Dec 10, 2023
Dec 10, 2023
by BS Murthy
Continued from “Bliss of Being”
Chapter 2, Book Two - Dharma and Moksha of Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
Lodged at the Tihar as a lifer, Suresh had realized that the reprieve he got would come to naught if he were to carry the baggage of guilt well into his life. Thus, he resolved to put the sins of his past and the psyche of the noose behind him. But, he never forgot Sneha’s last wish that he should make a difference to himself and to the society around him. Having owed his life to her death, he felt he owed it to her to fulfill her wish. As he understood the enormity of her sacrifice, he realized the significance of his future to her memory. And so he vowed to make the fulfillment of her wish the goal of his life.
So, he tried to focus on a fruitful future to imbibe a positive psyche while still in gaol and in the process he began daydreaming to turn into a Good Samaritan. But, as he realized the limitations of his intellect to fit in that role, he turned to Rakesh Tiwari, the jail warden, for advice. Impressed with Suresh’s ardor to serve society, the warder thought it fit to put him into the world of the fiction. Tiwari told Suresh that nothing like a novel exposes man to the nuances of life through the thought process of its protagonists. The warder believed novels form the foundation for the understanding of life and thus are the best self-help books there were ever.
As Suresh was always found with a book in hand, his mates named him a bookworm. As he graduated with the novel in time, the warder introduced him to psychology in turn. And that helped Suresh no end to gain an insight into human nature, which improved his perceptivity of life itself. Confounded by the complexity of the theories he read, he was compelled to contemplate about the profoundness of the same. But, as his perception grew, so was his urge for knowing more. Soon he began to familiarize himself with history and found himself seeing the reflections of the same in the fiction itself.
The offshoot of these intellectual pursuits was the empathy he came to develop for the unfortunate. As his mother’s last wish ever remained fresh in his mind, this new-found understanding of human nature made him take an interest in the affairs of the prisoners. As his capacity to grasp the complexities of life improved thus, he began to collage the crimes that brought people to Tihar.
The first to befriend Suresh were the brothers, Sunil and Deepak. In the same age group as his, they were hauled up for having murdered their father and the stepbrother, besides raping and killing their stepmother. It all started with their father’s affair with his younger brother’s wife. Unable to stomach the indignity, their hapless uncle committed suicide. With the path to his illicit passion wide open, their father brought home the widow. And that forced their mother to have her as co-wife.
Though their mother resented the development, yet she fell in line in time. Even that accommodative gesture was of no avail when it came to earning her husband’s gratitude. Instead, she had to put up with the blatant partiality showed by her man towards her rival. As though the unease at home was not good enough for a bad living, in time, their stepmother delivered a baby boy. The obsession their father developed for the newborn made him lose whatever sense of proportion he was left with. Thus, in time, he reduced his first wife and her three children that included a girl to third-rate living. Having taken advantage of their father’s weakness for her and her son, their stepmother stepped up her tirade against their mother and began to boss over them as well. But their mother bore all the indignities for the sake of her children though they boiled with rage.
However, their stepmother induced their father to step out to set up a home of her own. Of course, to have her way with their father, she alleged that all were hell-bent on making a hell out of her life. So their father moved away with her and her son, leaving his old house to their mother and them. But, by then, their father pulled them out of the college and made them salesmen in his garment shop. Anyway, after their father’s desertion, the brothers were at rebuilding their life with their mother and sister. And all that changed when came a realtor, like a bolt from the blue, to acquaint himself with the property, as their father, unknown to them, had put it up for sale.
That, after all, was more than the brothers could take, as without the house, their mother and sister might have to live on the pavements with them. Thereby, without a second thought, that very night, the brothers descended upon their father and his favorite family. Having slain their father, who opened the door for them, they battered their stepbrother who came behind him. When they went inside to finish off their stepmother, they saw her coming out of the bath having had a bath. As they tried to strangulate her, she struggled to survive, and in that process she dropped the towel she draped.
Left to hold her in the nude, the brothers came in direct touch with their stepmother’s frame that had snared their father and brought them misery. Driven by an urge to hurt that in her, which had hurt their interests, they fell like wolves on her body. As their hatred for her readily acquired a sexual thrust, they raped her by turns till she lay exhausted. And having had their unintentional revenge on her body, they snuffed out her vengeful soul in the end. Thus securing the house for their mother and sister besides their father’s garment shop, without a trace of regret or remorse they surrendered to the police.
