Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' - English translation of chapter 13 of 'Kuchch Zindagiyan Bematlab'(कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak


Maqbool  had believed without a doubt that judge Sajnani would release him and when he saw how severely the judge was scolding the policeman, he too came to believe it. It was in fact, to some extent due to his own foolishness that he had stayed three months in jail. When the judge had asked him if there was someone who knew him and could vouch for his conduct, he had said, yes. Otherwise, the judge would perhaps have released him earlier. The policemen, too, must have known about the judge and had kept postponing the case despite the judge’s reprimand, hoping perhaps, that they’d find an excuse to transfer the case to another court. When the police did not file the challan at the first hearing, the judge lost his temper again. The challan was filed at the second hearing but without any evidence. When the judge asked the officer representing the police, point-blank, why he shouldn’t dismiss the case, the officer said, “My lord! This boy is clearly a pick-pocket, two blades were recovered from him at the time of arrest. If the court won’t pass a sentence in this case, it would amount to contempt of law and would encourage crime. The boy would go out and pick more pockets.”

The judge first asked him if he had a lawyer. No, my lord. O.K. We’ll deal with it later. The judge turned around the papers of the challan. Dharamdas s/o Chhedilal, r/o Hata Ramdas, Subzi Mandi. The judge looked up, what does your father do? No, my lord, my father used to work in a government depot, but both my parents passed away last year. You don’t have a brother? No, sir, I am all alone. What do you do? I am learning work sir, at a cycle shop. Can your employer or someone from your neighbourhood vouch for your conduct? He paused for a moment thinking how to answer. The enquiring eyes of the judge rested on him. Yes, my lord, my employer is a big man, why would he come to court on my account? But someone from the neighbourhood would vouch for me.

The judge handed the papers to the clerk sitting alongside – ask him the name and address and issue summons. He got into a fix now, whose name should he give? Also, he didn’t have much time to think. The clerk asked in a low but impatient voice, speak up, whom do you want to call? When he couldn’t think of anyone else, he gave the name of the pundit at the Shivala, Pandit Balbhaddar Misir, Hata Ramdas. The next two hearings were wasted in confusion. The judge enquired and was told by the clerk – the summons has not returned sahib. The judge got some what peeved at the third hearing, not with him but with the police. He said a little angrily, I know all about your department! It has been a month and a half and you couldn’t serve summons to one man? The officer said, ‘I beg your pardon sir. I’ll make a note of it and send it by hand this time.’ ‘No way. I am not giving any more time. This orphan child has been languishing in jail for three months for no reason.’

‘But sir?,' said the police officer, ‘If he is telling the truth, ask him what he was doing in the Company Garden at that hour?’ When the judge turned to look at him, his face drained of all colour. What could he say now? But the judge, instead of asking him, mimicked the police officer in a rude voice, ‘But sir, if the boy is speaking the truth, who is responsible for keeping him forcibly in jail and turning him into a criminal? And even if he is guilty, aren’t three months in jail, punishment enough? After all, you have arrested him only on suspicion, not picking a pocket.’ Then turning towards him, ‘Run off now. But never run away from home again. Go to your employer and go all out to convince him to engage you again. Don’t run away even if he scolds or beats you. If you come before me again, I’ll send you in for one year. Go, run along now.’

The constable undid his handcuffs. He folded his hands in front of the judge – Namaste sir, - but the judge was looking already at the papers of another case. Stepping out of the court room, he walked quickly for some distance in the verandah, afraid he would be arrested again, but then he saw the constable going towards the lock up to bring another prisoner without looking in his direction. He threw a glance around him. The two words – run along – spoken by the judge had made every one lose interest in him. Walking slowly he came on to the road outside.

