Dec 11, 2023
Dec 11, 2023
by BS Murthy
Continued from “Trauma at Tihar”
Chapter 3, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
While Suresh turned to God in the gaol, Mehrotra answered his prayers in his study. As Gautam gave him a blank cheque, Mehrotra began to lay the path for Suresh’s acquittal. Having tutored Suresh about the nuances in retracting his statement in the court, the learned lawyer had outlined the line of the defense during the impending trial. The accused was made privy to the fact that with befitting bait, the Swaroops were caught in the defense web to become hostile witnesses in the court. That would help the defense to portray the trial as an attempt by the Gautams’ detractors to malign them and victimize their son. A cricket buff that he was, Mehrotra added that the Swaroop doosra would baffle the public prosecutor. Oh, how the fellow was itching to score!
As it’s the personal conviction that enables one to come up with a convincing performance in the court, Mehrotra mapped the contours of the escape route to Suresh thus: The Swaroops would testify under oath that the accused and the deceased were steady for long and were to be betrothed soon. That would enable the defense to shift the murder onto some unknown hands and unable to retain the crease of motive, the prosecution would get stumped in the process.
Gautam would stand witness to the ‘fact’ that the lovebirds went to his Mehrauli House to amuse themselves. They were to return to the Misty Nest in time for the surprise announcement of their engagement on the New Year's Eve. But, as luck would have it, instead of the Gautams announcing their son’s engagement to the assemblage, it was Rawal who broke the incredible news to them.
The Swaroops would play ball by pleading that they were forced to complain to the police though they were aware that Shanti went out with Suresh. They would make out that some thugs descended upon their house at around nine that evening. That was, as they were preparing to leave for the Misty Nest for the momentous event. And it was that gang which forced Saurav to prefer that damned ‘missing person’ complaint at the South Extension police station. With his wife held as hostage, Saurav would aver that he had to fall in line, never mind his qualms. Thus, under the pain of death to his wife, he preferred that missing person complaint, designed by Gautam’s detractors to implicate his innocent son. Being aware of his closeness to Sohan Singh, and to keep him off the track, the intruders had forced Saurav to mislead him as well.
Then, it would be left for Suresh to concoct a murder story thus: At around nine, as Shanti and he were getting into his Mercedes at the Mehrauli House they were accosted by five masked men. While three gagged him, the remaining began strangling Shanti. Even as he struggled to free himself to save her, they stuffed out her life before his hapless self. Before they made their escape, they warned him not to leave the farmhouse before ten. In case he ventured out before the deadline, they told him to prepare himself for an ambush.
Stunned out of his wits, Suresh was stay put as ordered. When it was past ten, he headed home with the body of his beloved. Shortly after he hit the road distraught, making it a double jeopardy for him, the patrol police intercepted him. How his misery multiplied and his tragedy compounded! Though he tried to explain to those who detained him, they were in no mood to listen to him. Simply, they hauled him up for rape and murder on conjecture. What is worse, to save themselves the bother of finding the real culprits, the police saw an easy way out to close the case by extracting the confession from his hapless self.
Mehrotra assured Suresh that such a line of defense would make it an open and shut case of his innocence. If anything, the onus of apprehending the 'real' culprits would shift on to the police. Besides, pressured by the women’s groups, even if their plea for a payroll were to be rejected, nothing would be left to chance to bring about a speedy trial to get a ready acquittal. Thus, said Mehrotra, he laid a flat wicket for Suresh to bat on blindfolded.
Though hopeful of reprieve, yet Suresh despaired. Living hitherto under the shadows of the gallows, he could not see beyond the noose. However, having been shown the end of the dark tunnel, he began to worry about his dismal future.
Such is the irony of life that man tends to visualize dark clouds even while seeing the silver lining.
‘What if I won’t be free again?’ Suresh began to brood. ‘Then, won’t I rot in Tihar forever? Why, for all my wayward ways, won’t that make it just deserts for me? Were it an acquittal even, Mehrotra’s methods notwithstanding, who knows, the trial might drag on for ages. Well, that would only confine me to this hole ruminating over his pep talk. And, what about my life after release, that is, as and when that happens? Haven’t the shadows of my past darkened the prospects of my future? How could I ever survive the stigma of calumny? Why did I allow myself to come to this pass? What a mess I have made of my life!’
As he recalled the nightmarish experience, he began to visualize the agony of Shanti. He was shocked to realize that all along he had perceived her as the cause of his downfall.
