thought of working as a coolie occurred to him. He went inside the station and just roamed around, observing for some time. In a while, the crowd thinned out. At one spot he saw a few coolies sitting in a group smoking beedis. He passed by several times but was not bold enough to make enquiries. Even as they talked amongst themselves, they sounded coarse and harsh. Not only their bodies but their faces too were rough and tough. Especially the coolie with long moustaches had a peculiar ruthless glint in his eyes which he found frightening. As he passed by for the third or the fourth time, he saw the coolie with the moustache had moved away. An old coolie was sitting a little away from the group. He went to him and asked somewhat diffidently how one could obtain a coolie’s licence. The old man didn’t understand at first and when he repeated himself a little more loudly the old coolie, looked at him from top to bottom and laughed a little – ‘Bribe the contractor, bribe the clerk, come morning and evening to pay respect, make hundreds of rounds, you may get a licence.’ The old man was perhaps taking him lightly or wasn’t particularly interested. Perhaps the old man was paying more attention to what the other coolies were saying. He came away but still hung around, thinking he’d talk to someone again if he got a chance. Another train arrived and the crowd of passengers began to filter out.
He noticed that a respectable looking man,  a Lala, made the coolie put down his luggage – a box and a basket – at the stairs. Perhaps he had to go somewhere else, towards Fatehpuri. The Lala stood a long time but failed to strike a deal with a rickshaw puller! He watched for a while then taking courage approached him – Do you need a porter Saith ji? The Lala threw him a glance, ‘Will you carry it? The place is only two furlongs from here. But these rickshaw pullers are so unreasonable. You’ll get two annas. Come on, pick it up.’

Taking out his pyjamas from the bag and rolling it into a ring, he placed it over his head. The Lala helped him put the box over his head, he hung the basket on his shoulder, his own bag on the other arm. The box, not too heavy, wasn’t too light either. He covered some distance quite easily but then felt a pressure on his nape. In the same breath, he felt the basket hanging down his shoulder grow heavy. His shoulder joint and the bone in his arm began to ache badly.

However, he didn’t have to walk too far. Not more than half or three quarters of a mile, walking round the lanes. But after walking only a small distance he began to feel he would fall any moment, his arm would go down and the basket would fall. To keep his arm up, he held the box on both sides. It felt his neck would snap any minute. In the end he kept walking blindly behind the Lala as if being pulled. Finally the Lala stopped and hardly had he removed his hand from the box, when the basket came sliding down. Luckily it didn’t turn over. Had the Lala not caught hold of the box from one end he would have fallen down along with the box. The moment the load was off his head, everything before his eyes went dark for a minute. He had, during this time, become drenched in sweat. After sitting down for a while he felt a little better, his vision returned, his breath was restored. Meanwhile, the door too had opened in response to Lala’s knocking and a boy, around his age, came out. Picking up some courage he shifted the box in with the boy’s help.

The two annas he received from the Lala appeared to him to be very costly. He had reached this sorry state carrying only one load – he kept thinking on his way back – how would he work as a coolie? But he revived a little by the time he reached the station. He was not used to it yet, he comforted himself, once he was, it won’t be so painful. After all so many coolies carried loads day and night.

Exhausted, he went to sleep at around eleven at night in the waiting room only. It was still full of bustle and noise at the time but he was tired and fell asleep. After carrying Lala’s load he had become somewhat pluckier. A number of trains arrived after that. When the passengers came out and he saw one carrying a light load or hesitating in hiring transport he approached him and asked, ‘Do you need a porter sir?’ He had carried two more loads by ten o’clock and didn’t have to labour all that hard. He carried the luggage of one gentleman to the bus terminus adjoining the station and the attaché case and bedding of a miyan ji - an elderly Muslim - a little farther ahead of Jama Masjid.

After eating at a small, common roadside eatery - a dhaba - for four annas, he was still left with three annas from the evening’s earnings (Miyan ji had paid him three annas) and he felt quite happy. Lying in the waiting room with his bag under his head he thought it won’t be so difficult to earn a rupee or two in a day. He would soon be able to save enough money and when he had the money, he would try to make contacts and obtain a licence. That way, he’d make more money.