At first, he kept thinking – the judge had realized that he had run away from home and therefore hadn’t made too many queries. Had the judge asked questions he’d have been trapped. Then it occurred to him that his bag and the other set of clothes had been left in jail. Once, he thought of going back to the police lock-up and go with others to the jail and bring back his clothes from there. But the court had released him, so why would anyone take him there? Should he go to the jail himself and say his clothes were left inside? And then he suddenly realized he would never want to see the gate of the jail again. He hoped in his heart he would not see the day when the window of the jail-gate should close after taking him in.

Coming out on the road, he stood thinking for a while. What should he do now? While in jail he had almost made up his mind - he’d go back home. Go back home, fight with Dulaare chacha and drive him away. He was a grown up now, after all, and if Dulaare chacha would create a problem, he would threaten him – I have stayed with hard core criminals in jail, if I set one of them after you, you’d disappear without a trace – bones and all. But he had thought he’d go home after it was dark.

Except for his clothes he had no other major concern. But then, he thought he was sure to get clothes at home. He had brought one set with him. He recalled there were shorts and vests also at home, also a set of kurta-dhoti, and perhaps a pyjama too. He also possessed a slightly torn shirt. There was no cause for worry. But what if Dulaare chacha had worn his clothes in the mean time? If he had, he would take him to task first on this count.

Maqbool had, as a precaution, given him two letters. There was no knowing at which hearing he’d be released. The letters, written in Urdu - which he could not read -  were lying in his pocket. But Maqbool had also explained everything to him :  right opposite the mosque situated at the starting point of the baarraa - the residential compex - is the paan shop owned by Aziz. This long letter is addressed to him. I have noted down some items in the letter. Tell him he is to bring all these when he comes to visit in a day or two. He is also to bring some money to deposit in my name. And explain to him clearly to bring cigarettes and slip in some notes between the silver foil and the cardboard of the packet. And to do so in many different packets separately. Tell him not to shove all of it down one packet so one can tell just by looking at it. I’ve written in the letter to give two rupees to you also. This other letter is for my brother Iqbal. He is the same age as you. Ask Aziz for his address. He has the key to my room. You can take the key and sleep in the room till the time you can make another arrangement.

Listening to Maqbool, he had nodded but had no mind to go to his place or to his room to sleep. The ‘baarraa’ was an out and out Muslim area. It was all right as far as passing the message to Aziz was concerned. He would also get money from him, there was not a single paisa in his pocket. But the idea of living in Muslim quarters scared him. He was also of the mind that even though Maqbool was a good sort, getting close to a Muslim was not the right thing to do. But perhaps Maqbool had asked Aziz in his letter to tell him his address, take the key from Iqbal and give it to him. Aziz didn’t even ask his name. All kinds of people must have been frequenting his shop – perhaps that’s why he didn’t feel the need. After reading the letter he gave him two rupees. And then asking a boy to mind the shop he said – come along.

After several turns in the lane they reached Maqbool’s place. An old, single story house. With a sack cloth as the door curtain. Asking him to stand there Aziz called out – ‘Iqbal’ and went in. He stood there and kept thinking – Are there any women in Maqbool’s household? Why is there a curtain on the door? Don’t they observe purdah in front of Aziz? They must have gone inside when Aziz called out. Who would be there? Would Maqbool’s wife be there? Had Maqbool married? His mother must be there, perhaps sisters too. Then suddenly, his mind became fraught with many apprehensions. Has he become trapped in a snare? Who knows what Maqbool had written in his letter? He looked around him. The lane was deserted. Only a few boys were playing in a corner. But it was day light still. What can they do in broad day light? What would he do if people surrounded him from both sides and asked him to either eat beef or be killed? There were only Muslim households in all the lanes. If they killed and buried him someplace, no one would ever know. There was in any case, no one to enquire about his whereabouts. He considered moving away instead of standing there, waiting. But it would be difficult to find his way out of these lanes and in case he met someone he would wonder what this Hindu was doing there. What would he say if someone asked something? That he had lost his way? But where was he going? To whose house?