Finding the brothers unafraid of death on the gallows that they expected, Suresh was tempted to probe their mind. They said, had their father had his way, their mother would have been reduced to beggary and their sister might have turned into a street walker. After all, how could they have averted that from happening for they were far too young and unskilled to support them? Now with the house for a roof and the shop for succor, they would be able to get on with their lives without any hassles. Thus, having averted a disaster to their mother and sister, they felt they had fulfilled their filial duty after all. Why wouldn't they walk up to the gallows with the satisfaction of being saviors?
Their poignant story that pictured the vicissitudes of life affected Suresh for days on end.
Duggar, the dour banker, who happened to be his cellmate, was the odd man out in the gallery of rouges. Lodged at Tihar for defrauding the bank at which he worked, he was ill at ease amidst the common crowd in the sprawling prison. The Tiharians, for their part, snubbed him roundly for his snobbery and nicknamed him the Rough White-collar, alluding to his character and his crime in the same vein. In that life of unease, the arrival of Suresh was a Godsend for him as it afforded him the company from one of his own class. Besides, his own grey hair and the youth’s abominable crime provided the right mix for him to condescend to descend.
Duggar lost no time in telling Suresh in jest the story of how Kubera of heaven turned into Mammon of earth.
In the beginning, ensconced in swarga, the Hindu heaven, gods used to govern man's destiny on earth. Taken by the rumors about the comforts of swarga, the Hindus of Aryavarta began to aspire to reach there after death. What with the word of mouth playing mischief, the urge for swarga surged amongst the people from our neighboring lands as well. Sensing that the collective human impulse could inspire an exodus to their fiefdom ending their domination, the gods went into a huddle to help avert that from happening. Well, the emerged consensus was to accord some sops for man to divert his mind from the godly abode.
So they deputed Kubera, the Marshal of Monies, to rein in the situation starting with Bharat, where the Brahmins made a business of issuing visas to swarga. Demigod he may be but Kubera knew the power of his portfolio only too well. Seeking to wean the fickle minded folks away from the Brahmanic influence, he laid the money trap with a view to stop the Hindus in their tracks. It was only time before all saw the essence of swarga in the riches of Aryavarta and that made them chase wealth on earth in right earnest. But, the gods, not wanting to take chances with human frivolity, ordained Kubera to rein them forever from the Indraprastha.
Thus, having come to stay for good on the globe, Kubera began to fine-tune the power of wealth to make the earth rival the heaven itself. And the Hindus who wanted the best of both worlds began to divide their loyalties between him they adored and the gods they feared. The by-then bloated ego of the demigod wouldn’t suffer the divided loyalty, and so he looked elsewhere for the potential loyalists.
So, he shifted his base to the Occident, and at length, he inculcated the spirit of capitalism in the Western souls. And that did the trick for all time to come as they went about cultivating materialism in the fertile minds of the white man. In due course, under his benign influence, the West became wealthy and prosperous to overshadow the swarga itself. When the opulence of the Occident caught their eyes, the gods themselves thought it fit to desert their abode and descend on the West.
It’s time one realized that as gods too turned materialistic, the worship of wealth was the worship of the gods. And it would remain so forever. The humiliations on the road to wealth were but the hurdles man had to cross to reach the godhood. But, the poor Hindus still feared the non-existing gods while being half-hearted at the materialism that the gods themselves endorsed.
As Suresh recalled the saga of his parents, he felt sad as well as puzzled about the power of wealth over the mind of man. But, as Duggar felt scandalized at finding Suresh mix with the common criminals, he averred that it was demeaning to say the least. When Suresh said he was looking for an alternate idea of life, the banker chastised him that in that process he could lose the reality of the world. Besides, with an all knowing air, the banker was wont to aver that mistaking ripples for the waves would only lead to the lowering of the standards. Yet, to appreciate the ways of the world, Suresh went about acquainting himself with the lows and highs of crime.
There was the young Salim the supari, the hired killer from Bombay, who was lodged a block away. He was under trial for six years then for his alleged hand in a hired killing. Being a school dropout from Dharavi, he started leading a wayward life as he came of age. When his father began to curtail his freedom, he left the slum and shifted to the pavements of the metropolis. In the beginning, pimping came in handy to him to make both ends meet, but soon enough, he had his first peep into the underworld. Never the less, he wanted to stick to crime for a living. Having realized that there was an aura attached to the hired killers in the dark alleys, he opted to become one himself. Though he went scot-free after bumping several heads in Bombay, the assignment that brought him to Delhi led him to the Tihar.