When he had picked up Miyan ji’s baggage it had grown dark and Miyan ji had perhaps hesitated to hire a transport out of fear. Perhaps he had failed to find a Muslim rickshaw or tonga puller. A few of the rickshaw but many of the tonga pullers were Punjabi refugees. Making him carry his luggage, Miyan ji hastened away quickening his steps. When he lagged behind, Miyan ji looked back and said to him – ‘Come on, hurry up, brother.’ A horde of refugee hawkers and vendors crowded the foot path on either side of the road, every now and then, Miyan ji would look up with a start. The bustle around the Jubilee cinema must have comforted him somewhat. ‘Surely, there must be some Muslims among the cinema goers.’ It was, any way, not time for a show. It must have been only interval. Miyan ji had slowed down over there and he was able to catch up with him. But his anxiety returned when they started moving again. Opposite the fountain, stood Gurudwara Sisganj.

Quickening his steps, Miyan ji had almost started running, looking back at times to see if he was following but after some distance, was forced to slow down now and again, because the road wasn’t too well lit and he wasn’t able to match Miyan ji’s pace. His face registered dismay at such moments. Delhi was calm those days. There had been no untoward incident but Miyan ji had probably returned after a long time and was still afraid.

When Jama Masjid approached near and Muslims began to appear in large numbers, Miyan ji heaved a sigh of relief and began to walk at leisure. He too found some relief. The load of the attaché case and the bedding was not all that heavy but he had begun to pant from walking so fast. And then he woke up to the fact that he could see only beards all around him. He could see only Muslims over there. He, himself, became a little afraid now. As they turned into a narrow street he realized he was going into an entirely unknown area which he had never seen earlier. This was totally a Muslim domain. He began to wonder if Miyan ji had a dagger or a knife concealed in his clothes. If he stabbed him in a deserted, lonely spot no one would come to know. No one would hear if he shouted. Even the houses in the lane appeared dark. And then, even if someone did hear his shouts, why would they venture out? He became quite nervous and slowing down, kept following Miyan ji five to six paces behind him. Suddenly Miyan ji stopped. As he turned back to look, he had his heart in mouth. Now he is done for! Miyan ji looked at the door. Putting his hand in his pocket, he said, ‘Put it here’, however it was not a dagger that came out of his pocket, but money. He placed three annas on his palm.

He was feeling scared on his way back too. Also, he was afraid he’d lose his way. It was only when he reached the main road that he became confident he wouldn’t get lost. But the fear persisted. In an illogical misgiving, he tied his pyjamas round his head, so that his choti – the tuft of hair atop his head, a telltale sign of being a Hindu – would no longer be visible. His heart kept pounding until he came out of the area of Jama Masjid, and untied his pyjama only when he reached the road at Chandni Chowk. Then finding a dhaba, he sat down to eat.

The night was almost over but it was still dark. He felt a slight chill and his sleep got disturbed again and again. Suddenly the sound of knocks made him open his eyes. A police constable, knocking the floor with his baton, was waking up people sleeping in the waiting room and asking – “Where are you coming from? Where do you have to go? Where is your ticket?" The new problem unnerved him. What would he say if asked these questions? The constable was still on the other side. As he went behind a pillar, he tiptoed out with his bag and taking cover behind the wall, went out of the station.

It was still dark but the night had turned from black to grey. From the station he crossed over to the other side and thought he’d go now to the town hall and lie down in the verandah. When it was daylight, he’d go and take his bath etc. in the waiting room. He was about to enter the ‘Company Garden’ when a voice thundered – ‘Hey, you there, stop’ and he completely lost his nerve. Two police constables from the morning patrol! Bolt, he thought to himself. The constables were still at some distance. He might succeed in escaping. But all his nerves seemed to have failed completely. His feet refused to move. Then he kept repeating to himself it won’t be right to run, the constables were sure to catch him. If he ran, the constables would get suspicious. ‘You there! Where are you off to?’ One of the constables asked him but he didn’t know what answer to give. ‘What do you have in this bag?’ The other constable asked and foregoing the first question he said ‘Clothes!’ The constable took the bag in his hand, felt it all over, took the clothes out and shook them. ‘Where do you live?’ asked the second constable. And suddenly he found an escape route. ‘District Sultanpur. In village Muswara. I’ve come in search of a job.’