He was still in a dilemma when Aziz came out with the key. The letter addressed to Iqbal stayed in his pocket. Perhaps Maqbool’s family didn’t approve of his conduct, of the company he kept, and didn’t want the younger brother to follow the same path. Was Maqbool’s father still alive? Did he have an elder brother? Aziz came out and said, come, I’ll see you to your room. As they walked towards the road, the room was located within the lane, right at the backside of the road. Aziz opened the door. The room was quite dirty. At one side was a sagging cot with a dirty bedding on it and a few clothes on a clothesline at the other, an old frayed rug was spread out on the floor and in a corner lay some empty boxes, a small lantern.

Leaving him there, Aziz went away. Not wanting to sit on the cot he sat down on the rug. And thought - it was all very well, he could pass his time here. It was well past noon but still some time before dark. Leaving the room open he bought a beedi and matches from the roadside, lit up and lay down. He had thought once of locking the room before going out but then thought there was nothing there that would be pinched in two minutes. The neighbours would know that it was Maqbool’s room. If they saw him opening and locking up the room, they’d wonder unnecessarily who this person was.

He fell asleep and on waking up suddenly, found the evening drawing to its end. He was also feeling a little hungry. During the three months stay in jail, he had become used to early meals. He stepped out, locked up and thought he would go to a small dhaba for food then take a tram from the ice-factory. Now he also felt that he had taken the key needlessly. He should go and return it to Aziz, but what would Aziz think? If he was not going to stay there why had he taken the key? Then he thought he’d keep it with him for now, come another day and return it. He would have to return it. They may not have a duplicate. What if Maqbool came out of jail and found that both he and the key were missing.

By the time he had his meal, it had grown dark and by the time he reached Pul-Bangash, the roads were lit up. When he reached before the lane, he found it abuzz with people. He remembered people used to assemble and gossip at the well at this hour. For a long time he kept pacing up and down the road. Once, when he thought the lane had fallen silent he went in but on going a little further, saw three-four people standing under the light of the lamp post near the Shivala and retraced his steps. If he passed by that point, someone was sure to recognise him. He did not want to meet any one from the lane before reaching his house. At first his mind had not been very clear and he had felt only a hitch, but walking about the road in wait of silence, he remembered all that the people in the lane had said and done and felt a rage build up in him. He would bide his time and deal with each of them. But first he has to deal with Dulaare chacha. He’d rent a house some other place once he’d driven Dulaare chacha away. But first he would shoo Dulaare chacha out and look for work, so everyone in the lane would know.
As he walked, he also passed by the shop where he had left his dues of eight or ten days. The lala was sitting on his seat counting money. He’d come here tomorrow. He may get work again. Otherwise, he would ask for his dues. He also passed by Chhotelal’s shop, who as always was dozing on his chair. There were two new boys in the shop but they were, at the time, smoking beedis. He did not see Kisana in the next shop. He was still very angry with Kisana. He would, one day, give him a good talking to.

After a while he peeped again inside the lane. There was no one near the Shivala now. Quickly, he walked past the light. Anyone who saw him in the dark would not know him. But he did not meet anyone. When the lane turned he stopped. Beside the electric lamp post, was also a blazing petromax. People sat there eating in a row. He stopped outside the circle of light and stood in the dark against the wall. On a durrie spread out close to the row, sat a crowd. He recognized quite a few from the lane. Mahaadev, Massur Maharaj and, chewing tobacco and talking to someone, the pandit sat in a corner. A few members of a band stood at the back. The door to Rajee’s house was open and people were going and coming, in and out. He guessed it must be Rajee’s wedding, still when he saw a stranger pass by he asked, ‘Why sir, is there a wedding taking place?’ The man paused on hearing a voice come in from the dark, then probably thinking it was one of the low caste servants, he indicated by turning his face and said, ‘The Chaudhury household is entertaining a baaraat tonight.’

