Nearly all of them stopped eating to hear what Mohammed had to tell them. In the eight years they’d spent in Sabarmati jail, such a thought had never crossed their minds.

Some of the other inmates were inside the barracks; others stood outside in the ward. It was around noon and time for bapor bandi, but time stood still for the eight companions. Yusuf and Parvez were the most concerned. Even though Mohammed had never said so, they felt his plans were made because of them. As usual, Mohammed said only what he needed to say and left his companions questions hanging. Their hearts raced at what they felt was a half-baked plan. What if everything did not go as Mohammed planned?

Parvez and Yusuf sat below the neem tree in the ward, glancing at each other every now and then. Each wanted to say something to the other but couldn’t find the words, opening their mouths but stopping short. They lost track of time as they sat there.

When the warden called for the doors to be closed for the afternoon, they stood immediately. With the headcount done, the inmates were locked behind the iron-grilled door of the barracks—standard procedure for the past eight years. But today it angered Yusuf. He wanted to knock the warden out and escape. The thought had come only after the talk they’d had with Mohammed. But escaping the ward wasn’t enough—beyond were high walls with electric barbed-wire fencing, and armed guards stood outside those walls.

Yusuf stood there. Everyone else seemed at peace: some were lying around, others watching a show on Doordarshan. Yusuf saw a TV report on the ruckus in the Lok Sabha. He looked at Mohammed and saw him writing something. Somewhat surprised, he went up to his fellow inmate wondering if he was planning something new. Mohammed was filling in a form in his stiff handwriting.

Noticing Yusuf approach, Mohammed, sitting on the floor, turned around with a smile. “I want to do an MA with English. I’ll be submitting my form today. You all too should fill in your forms and submit them.”

Yusuf wanted to tell him this all was unnecessary, but the words didn’t come out. Such was the respect that Mohammed commanded that none of the others ever talked back to him.

Mohammed returned to his paperwork.

Yusuf stood a while before going back to his original spot, took out the form Mohammed had given him and sat down to fill it. It had been years since he’d put pen to paper. Filling up the form took him the better part of two hours.

To be continued…

This is the tenth part of the serialized novel 'Deewal' based on the Sabarmati jailbreak attempt, written by Prashant Dayal, the editor of