‘In Sultanpur? Or here in Delhi? Saale, which train comes at this hour?’ Again he became a little nervous. ‘I arrived by train last night. Slept in the waiting room.’ ‘So, where were you going now?’ His nervousness showed on his face. Without thinking he blurted out a half truth, a half lie – ‘The constable drove me out of the waiting room. I thought I’d go, lie down in the verandah of the town hall.’ And a full handed whack landed on his face. ‘Saale, you’re taking us for a ride? You arrive from Sultanpur and know all about town hall and Chandni Chowk? Speak up, where are your accomplices?’ The constable was a hefty one, his slap made his head reel and he began to cry. ‘I swear Havaldar ji, there is no one with me. My father died and I have come looking for work. When I went to that dhaba over there at night to eat, someone pointed out the town hall.’ His mind was working overtime after receiving the whack and he was cursing himself for not having said this earlier. One of the constables looked at him on hearing of his father’s death but there was no effect on the other one. He received another slap on the other cheek, ‘Saale, your father will die when you get blows on your bottom. You are spinning us a yarn! The likes of you are committing crimes every day. Stealing faucets and meters and selling them off at Motiakhan. Today we have managed to nab you. Speak up now, who is the leader of your gang?’

‘I am no thief, Havaldar ji’, he grovelled, ‘I am telling the truth. I have no one living here.’ ‘He won’t own up like this', unbuckling his belt, the constable suddenly began to whip him with it. Putting both his hands on his temples, he bent a little in defence. And his mind froze with fear. Trying to protect himself, he only cried loudly and continued to whine – ‘I am not a thief Havaldar sahib. I have done nothing.’

Hitting him with his belt five or six times, the constable stopped. ‘The rascal is a tough one, he won’t admit to anything like this. ‘Come you …. I’ll straighten you up at the police station.’

When they reached the police station it was day light. As he entered the gate he felt he had become confined in a cage and would never be able to go out again. His cries had stopped on the way but he was still alarmed and was walking like a lifeless machine. ‘Sit over there’ the constable pointed to a corner and going to the constable standing guard, said something to him. But what frightened him most was that the constable had threatened to take him to task once they reached the police station and that he would now fulfil his threat. The very thought that he would now receive a beating made him go numb. He kept thinking whether he could escape the beating by admitting to stealing. But what would he say? Where did he steal from? Where is the loot? Who are his accomplices? The constable had asked these questions. What would he say if the questions were to be repeated here? He felt he could not escape the beating no matter what he said.

Meanwhile Jidda sat up, called a few foul names and then holding on to the bars called out to the constable on guard ‘… you there … you haven’t made anyone fill the pot with water.’ He was a little surprised to see Jidda talk to the policemen in the tone of an officer. He was more surprised to see that no constable said anything in return. A constable brought water in a container. There was something like an earthen pot and also a shallow earthen basin – probably the bottom of a broken pitcher or pot – in a corner of the cell. Once the basin was filled, Jidda lifted his tehmad and sat down on the pot to defecate. The cell filled up with a foul smell but he was not concerned with the smell – even municipality latrines in the lane were always very filthy – as with Jidda’s shamelessness. He sat quietly, keeping his head down, eyes averted. Jidda was also smoking a cigarette and making strange puffing sounds, like the panting of a buffalo bull. He too, smoked beedis at times but for some reason he was finding the smell of that smoke very offensive at that moment.