He continued to stand there for a while. The place would remain crowded till late at night. After all, they are entertaining a wedding party. Keeping to the opposite side and close to the wall, he proceeded to his house. He went and stood there going as close as he could without stepping out in the light. The door to his house was ajar and a lantern burned in the outer room. Suddenly a feminine voice drifted out speaking in Punjabi, and then a woman in salwar-kameez, a Punjabi dress of loose trousers and top, stepped out. Who is she? And this man? Looks like he is a Sikh. Yes he is a Sikh, there is a small kirpan – a dagger kept by Sikhs, dangling down his waist. The two went back in, the door closed.

How come these Sikhs are here? Where have mai and Dulaare chacha gone? Dulaare chacha had been thinking about it already, he must have left surely, taking mai with him. He was a fool to think, they’d still be here. It was all absolutely clear, there was no need to ask anyone. With heavy feet, he turned back. Someone perhaps saw him in the light near the Shivala and when he had passed ahead, a voice came from behind him, ‘Is it Ghaseeta?’ He couldn't tell whose voice it was. He didn’t turn to see, nor stopped, instead, as if a little jolted (also somewhat disconcerted on hearing his nick name after so many months), he stepped up his pace and went out of the lane.

His mood had somehow turned sour. Where would they have gone! It occurred to him once that if he went to Dulaare chacha’s hotel tomorrow, he’d probably see him. But the thought came and went away. He now wanted to see neither Dulaare chacha nor mai. He wanted to see no one. What would he do if he met mai? If she had gone with Dulaare chacha, it is well and good. For a while, he felt he was lost again in an alien place. The way he had in the jail when the barrack-gate closed behind him. Then he started thinking, he’d work out and build up his body, be a bully, become a rogue like Jidda, people would be terrified of his name, even the police and the jail staff would stand in awe of him. Maqbool was a thief and a gambler. He too would gamble, also booze but won’t steal. He would be a bully and people would pay him out of fear. And if someone would be defiant he would kill him with a knife, he would keep a pistol (he would first learn to shoot and become a crack shot), bang, and everything will be over.

Suddenly he realized he was heading back to the ‘baarraa’ without having thought about it. The lane with Maqbool’s room was closeby. He gave a slight jerk to his head, entered the lane, unlocked the door, latched it from inside and lay down on the rug. It was very hot and the room had become a furnace. It was difficult to sleep. He remembered there was a lantern in a corner but had no idea if there was kerosene in it. Taking out a beedi from his pocket, he lit up. The acrid smoke of the beedi began to fill the room.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

'Lives Without Meaning' English translation of chapter 12 of 'Kuchh Zindagiyan Bematalab' (कुछ ज़िन्दगियाँ बेमतलब) - novella by Om Prakash Deepak.


The court had acquitted him on that occasion, but only after a three month stay in jail. He'd had his first hearing ten or twelve days after his first day in jail, and when, on return from the hearing, he had told Maqbool that the judge he had been first taken to had changed and that his trial was now in Judge Sajnani’s court, Maqbool had said – ‘You’re fortunate young fellow. Sajnani never sentences anyone under one hundred and nine. He stays somewhere close to Kashmiri Gate and goes for a walk at the break of dawn when it is still dark. Once he was taking a walk near Kudasia Ghaat at four in the morning. It had rained and he had rolled up the bottom of his trousers to save them from getting soiled. When the police patrol saw him, they booked him under one hundred and nine and locked him up. They made him sit for two hours at the police station. It was only when they asked his name that the truth came out. And what a dressing down he gave to all of them! Had them all placed under suspension. Since then he has vowed never to sentence anyone under one hundred and nine.’

During those three months, he had felt at times he would start screaming wildly, go nuts. But somehow he survived. Partly, perhaps because he learned, to a large extent, to transfer his fear down to his fists. Whenever, he was afraid, his fists tightened, his heart pounded loudly, as the fear deepened his limbs too became numb but he never let his fear show on his face. What surprised him the most in the beginning was Maqbool. How the whole barrack was afraid of him! So much so, that even the warder and the headmen were cautious when talking to Maqbool, who was facing three trials for theft, one for rioting. He had been out on bail in the first three trials and had been gambling somewhere when a constable or havaldar arrived to demand his share. They exchanged heated words. When the constable, foul mouthed, called him a name, Maqbool caught him by his neck and hit his head against the floor, nose down. The nose broke. The police had then given him a sound thrashing. This time his bail application was rejected by the sessions court and he had been put in fetters immediately on arrival in jail.