Finding Salim nonchalant, Suresh tried to probe his mind to understand how one could turn a professional killer in the first place. While Salim cursed his ill luck for landing at the Tihar, he had no thought for those whom he had bumped off. It was as though they were no more for him than targets to be hit to the jackpot. What was so unfair in snuffing out someone’s life, as life itself had no sense of fairness about it? Those whom he had killed had died as they were destined to die. Why, had he missed his mark, wouldn’t have a speeding truck mowed them down in time?
And what was all the fuss about the fate of the deceased’s kith and kin? How can one be sure that they wouldn’t have welcomed the development? If a drunkard was bumped off, wouldn’t that have stopped his draining the family money any-more? Ha, what if an impotent was the assignment? Wouldn’t that have helped his wife’s sex life with her paramour sans qualms? What would even a well married woman have got to lose if the supari widowed her? If young, some man would be too eager to enter into her life and were she old enough, she wouldn’t be missing her man anyway.
If the assignment was to bump off a woman, wouldn’t the widower be free to have a younger mate? The death of a parent should not make much of a difference to the children either, as anyway; they had to fend for themselves sooner than later. And that being the reality of the relationships, what was the hitch if some lost their lives at his hands? Besides, had it not been said that the dead have no problems? What mattered was to lead a carefree life as long as it took to live. But, the goddamn Tihar had robbed the charms of life from him.
‘Oh, isn’t crassness a part of life?’ thought Suresh. ‘Though lacking in morality, it seems, Salim’s crimes had a logic attached to them! Maybe, that is what crime is all about. Looks like it has a rationale of its own to evolve the dynamics of man’s undoing. But is it so with the so-called honor-killings of the unfortunate females whom the Cupid tends into the arms of lesser males across the caste barriers? What an irony is that men invest their honor in their women all the while treating them as vassals! What idiocy the honor-killing is - would it ever restore to the family the lost honor? Why, with the infamy of murder tagged to it, it only ensures a double jeopardy for the family, won't it?’
A sense of ridicule seemed to haunt Wadhwa in spite of his tough image at the Tihar. The innate doubt that he could be the object of ridicule as a cuckold always haunted him. What did he achieve by eliminating his wife’s paramour in a fit of rage, the result of his sense of outrage? True, he had his rival to her favors die while he was still alive and kicking. Thank God, he would not be dying on the gallows either! After all, given the provocation, didn’t the courts hold that a life sentence would meet the ends of justice? With a little bit of luck, he might even get remission sooner than later. But, what might release mean to him then, when the best part of his life would have been spent behind the bars?
Even when freed, won’t it be his lot to wear the cuckold badge? What a shame he had advertised that his wife was loose? Oh, she did visit him often enough, but who knew she hadn’t replaced her dead lover? After all, wasn’t she as attractive as ever? And thanks to his rashness, she became a free bird without an encumbrance to name. Being young and amorous, she might be having the time of her life, even as he was languishing for a mate in the hell of a cell.
How stupid of him to have killed that fellow! It’s as if the dead soul had left his share of problems to his upkeep as it were! And having earned a sentence for himself, hadn’t he granted her unfettered freedom to have her way, anyway she liked? If anything, the news of her looseness would have whetted the appetites of many in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t that enable her to satiate her lust even more? Oh, how had he got into the no-win situation, making it all win-win for her?
Why, he had ended up facilitating for her what he wanted to prevent her from doing. The irony of his crime saddened Wadhwa no end. Oh, given his own need for her favors, he should’ve turned a blind eye to her infidelity or made her pay for it through a divorce. Either way, he would have got along with his own life. But oh, he had allowed himself to be condemned when he had other ways to settle scores. Given the unfortunate repetition, would he have dared touch her lover with a long pole?
As and when he would rejoin his wife, she might even remain faithful to him, having had her fun all the while. Well, even if she were to be chaste, wouldn’t both of them have been past their prime by then? Won’t that leave them cold on the sex front then? Above all, it would only be a life of unease at home and ridicule in the lane.
While Wadhwa lamented thus, Suresh couldn’t help but recall the parallels in his parental story.
Parikshit Agarawal, nicknamed ‘the parasite’ by the prisoners, was literally a lost soul. The posthumous child of a poor widow, he graduated by the sweat of his mother’s brow. Fascinated by what he was deprived of, he dreamt of owning a Vespa. But his mother had designs of her own—she wanted to renovate their old home. When he became a babu in the government, his daydreams acquired a new dimension: he wished for joy rides with his wife. And the mother-son duo saw an opportunity to realize their goals with the dowry in the offing.