‘Is it not proof enough for my depravity, if ever one were needed?’ he thought remorsefully. ‘Surely, she would have had her own dreams about life and could have nursed her ambitions with hope. What villainy that I had put an end to her aspirations by stuffing out her life itself! How unfair was life for her!’
As the import of the tragedy from her angle began to sink in his imagination, he lamented even more at the unfortunate end to her life. ‘Why had she to pay for my troubled psyche?’ he thought in the hell of his cell. ‘Was it her fault that she happened to be a look-alike of a sick man’s mother? For all I know, her nature could juxtapose mom’s character. How ironical life is, in that it makes one pay for the mistakes of others! Why haven’t judicial errors sent many an innocent to the gallows? Oh, how many might have ended up in the grave owing to murder by mistaken identity! Well, am I not paying for the sins of my mom.’
‘But, how am I to know why she did what she did,’ he thought as he began to experience a new empathy for his mother. ‘What was worse, she scandalized herself in the process. How naive of me to have condemned her as if I were an infallible judge! Haven’t I punished her and myself as well, perhaps, her more than all? If not for me, her dirty linen would never have come for a quick wash in the public. And my poor father has to endure the ignominy and suffer in silence. What a loss of face for both of them! After all that eminence that is. How they would be braving it out!’
‘What did I gain by raping all those!’ he continued as his focus shifted on to those whom he had wronged. Transient release and enduring revenge, that’s what I got, isn’t it? But then, the release was sullied by fear, and the revenge remained flawed, after all. As for the sex itself, it was more of a mechanical motion than even a physical union, not to speak of emotional integration. Where was the feeling of sensual intimacy that I had seen those guys experience in mom’s lovemaking? Well, my perverse psyche led me astray, only to cause my ruin in the end! And how many women have I traumatized, by the way? Wonder, how did I strangle the very woman whom I used for my sexual gratification? Not even animals are known to kill their mates, do they? Didn’t I turn worse than a beast then?’
‘Didn’t it all begin with my incestuous desire for mom, only to end up with blood on my hands?’ he continued his contemplation. ‘Won’t Shanti’s death haunt my soul forever? Would the world ever let me forget my past! What about being normal in the company of women? Is it left in me to fall in love, much less voice it again? Who would wed me after all this? Even otherwise, would I be able to lead a normal married life? Given my troubled psyche, would that be possible even if my wife were to be an understanding woman? Would my burden of guilt let me ever erect for all that? Do I feel gripped of late? Oh no! Would Shanti’s curse keep me useless all my life?’
‘Why did I abuse my life and theirs as well?’ he continued in remorse. ‘Now that I see it all in a fresh light, won’t the lingering thought of their trauma torment me forever? It seems insensitivity has its own advantages! But it is with the rungs of suffering that the ladder of reform is built, isn’t it? How wrong of me that I saw mom from the angle of my own wants! How am I to know if my expectations of her attentions were unsound? How stupid I was to grudge her on that count, and feel avenged by violating others! But, how distressed was she seeing me in distress! How she cried her heart out as though to wash my sin off my soul itself! Surely she loves me more than I ever thought she would.’
As he thought about his mother in a maternal mode, he seemed to experience a change in his understanding of her. ‘What’s her fault, after all?’ he thought melancholically. ‘She might have had her own compulsions of life, couldn’t she? How am I to know whether dad had measured up to her want or not? Or, who knows, she was probably indulging herself wantonly to satisfy his whim, or even to buttress his business, as the talk goes. Whatever it was, after all, they have a right to lead their life the way they wanted to, don’t they? Was it the fault of the parents if their children measure them on the scale of uprightness? Why should the onus be on the parents to live up to the pious images of them conjured up by the children? How silly that children fashion yardsticks for their parents, especially for the mother, without knowing what it is to be a grown-up! How fair is it for one to expect one’s mother to be asexual?’
‘Oh God, if only I had the sense to understand then!’ he thought in despair. ‘Would I have developed all those negative feelings for the fair sex? No way, and surely I wouldn’t have inflicted sexual hurt on all those, leave alone killing poor Shanti! How could I ever fault mom for her ways, when I violated women without qualms? If ever she comes to know that my psyche got buggered because of her, would she ever forgive herself? At least, I should spare her that last straw of guilt on her humiliated back. That much I owe to her.’
‘Thank God, Dr. Gupta is not a loose talk,’ he thought with a sense of relief. ‘I have his word that he will keep it all to himself. Surely he wouldn’t allow mom to get an inkling of my predicament. Oh, how the press pictures her as a slut as if the rest of her ilk is nunnish! Get caught, you're in the dock, if not, continue under the cloak. What irony scandal is!’