And yet, there was a softness in Maqbool’s eyes which was missing in the eyes of everyone else in jail. The eyes of all the others, whether they be prisoners, officers or warders, were hard and cold. One could tell by looking that they would show no mercy under any circumstances. If ever Maqbool looked at someone in anger, the person broke into a cold sweat, and yet, his eyes looked like that of a child. He seemed unafraid of everything. He was the mate at the barracks and this was only natural. Who else could be the mate as long as he was there? Who could dare to say anything to him? In the morning, when the barracks opened, he made everyone fall in line, made a count and then, had the food distributed. When the boys, who had a hearing that day, left, he sat down for a game of cards with the warder or the headman or a boy. Sometimes he drew something like a map on the floor and played a game using shards as pieces. A game he couldn’t learn despite Maqbool’s attempts at teaching. Maqbool also took care of the furnace that was kindled once a week to wash their clothes and took out some coal for himself to keep. On days the vegetable was badly cooked, he kindled those coals to season it again. Occasionally, he obtained some potatoes from only he knew where and cooked them. The rest of the boys dried up the rotis left over from their meals. He was astonished to see those dried up rotis burn as readily as dried up twigs.

Thanks to Maqbool, not only did he escape the cripple’s clutches that day, he also lived in a measure of comfort later too. Maqbool’s treatment of him resembled that of a boy who finds and brings home a small puppy, miserable with cold and hunger, and feeds it, covers it with a blanket. Maqbool talked only seldom to him but whenever he cooked, always gave him his share. That first night, he had slept very little. Partly because his hunger had not been fully satiated and partly because the blanket had perhaps been infested with bugs and they had bitten him all through the night. But apart from all this a strange smell in the barracks, emanating from the bodies and the breath of the boys sleeping there, and mingling, when ever there was a gust of breeze, with the stink of the urinal built on one side, had kept disturbing him. Once he became accustomed, he himself mingled with the smell and found it strangely comforting, particularly in the winter. But it hadn’t been cold that first night. Besides, the smell had been unfamiliar and he had found the barracks very stifling. Occasionally a boy had mumbled in his sleep, the calls of the watchman had kept echoing throughout the night. His sleep had got disturbed every now and then but his mind had been numb. He had been unable to think about what was going to happen next, nor what he would have to do, what he should do?

When he got up in the morning, his eyes were smarting. He had slipped into sleep just an hour or two back and when he awoke this time, most of the boys were already up. Maqbool was sitting, smoking a beedi, his legs stretched out. He couldn’t draw his legs up because of the fetters. He was up and rubbing his eyes when the head warder arrived to open the barracks.

He was very pleased that day with the jail practice of an early meal. Food was served early in jail because the inmates were sent to work by nine in the morning. However, he was very hungry and when the food was served early, he felt happy. Because he was hungry, he could eat two rotis. There was ‘daal’, but he couldn’t make out which ‘daal’ it was. Apart from the taste of salt, chillies and a little oil, he guessed from its dark colour and sticky consistency it was whole ‘horse-bean’. The moment he put a piece of roti in his mouth, sand grated under his teeth. At first, he thought of  spitting it out, but then forced it down somehow. Maqbool had given him an onion and he managed two rotis with it but when he finished the onion, he didn’t have the courage to start on the third one. His hunger too was almost satisfied. He threw the remaining ‘daal’ in the drain and slipped the roti under the rug intending to ask Maqbool for an onion to eat it with, in case he felt hungry during the day. But he didn’t feel hungry again.