But, as the needs of life prevailed over the wants of his dreams, the dowry that Ruma fetched was consumed by their decrepit dwelling. Thus, his outings with his wife were reduced to mere bus rides. But, sharing his disappointment, his mother thought it fit to goad him to turn to Ruma’s father for additional doles. When he sold Ruma the idea of their joy rides, she didn’t fall for it fearing that would break her father’s back further. It didn’t take long for her parents to sense that she had a rough ride in her home street. Pestered by her mother, when she spilled the beans, her father tried to appease his son-in-law by agreeing to part with his old Lambretta.
But as Parikshit was hell-bent upon a brand new Vespa the stalemate continued. And to win the next round, he came to increase the pressure on his spouse. But, as she remained steadfast bearing the brunt of his frustration, he took to wife beating. Besides, to browbeat her through sentiment, he accused her of bothering more about her paternal interests than that of her own husband’s. Unable to bear his daily regimen and to blackmail him back into his senses, she threatened to commit suicide. As it did the trick, he retreated for a while.
Soon, seeing him morose, his mother suggested that if only they could get rid of his wife, she would find him another bride with a Vespa in tow. Seeing a silver lining in his wife’s death, Parikshit dared to dream all again and that sapped the last thread of emotional bondage in his heart for her. Seeing her as the roadblock to his dream ride on his Vespa, he insensibly turned insensitive to her fate. Becoming obsessive to get rid of her, he turned cruel to her.
Once, when he pushed her up to the hilt, she talked about suicide and he abetted her up to the brink. When in desperation, she doused herself with kerosene; he incited her by thrusting a matchbox into her hand. As she took out a stick in pique, he provoked her to ignite herself. Having pushed herself into a corner and as if to uphold her honor, Ruma did his bidding. While she was engulfed in flames, he feigned panic feeling glad at heart.
Though he tried to picture her death as an accident, her father’s complaint to the police opened up the Pandora’s Box to earn him a ten-year term even as his mother got a couple of years to cool her heels. But, at Tihar, started repenting for the loss of his wife and feared the prospect of spending the best part of his youth without a woman. Thus ruing his fate shaped by his obsession to live beyond his means, he turned morose. And the buzz of the jailbirds that he was a parasite only made life even more miserable for him.
‘Wonder how greed makes man mad indeed,’ contemplated Suresh, ‘and how he turns blind to the consequences of crime! After all, Parikshit had time to understand where all that would lead him to. Leave alone the cruelty of the crime, didn’t it reflect the stupidity of man! And what do those murders of sexual jealousy tell but the tale of man’s idiocy? Oh, on the pretext of patching up, how easily the husband or the paramour would lure the other into a death trap! What a wonder is it that one comes to trust someone with a motive to harm one! Oh, if only the intended victim had known an iota of the human psychology! Would then there be the death of one and the jailing of the other?’
There were those rustic folks from Rohilkhand, who always huddled together. The Tiharians promptly named them the Dirty Dozen. They were under trial for taking the law into their own hands for dispensing their own brand of caste justice. The trigger was the inter-caste marriage amidst the separatist mindset of the village folks. When the couple was caught red-handed, amidst sweet nothings, all hell broke loose in the village. Apprehended on the spot, the couple was dragged all the way to the village square to face a kangaroo trial at the caste panchayat.
Even as the panchayat began the session, the errant couple turned out to be the red herring for those gathered there. As if to incense all further with a sense of outrage, and not to let any lose the focus on the social trespass, the conjugated were tied together to demonstrate the magnitude of their crime. As the guardians of the caste chastity brayed for the polluted blood, the transgressors’ parents were pushed into a corner to extricate from which they unequivocally condemned the crime. However, they pleaded for mercy and averred that their separation followed by a few lashes would drive home the point.
Though living on either side of the caste divide, the gathering ironically got united to uphold the separation of the deviants. Wanting a deterrent punishment to guard against future transgressions, they all pressed the panchayat to make an example of the errant couple. As the condemned were too terrified to speak, someone who came on a visit from the nearby town raised the lone voice of objection to the manner of their detention. Having condemned him roundly for his corrupt thinking, the panchayat pitched in for a harsh sentence for the violators of the caste boundaries. And sensing the public mood, the detractors demanded punishment to the fathers as well for their failure to rein in their children.
In that senseless tension brought about by the anger of the ignorant mob and the temptation of some amongst them to settle old scores, the panchayat decreed that their respective fathers hang the culprits at that very moment. In a cynical exhibition of human meekness, the hapless were executed with the very hands that had tended them to their youth. What was shocking more than their heinous deed was their collective belief of its righteousness, that was, in spite of the subsequent public outcry.