Jidda got up, opened the knot of his tehmad and then tied it tightly again. Looking at him while still in the act, Jidda said – If you want to shit or pee, do it now. Once the Jamaadar  comes and cleans up, I will not let you do anything.’ His whole body seemed to have become paralyzed but he picked up the basin out of Jidda’s fear, and came to stand near the bars. Not seeing anyone outside, he stood there for a while. When he saw a constable pass by, he called out with some force, ‘Havaldar ji!’ Either the constable did not hear, or hearing him ignored him and went away without looking. He became a little crestfallen. From the corner of his eyes he saw Jidda had sat down leaning against the wall and had started smoking. But when a constable passed by again in a while, Jidda’s voice rose from behind him even before he could speak – ‘Oye, Ramsingha, get this boy some water.' The constable only waved at the time, but he didn’t have to wait for long. Ramsingh brought water shortly in a tin container.

As he was pouring the water, Jidda took out a five rupee note from the layers of the folded sleeve of his shirt and handing it to Ramsingh, said – ‘Get two glasses of tea and a packet of Captain cigarettes. And send the barber.’ Jidda was standing at the door and talking. He thought he’d take advantage and ease himself quickly. He sat a little sideways out of modesty and was finding it difficult to sit on the pot and was sweating with shame and nervousness. Jidda was not paying him any attention and yet when he moved from the door and turned back in, he relieved himself quickly and moved away.

He was feeling strangely upset. Whatever happened later appeared to him like a nightmare and he felt aloof and cut off from it all. In his fear, he kept sitting close to the wall. Outside, there was some movement now, and a few officers, besides the constables, could be seen moving around. The door to the cell opened when the Jamaadar arrived but a constable bolted the door and stood outside. Turning the pot over in the basin, the Jamaadar left. Then Ramsingh arrived with two glasses of tea, four biscuits wrapped in paper and cigarettes. He noticed that the constable returned only three rupees to Jidda and thought Jidda would now explode at the constable. Two glasses of tea, biscuits and cigarettes for two rupees! But Jidda rolled the money up in his sleeve without a word. Ramsingh also gave Jidda a pencil and a paper on which he wrote a note and handing it to Ramsingh, said - 'Give this to the Havaldar of the guard when I go to jail, he will deliver it.’

Extending one glass of tea towards him, Jidda asked, ‘Is this your first time?’ He couldn’t speak and only nodded. ‘Were you committing mudda?’ He didn’t understand Jidda’s question. ‘Were you picking someone’s pocket?’ Jidda asked directly this time. No. Suddenly he wanted to cry. ‘I didn’t do anything, they just hauled me up from the street.’ It occurred to him since Jidda held so much sway at the police station, they might release him if he asked them. But Jidda spoke a little angrily. ‘So why do you cry? Now that you’re here, son, show some steel. You can’t imagine what they will do to you in jail, if you cry … these policemen, the prisoners, the headmen, wardens will all ….’

He was struck dumb. The fear brought tears to his eyes. His tea still lay untouched and he was sitting like someone frozen. ‘Drink it up’, Jidda chided again, ‘because in jail …’, tearing the paper packet from a side Jidda put two biscuits on it and extended towards him. ‘Eat it. You won’t get any food today. These corrupt policemen grow fat on the food money meant for those kept in the lock up.’

He was not hungry. The information that he won’t be getting any food that day made no impact. Breaking a piece of biscuit he put it in his mouth and began to chew. It felt tasteless. As if he was chewing paper pulp. The tea also had no taste. He had still not finished his tea when he saw the constable from the night before and was at once gripped with fear – now he has had it. He sat there, stunned. The glass of tea remained where it was. The constable went into a room. But in a short while, he heard someone inside – perhaps a senior officer – shout loudly in anger. Once again a new hope rose in his heart. From what he could hear, the officer appeared to be very angry with the constable.