‘Why not I turn a new leaf in my life, ironically on lease by Mehrotra’s ruse?’ he thought at length. ‘What of the course correction then? Would I ever imagine hurting any in any manner whatsoever? But would that do to lead a useful life? Well, it’s constructive care that might help erase the debilitating effects of my negative past. What about lending a helping hand to the abused of the world? Maybe, eventually that might put me on the path of redemption, won’t it? God, give me the chance to live and have the conviction to make that my mission in life. Why let me dangle by the rope that I strangled Shanti in sickness? Why not put my life at stake to save another? Won’t Thou grant me this one favor O Lord?’
Suresh’s new found faith in the will of God made him take the maneuvers of Mehrotra with a pinch of salt.
‘Won’t his twisted means justify my upright ends?’ he tried to probe the rights and wrongs of the expected verdict. ‘Or would it be no more than a hoax? What of justice then? Whose justice is it anyway, but that of the statute. And won’t that vary from state to state! Isn’t it in itself a travesty of justice in our imperfect world? But then, who said that it is a just world? If not, why should nature condemn one species as food for another species? What justice is all that? Is it not absurd to suggest that man had evolved equitable laws while God failed to do so? No denying that, my violations on them would have traumatized many, but was it not my sick mind that was the cause of it all? What was worse, it was Shanti’s ranting that provoked me to resort to the crime. Yet her abuse would have been passé for many. But given my psyche, that touched my raw nerve, didn’t it? Whatever, how agonized I am that I had unfairly caused her death! It’s as if the courts can’t account for the penitence of the accused in meting out the punishment. Now that I’m repenting, am I not entitled for a reprieve?’
‘After all, what should be an equitable punishment to a given crime?’ he thought in the same vein. ‘Well, it’s the question that confronts societies. Didn’t it appear logical for long that the offender is subjected to the same hurt he inflicted upon the victim? But, hasn’t a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye become out of tune with the sensibilities of our times? A lost tooth or a blind eye would still keep life going for the victim and the violator alike. Wouldn’t the gallows for the murderer deprive life for them both? How to deal with the crime and punishment within the boundaries of life and death is the moot point. Won’t that depend on the proclivities of the one who comes to dispense justice? How lucky, if my case is heard by him who believes that life behind bars would meet the ends of justice. God forbid what if it’s the conviction of the one in the chair that the cause of justice demands the throat of the culprit! Won’t that make him or her murderer of sorts with the judicial tool of a rope?’
‘What could be the rationale behind the capital punishment!’ he thought in despair. ‘What is it that is sought to be gained by depriving me of my life? Are they not making out that it’s the rope to my throat that leads the victim’s family to the realms of justice? If only my death could resurrect Shanti, would not I have willingly walked up to the gallows by now? And is it not a specious argument that Shanti’s soul would not rest in peace if I am alive? Does it not amount to vilification of her character for it implies the retributive nature of her soul? Well, this public clamor for the capital punishment is nothing but the manifestation of man’s own savagery. I killed her when I lost my cool but in all calmness these seek my death. How would the public ever grasp the nuances of a given violation to air an opinion?’
‘What could be the fear of the society to leave me alive?’ he thought in the end. ‘If it seems women wouldn’t remain safe with me around, then why not I be jailed for life? Won’t that let women see the back of me while I may still look forward to whatever little life has to offer me? If my repentance makes a better soul of me, why should I be prevented from joining the mainstream all again? It’s not that the planet is full of nice guys out to reach out to the people at large! That way, how it gets lost on the law that the society has nothing more to lose, and may even gain for my reformist zeal. Why, won’t making me dangle by the rope mean denying me the chance to change? More to the point, the society would be deprived of a decent citizen that is after I would be through the jail drill. As I intend to help the outraged, won’t that amount to saving a life to serve some others? And that would make my acquittal just in itself, wouldn’t it? Thus, my urge to lead a useful life should make Mehrotra’s dubious methods for my acquittal upright. Would it not make a case of ends justifying the means?’
‘What if I am sent to the gallows after all that?’ he couldn’t help but think. ‘But then, aren’t there two sides to the same coin? In a way, is not death preferable to the life of a lifer with all its attendant deprivations? Seen that way, death row is any day a better option for it entails a short stay. What about the dread of climbing up the gallows? After all, it is the love to live that lets man fear the noose. When one is reconciled to death, then it should be much less a bodily pain than one might have endured in life, isn’t it?’
More by : BS Murthy