Yet, the redeeming feature of that sordid episode was that the fathers of the victims felt emboldened to defy the Dirty Dozen at the Tihar. Ironically thus, they experienced a sense freedom in their confinement. For once, Suresh felt that his crimes, though abominable, paled into insignificance compared to the panchayat’s collective cruelty.
A corner in the cemetery was all that man needed in the end but could he do without some land of his own before that? The compulsion of Hussain and the dilemma of Ram Dev illustrated the reality of land in the impoverished rural north that led them both to the Tihar. While cooling their heels as lifers there, both of them took it all stoically, perceiving themselves as the martyrs of a cause.
Hussain staked his life to protect his land and ended up killing Rashid, his cousin. He told Suresh that those in the towns failed to appreciate the factors that shape the rural life. The social reality in the village centered on land, and land alone. Thus, life in the countryside could be worse than death without some land to till on. As the head of his family, didn’t he owe it to his posterity to preserve the property? Why should one blame him, when it was Rashid’s avarice that took him to his grave?
Whichever way the law might look at it, Rashid asked for it. Had Rashid had his way, what would have happened to his own family? The hardships of life for his kith and kin would have far outweighed his plight in the prison. Didn’t he derive the satisfaction that he had averted a mishap to his family? Why, life seemed to have unique ways to link the fates of the mortals and to de-link their destinies at its whims and fancies!
While his cousin’s greed for his land led to Hussain’s crime, his own sibling’s intent to have his share the property prompted Ram Dev to kill! Well, he was born into that community, which, over the time, had evolved the custom that would ensure that the family land was not split up amongst its heirs. What if the males of the clan were to partition the family land from generation to generation? In time, no one would be able to inherit any more than bits and pieces. And wouldn’t that make the holding unviable for agriculture, so reckoned the clansmen of yore. Were it to happen, their seers had foreseen, its members would dispose their paltry share and all turn into landless laborers.
Sensing how that would impoverish the community further, and to forestall that fate, they evolved a bizarre custom but of practical wisdom. It was ruled that only the eldest son would marry for his wife to be of service to him and his brothers as well in the bed and all. So, the land needed no partition to set up nucleus families which effectually denied the right of the brothers to have a wife of their own. But, Nam Dev, the youngest brother of Ram Dev, failed to develop neither a taste for the custom nor an appetite for the elderly sister-in-law on offer. Thus, when the junior Dev wanted to break from the tradition and itched for his wedding, the senior Dev made way for his funeral.
‘How man resorts to murder to protect his interest or avenge an insult!’ contemplated Suresh. ‘Well, power too augments man’s caprice to kill. But man seems to be innately cruel. What a shame the rule of yore winked at the rich abusing the poor. Well, now even the high and mighty men are made to pay for their crimes. Are we not living in the best of just times? Yet, the ignorant eulogize the times gone by.’
Passion of the heart and the greed of the mind make the theme of crime. And on occasion, a black comedy even. He understood that while the crimes of passion were hard to avert, the misdeeds of ignorance could be greatly reduced. He realized that the criminals and their victims suffered alike by the after-effects of the crime. Feeling sad, he vowed to make it his mission to help the victims of crime, nay ignorance. Seeing the families of the Tiharians suffer in myriad ways, he made his first moves in the philanthropic direction at the Tihar itself.
But he thought that the remarkable feature about the petty thieves was that they were all unremarkable. Within or without Tihar, they seemed an unobtrusive lot to him. The jail food seemed to address the very need that drove them into thieving. It was as though the consequential loss of freedom was indeed a temporary relief from their existential anxiety. Besides, the triviality of their offence made them feel nonchalant about the outcome of the trial and the sentence as well. Indeed for them, the stint at the gaol appeared a welcome change from their wretched routine.
Impressed with his zeal to examine life, Tiwari granted Suresh a free rein at Tihar except for interaction with the Punjabi terrorists rotting in their solitary confinement. All the same, Suresh had avoided Charles Sobhraj, the notorious prisoner of the bikini murders. When he saw that Sobhraj’s jailors were at his disposal, he thought he was his own man in incarceration. Seeing the way he lorded over the warders, he could see the abuse of money to defeat the purpose of the sentence. And that made Suresh think Sobhraj was the Beelzebub of Tihar. But, when it came to the terrorists, he felt that having been indoctrinated by others for a cause there never was, they were not their own men even when they were free.
Exposed as he was to the life and times of the convicted, Suresh, in time, firmed up his mind about what he should do and what he should not, as and when he would be free again.
More by : BS Murthy