Nearly all of the boys in the barrack were under trial. He heard that the boys, sentenced to more than one or two months, were sent to the ‘Borstal’ jail in Hissar. They weren’t usually made to work as they were under-trials but occasionally the warder engaged them for watering plants or pulling out grass etcetera in the barrack compound itself, or at times in another barrack. The inmates were not provided with scrapers etcetera and the grass had to be scrapped out by hands. The boys kept at it slowly but watering plants required a little labour. Buckets had to be filled up at the tap and poured down plants and thickets.

This is how he had run into Jidda a second time. The warder had sent him along with ten or twelve other boys to pull out grass in the compound of ‘Korateen’ . He had heard that when a prisoner was punished by jail authorities, he was put in fetters and was shut in an isolated cell, and was made to grind twenty seers of wheat in one day, that was why the cells were called grinding mills. But Jidda was neither shut in nor grinding wheat. However, his feet did have fetters around them. He was sitting on a platform in front of a cell, playing cards and drinking a cup of tea which did surprise him but not much. Small fire pots burnt in all the barracks. And Jidda was a prisoner with some reckoning. He must have ordered milk by asking the Doctor or bribing the compounder.

He too sat down on the side where Jidda was sitting and began to pull out grass. He was also being a little greedy. Jidda may perhaps see him and offer tea. But Jidda was engrossed in the card game. Even if he saw him, he paid no attention. He had probably not seen him as, constrained by the fetters, he was sitting with his legs stretched out and could see him only if he turned around to look. Two of the other card players with him were prisoners, probably under-trial, as they were wearing their own clothes. One was a headman. Suddenly one cracked a joke with Jidda, ‘Boss, I hear you too have been caught by the lure of the skirt. Did you marry?’

Jidda laughed out loud, then spat out suddenly, ‘What marriage? Am I made to fulfil the whims of a bitch all my life and then raise her litter? There is a girl with me these days. Such fun. She is an orphan, and used to go around begging. But she sure is delicious. I had brought her with me to enjoy for a few days. But I have no clue what’s wrong with the bitch. Each night she brays out as if it is her first night. Otherwise, she is o.k. That’s why I can’t have my fill of her. It’s been four months almost. She doesn’t act difficult, just sits tamely. I hope she doesn’t run away by the time I am out! But where would she run away to? She has no place. I had sent some money to my place so she won’t starve, at least. But I can’t be sure that a pal such as you won’t walk off with her.’ And again, Jidda laughed at his own joke, although not as loudly.

‘Who can eye anything that belongs to Jidda?’ The other prisoner with him tried to humour him. Jidda was perhaps in a very good mood. Twirling his moustache, he said, ‘Many a time I have asked, O, Basantia, why do you cry? Does it really hurt or do you pretend? But she says nothing and only looks at you like a cow.’

‘She must be putting on an act boss, women enjoy even more than men.’ Jidda took a sip of the tea and said a little mischievously, ‘Come over some day if the judge does not send you in for five years and I’ll make you take a dip. Then you can tell if she is pretending or not. Not that she is very chaste or virtuous. In fact she was walking the streets. Who knows how many have taken a dip.’

‘If she is shamming’, this time the headman spoke, ‘she won’t be waiting for you. She’ll take whatever things she can lay her hands on and run off.’ Jidda twirled his moustache again, ‘Where will she run off to? Where will she go with Jidda’s things? I’ll bring her back from where ever she’ll be and make twenty youths mount her one by one. Then I’ll see how the bitch acts.’

A strange silence fell at Jidda’s words. As he was listening, his hands had stopped on their own. Although Jidda was facing the other side, his face and his eyes now loomed in front of him. A strange tension appeared on the faces of the rest of the three, their eyes gleamed in a strange, frightening way and he knew, had Jidda’s eyes been facing him, they’d have appeared even more frightening. His limbs had grown slack and he sat without moving for a while. When the boy pulling grass at some distance came completely close, he gave a start and began to pull at the grass quick and fast so he could get away from there.