When he heard the officer getting angry it gave him some hope – the officer might release him. Therefore when the constable opened the door, even as his heart was still pounding hard, he was not as scared now. However he was taken not before the officer, but to a Havaldar, who was writing something on a paper on the table and as soon as he went to stand there, asked in a sharp voice – ‘What’s your name?’ The voice emerged without the lips appearing to move. ‘What’s your name?’ He couldn’t immediately connect himself to the question and stood quietly for a moment. The eyes looking down at the table looked up – ‘You …, I am asking you your name.’ The moment he saw those eyes his blood froze. Even Jidda’s eyes were fearsome but were also warm. These eyes were equally fearsome but stone-cold. He had never seen a butcher but when he look at the Havaldar’s eyes, he felt he must be a butcher. His hands would never tremble while running a knife over an animal’s neck or while skinning it. ‘Dharamdas, sir’, he said with much difficulty. The eyes looked down again. Father’s name? Chhedilal. Residence? Hata Ramdas, beyond the vegetable market. He kept replying, as if, it was not he but someone else who was speaking. He had thought he would grovel before the officer saying his father had died and he had come from Sultanpur in search of work. The officer may take pity. But the moment he saw those eyes his blood ran cold and he couldn’t lie even about his place of residence. The havaldar asked no further question and continued to write on forms printed in Urdu. He looked around once, in fear, couldn’t see the constable from the previous night. But the constable who had brought him from the lock up was coming out from another room with a handcuff.

That was the moment when he suddenly grew up. He was still scared and alarmed. Still feeling surrounded by unknown, fearsome dangers, however, he was no longer a frightened boy but a frightened man. When the constable began to handcuff him, he saw it was too big for him, big enough to fit the wrist of someone like Jidda. For a second he thought, if he tried, he could wriggle his hand out. But the constable too, had noticed his wrist was too thin and undoing it after handcuffing only one hand, he locked it after slipping the chain in. The handcuff was still loose but not loose enough to slip his hand out.

The constable attached the hook at the end of the chain to his belt and buckled it up. . As soon as he saw the constable attach the hook to his belt, he understood he had to go with him. The constable must have received money for his conveyance and food but he stepped out of the police station and set out on foot. The court those days was held at Kashmiri Gate and was not too far if one went through the Kaurria bridge. Coming on to the road handcuffed like this, he felt very odd. All the passersby on the road must be looking at him, he thought. And they’d think he must either be a thief or a pick-pocket. Head bent in shame, he began to walk beside the constable. But he felt even stranger after a while, to think hardly anyone on the road threw a second glance at him. Everyone was moving engrossed in one’s own self.

Again and again he thought, if those people came to know he had been hauled up without any fault of his or branded a thief for no crime, won’t they do anything to get him released? But how would anyone come to know? What if he came across someone he knew? If someone he knew saw him going down the road in handcuffs, he won’t be able to show his face again. Passing over the Kaurria bridge he became extremely agitated. As he watched, a train emerged out of the station and began to pass under him. For a second he thought, he should jump, jump down, sit on the roof of the train, get down at the next station. No one would be able to catch him then. But he was in handcuffs and the hook of the chain was attached to the constable’s belt.

His mind went completely numb at the court lock-up. The room was much larger than the police lock up but already it held twenty five to thirty men from the jail lock up who had their hearing that day. The stench of urine was revolting but others seemed not even aware of it: screaming, shouting and abusing, every one kept making a din the whole day. Most of the people crowded the spot near the bars of the door and looked at anyone who passed by to see if there was anyone they knew. Whenever anyone spotted someone familiar, he shouted to attract his attention and asked to deliver a message to someone. He went over to a corner at the back and sat down quietly.

Two or three of the men asked if he was there under 'one hundred and nine'? He had no clue at the time what 'one hundred and nine' meant. He shook his head – no, for stealing. But Mehmood looked sharply at him and asked, ‘Where did you steal?’ ‘Nowhere.’ He shook his head again. Then why was he caught? Was he a servant and there was theft at the master’s house? No. Then?’ ‘The constable caught me at night.’ ‘Oh, he must have booked you under 'one hundred and nine then'.’ He said nothing, but Mehmood continued to look at him for some more time with his sharp eyes. Mehmood didn’t have a scary face, yet one was a little frightened to look at him. The deep sockets of his eyes made his eyes – which were not large – appear large and he gave such a direct, fixed stare that he seemed to be staring without blinking. His face, wizened and covered with large pock-marks, had no beard but his hair was long, dry and tangled. His body, generally, was not fleshy and one leg was completely dried up and when he walked, it was with a limp. Watching him for some time with his fixed stare, Mehmood limped forward to the door.