Jidda and his companions were still playing cards but now, perhaps, their heart was not in it. Suddenly the headman who had brought them there called out, ‘Boy, come and see here, there is so much grass, pull this out, all these rascals, they sit only at one spot.’ As if relieved, he got up quickly and went in that direction. Sitting down with his back to Jidda’s cell, he began to move his hands rapidly. And then, except for a side glance once or twice, he didn’t turn that way during the whole time that he was there. He was feeling queer inside and wanted that Jidda shouldn’t see him, shouldn’t recognize him. He tried again and again not to think of all that they had said but their words kept swirling in his mind even as he sat there.

Had he heard right? Had Jidda said ‘Basantia’, or some other name? Was it the same Basantia who had lived at the Shivala? He was struck with a strange revulsion when he remembered Jidda’s words. What kind of people were they? What kind of men? How could Jidda enjoy when the girl cried? Once his mind went to the extent of thinking of what would happen if he was with the girl and she started crying? He shuddered inside. How could a person enjoy when someone was crying with pain?

His mood had turned strangely sombre by the time he returned to his barrack. Maqbool had cooked potatoes with onions. When the food was served in the evening, Maqbool didn’t take his portion of the vegetable. When he began his meal, Maqbool asked with a little odd look, ‘Do you want some vegetable?’ His look was doubtful as if he expected him to say 'no'. He hesitated once, Maqbool’s look reminding him that he was a Hindu, Maqbool a Muslim. Also that he had accepted roasted gram and onions from Maqbool but that Maqbool had cooked a vegetable for the first time after his arrival. He hesitated once, then said, ‘Give me some.’ He noticed, as he ate, that many of the boys looked at him again and again. It had become a little easier to eat the rotis with the vegetable and instead of the usual two, he ate two and a half. Although many more were piled under his blanket. After that day, he noticed that the hostility present in Mehmood’s eyes for him was missing. Mehmood even laughed at times now when talking to him. But he also found that many of the Hindu boys had begun to grow distant from him. There was nothing on the surface, nobody said anything, but the barrack appeared to have become divided in three sections. A few Muslim boys, a few Hindu boys, and between the two, a number of boys – both Hindus and Muslims – who paid no attention to such things. If ever a word slipped out from some body’s mouth, it was like a spark in the air. But nothing happened that would have started a fight.

There was more tension amongst the headmen and the warders, than amongst the boys. There was no Muslim warder or officer in the jail. They had all moved to Pakistan. A few of the headmen may have been Muslims, he didn’t exactly get to know. Some of the headmen and the warders used certain expletives for the Muslim prisoners, but not usually in the presence of others. And one day, when they were watering the plants near the ‘circle’ inside the compound, he saw many people, donning black caps, go into the vestibule. (Meanwhile, he had come to know that the corridor and the offices, falling in between the two gates, were called the ‘vestibule’, and the building in the compound, where names etcetera were noted down, ‘the circle’. However, he could never gather why that building was called the circle.) Who are those people, when a boy asked, the headman accompanying them answered that they belonged to 'Raitery (Rashtreeya) Sangh' and opposed Pakistan. They were the ones who rescued Hindus from Pakistan but the Government had put them behind bars in order to appease Pakistan.

One of the prisoners, perhaps a boy named Sunder, didn’t react to what the headman said but later spoke to the boy who had asked the question, ‘They are associates of Gandhi’s killer and have therefore been arrested by the Government. This rascal of a headman talks only rubbish. They had wanted to kill even Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru!’ The matter went over the boys’ heads and therefore didn’t stretch any further.

Slowly, he got accustomed to the jail routine and when Maqbool narrated to him Judge Sajnani’s story, he also began to hope he’d be released. His sleep didn’t get disturbed now at night, when the headmen called out, ‘Go on - all is well’. He had come to know that headmen were posted at short distances against the wall and a piece of wood or brass was circulated. One of the headmen walked up and handed the piece to the second one, then the second one walked up to the third. One of them said ‘Go on’, the other answered, ‘All is well’. And this was how they kept watch all through the night.