One constable, sometimes two, came at short intervals, called out a name and the lock opened. Whoever was called, was handcuffed and taken away. And then was brought back after a while. Once, three men were taken away together. One was a young robust, handsome Ghurkha, another was a man with big eyes and pointed moustache, the third, a man, who had the look of an office clerk. No sooner had they left than someone said, ‘This Ghurkha is a real brave-heart. The police beat him so hard it would have cracked the toughest but failed to crack him.’ Then the others too joined the conversation – ‘They broke into a jewellers, took away seven lakhs worth of loot but the shop owner reported a theft of only four lakhs because the goods were smuggled. Also he would have been caught for evasion of income tax had he reported the full amount. Loot worth three lakhs was recovered. But these fellows have swallowed up goods worth four lakhs. They could not touch Karam Singh. He, in any case, is a very powerful man. Also a man of great gusto. Can devour one full goat in one go. The Ghurkha they thought was only a boy and would spill out everything when beaten. But hats off to him, the police applied all its might and yet the boy did not let on.'

He sat quietly and listened but by this time, he had reached a state when anything happening outside had no effect on him. Suddenly there were several shouts – ‘Dharamdas, is there someone called Dharamdas?’ He started and stood up in a huff. The constable had come for him, he called out twice, the prisoners too called out his name. Without a word he began to move nervously towards the door, suddenly Mehmood’s face appeared – ‘Is your name Dharamdas?' ' Yes'. 'So why don’t you speak up boy, they have been calling for over fifteen minutes.' The door opened and as he handcuffed and lead him out, the constable kept cursing him.

During all this time he had become convinced in his mind of his guilt. To run away from home, carry luggage without licence or permit, think of hitting Dulaare chacha with a stone and cutting off mai’s nose, sleep in the waiting room – he was sure the moment he had stepped out of the boundary of his home, he had stepped into a world of crime. But he had not stolen anything. He kept thinking he would tell everything to whichever judge or officer he was presented before and ask for pardon – ‘Please, let me go this time sir, I will never run away from home again, I am not a thief. I have not stolen anything.’ Even as he repeated all this, he thought to himself – ‘I did steal the cycle parts’, but then he thought, no one knew about the cycle parts. Chhotelal had not reported to the police.

But when taken to the court, he didn’t get a chance to say anything. The constable who had brought him from the police station was standing in a corner. When he arrived, a police officer, who had been standing there, asked – ‘Is Dharamdas here?’ Then picking up some papers and putting them in front of the judge, he said something in a low voice. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Dharamdas, sir’, he said, gulping down. The judge would now ask me more questions, he thought. What had you done? But bending down his head, the judge began to sign the papers.

The judge did not appear old and seemed a little bored and restless. Apart from whispers, the courtroom was filled with an anxious silence. The judge also checked his watch twice or thrice while signing the paper and was still bent over the table when the constable took him back to the lock up. All that he had in mind, stayed inside him. The judge asked him nothing. Not even what he had done, or if he had done anything or not. The constable said just one word – ‘come’. He threw one glance around the court. Sitting on an elevated platform, the judge was still bent over the table, sitting below on either side, the clerks were turning over files, the police officer had come to his table and was taking out some more papers, two or three lawyers sat drowsing on the long table in the centre of the room, one or two other men were also standing and he no longer existed for any of them. Not only in the room but also in this world, except for the constable who had the hook to the chain of the handcuff caught in his fingers and had to return him safely to the lock-up. On his way from the court room to the lock up, his mind remained strangely disturbed. What is going on? What is going to happen? What will they do to him? The building and also the compound outside was filled with so many people, both urban and rural, lawyers, officers, clerks - sitting or standing, walking fast and almost every one talking in a loud voice. Like so many animals, shut inside one enclosure, growling and grumbling. He remembered the pock-marked one saying, ‘he must have been booked under one hundred and nine’. He thought, he’d ask him, what 'one hundred and nine' was on reaching the lock up.

But Mehmood was not there in the lock-up. He had been taken away for hearing. The Ghurkha of the seven lakh theft and his two accomplices were back. Karam Singh, of the pointed moustache, and the other man were talking to others but the Ghurkha, surrounded by many, sat in silence. He felt the Ghurkha also, like him, was cut off from the others. Was the Ghurkha also a first timer? Perhaps. He too was young and also appeared different from others. Was he also frightened? People said the police had had beaten him badly but had failed to make him confess. He felt the Ghurkha’s eyes appeared a little clouded. Then he remembered he had stuff worth four lakhs. Each will have a share of one or one and quarter lakhs. One lakh rupees! He didn’t have an exact idea of how much one lakh rupees were but knew the rich men having huge bungalows were called lakhpatis. Even if the Ghurkha is sentenced to serve a time of two to four years, he would be a lakhpati at the time of his release. But where is the loot? What if they refuse to give the Ghurkha his share? He had a good idea that if they betrayed, the Ghurkha would kill them. Again he looked carefully at him. Sitting silently, the Ghurkha appeared to him, to be a little sad.

He became conscious of how acutely hungry he was. But he was not going to get anything to eat. He had had only the two biscuits given him by Jidda at the police station. The tension of fear had perhaps diminished somewhat. Returning to the lock up after the silence in the courtroom and the meaningless din outside had given him some relief. As if he was safe there. This was perhaps the reason why he could feel hunger. The noon had come to an end, and the commotion inside the lock up was no longer as energetic. There was no crowd at the door, no eyes searching out familiar people. Two or three people stood looking out casually by the door. Most of the inmates had been to their trials and had been given new dates for hearing. A few were still in courts. Two young looking men, who had looked like brothers, had not returned. He learnt from the conversation there that they had indeed been brothers. Easterners. Hailing from some place in Bihar. (He didn’t exactly know where Bihar was but since they were ‘easterners’, it must be in the east. He remembered his home and village – Sultanpur – was also in the east). The court had let them off. A boy around his age was sitting looking very distressed. He had been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment – for stealing. He was in tears and telling the people sitting near him how he used to wash the taxis and other motor-cars parked at a stand near a cinema house in New Delhi, and got one or two anna in return from the owners of these taxis and cars. There was a burglary at a tailor’s shop in the neighbourhood and he was forcibly caught and named in the theft by the police. He was let off by the court but the police arrested him again the moment he stepped out and adding two more witnesses in the initial case, framed him in yet another theft. This time, the judge sentenced him to two years.

His mind was busy thinking of the many possibilities. Would he be acquitted by the judge, like the two brothers from the east, or be framed in a theft by the police and get a two year sentence? He was hit repeatedly by hunger pangs once he became conscious of his appetite. The thought that he hadn’t eaten anything since morning nagged him again and again. Not a day had passed since childhood when he hadn’t eaten at least twice. The thought that Mehmood, with his crippled leg, hadn’t returned yet also occurred to him once. Has he also been acquitted? But he returned in a while and informed that witnesses in his case had been deposing. And he also asked him – ‘Why boy? What happened in your trial? Nothing? A new date has been fixed? What date? Don’t know? Hey, are you man or a toad?’ There was so much of contempt in Mehmood’s sharp tone that he almost cried and controlled himself with much difficulty.

The cripple went hobbling over to the other side and could be seen saying something to the men over there, who turned to look. He could guess why they were laughing at him. Once again, he suddenly felt all alone in a completely alien world. He killed his instinct to break into a bawling, realizing, if he cried, these people would laugh at him all the more.

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