However, around ten days or so before his release, it was as if the earth shook suddenly and all routine was disturbed. A new boy arrived that day in the barrack. An old hand at picking pockets, he had been to jail twice earlier, each time for three months and had been caught again in a new case. He had an old enmity with some boys and was, unfortunately locked in along with them. When the boys went to sleep at night, those boys gagged him, using small pieces of shaving blades scratched his whole body, heating up a coin branded both his thighs. The rest of the boys, even if they saw anything, didn’t intervene and no one in the other barracks came to know a thing during the night. When the barrack opened in the morning, the boy was in no condition to come out. He just lay there, groaning.

When the head warder found one missing, he shouted, ‘Where has one gone?’ Then some boys told him that the boy who had come yesterday was lying inside. The head warder went in cursing, but looking at the boy’s condition, came out cursing twice as vehemently. The hospital was informed. The compounder came and applied tincture on the gashes, bandaged the thighs. It was only after two or three days that the boy could walk again, but despite repeated questioning, didn’t name those who had done it. He was perhaps scared the boys would take revenge again if he told on them. But the rest of the boys in the barracks knew. Slowly the boys in the other barracks also came to know and then it reached the ears of the headmen and warders.

Whether deliberately or otherwise, the headman of the barrack was changed that very day. The new headman, earlier the orderly of the jailor, was shrewd, enjoyed the confidence of the officers and was serving life-sentence for murder. He was one of the three or four headmen in jail who wore a black turban. It was from conversations about the headman that he learned there were four categories of headmen – those with a belt, those with a white turban, those with a black turban and those with a yellow turban. He came to know that there was just one headman with a yellow turban and he was posted at the black mills where the most dreaded and fearsome prisoners, punished by the jail, were kept. That boy was shifted to another barrack. It was quite late at night when the screams and cries from the next barrack woke them up. All the boys stood beside the bars. No one could know at the time what the matter was. All that they could make out was that many of the headmen, warders and probably also a deputy, were inside and beating the boys with belts. The beating continued for almost one to one hour and a half. Even when it was over the boys were still terror-stricken all through the night. He couldn’t sleep at all. They had come to know in the morning that the headman had gone and sat the previous night with the boys whose names had been mentioned and had kept lambasting them saying the rascals took the jail too lightly, thought themselves to be the big boss and were under impression they could beat whom they pleased, brand any one at will. Wouldn’t the authorities come to know even if the lad didn’t speak up? Each of them would be thrashed till they collapsed. He had kept on the harangue for some time when one of the boys, perhaps to divert him, had asked for a light for his beedi. Taking offence, the headman had shouted expletives involving his mother and sister and said he was not a servant of the …’s father, light up the ….’s beedi indeed. Suddenly enraged, the boy could think of nothing else and had spit on the headman’s face. That did it. The headman had called other warders and headmen. Word reached the ‘vestibule’, a deputy too arrived. Unlocking the barrack, they gave the boys a thorough thrashing. Anyone who happened to fall before them received the brunt of their belts. But around eight or ten boys were selected exclusively and beaten badly. Their bodies were swollen in the morning. Some of them had perhaps got it on their faces as well, as their faces too were puffed up. Then they were presented before the superintendent and were put in ‘danda-berree’.

He had not seen ‘danda-berree’ so far. The ends of their fetters were attached to an iron rod which made it impossible for them to stretch their legs. Not only was it difficult to walk, even sitting or lying down brought no relief. Then he noticed that Maqbool and the other prisoners in ‘danda-berree’ had bandages of wool swathed round their legs to save them from getting cut up. But these boys had ‘danda-berree’ on bare legs. Within two days, legs of most of the boys had gashes. Then, collecting rags from here and there, they had wrapped up their legs. The compounder came and applied medicine, yet the day he was released, most of them had festering wounds on their legs and the boys suffered agonies even in going to the toilet.