Yusuf had looked glum ever since he had woken that morning. He hadn’t spoken to anyone and had kept to the barracks since the tea had arrived. He had gone outside to get his cup and had then proceeded to sit on a platform below the neem tree in the ward. Normally, Batke would be the most excited about the morning tea. Right outside his cycle shop in Dariapur had been a tea stall run by a classmate from school, Gopal. Gopal, like Yusuf, had been uninterested in studies and had instead opened his little shop at Tambu chowky.
Batke had believed there was magic in Gopal’s hands and would go straight to his stall when it would open in the morning. Even though Gopal would fill a cup for him the moment he saw him, Batke would call out, “Hey Gopal de, get a cutting tea.”
An irritated Gopal would tell him as he gave him his cup, “You miyabhai, what kind of Hindi are you speaking? I have no clue.”
With a hoarse laugh, Yusuf would start sipping his tea.
After the morning cup, one more would be sent to Yusuf’s shop every hour. But since his arrival at the jail, the first problem he faced was that the tea tasted nothing like what Gopal would make. It had been eight years, and he had forgotten the taste of Gopal’s tea, but Yusuf never missed his morning cup, despite the watery concoction that was served at 7 daily.
That day, he was in no hurry to have his tea. He simply sat with his glass below the shade of the tree. He hadn’t noticed it go cold, and finished it at one go.
Parvez langda walked in and, on seeing Yusuf, asked, “Batke, why so glum today?”
Yusuf looked at him but didn’t answer.
Yusuf was the youngest and the naughtiest of the group, and would always be make jokes and pulling pranks on the others. Hence, his dispassion was noticed by Parvez, who put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Batke, at least tell me what it is.”
Yusuf felt ready to break down into tears at any moment, so he stood and began walking towards the barracks. Parvez followed him, calling to him, but Yusuf didn’t turn back.
Batke went back inside, took his soap and clothes and walked to the bathroom. Parvez was still climbing the stairs when he saw Yusuf enter the bathroom. The rush with which he entered the barracks caught the eye of Mohammed and Yunus. While Mohammed sat in his place with a questioning look, but Yunus got up and walked towards Parvez and wordlessly asked what the matter was.
“Yunusbhai, I think something’s wrong with Batke today. Looks like there is a problem,” Parvez said. “I asked him, but he simply walked off to take a bath.”
Yunus had noticed Yusuf’s silence all morning, but he hadn’t been able to tell if something had been wrong. It was 8 now, and Yusuf had not spoken a single word to anyone in the barracks.
Yusuf had hurriedly shut the bathroom door—which covered only half the doorway. Jails never had full-size doors for their bathrooms and toilets; it was a preventive measure to stop inmates from attempting suicide.
As he shut the door, Yusuf broke down crying. He felt as if he had wanted to cry for a long time but hadn’t been able to so far. He cried for five or six minutes. He remembered what Mohammed had said to him a month ago, and felt he should follow to what the older man was telling him to do, as they was no other way left.
Quickly taking a bath, just for the sake of it, Yusuf changed and went back out. As he did so, his companions had their eyes trained on him. They then turned their focus to Mohammed, expecting him to start speaking.
Mohammed stood and went to Yusuf, who walked to his belongings and pretended to be looking for something. The older man sat next to him and asked, “My dear Batke, what is it?”
Yusuf looked Mohammed, dropped his eyes and shook his head, as if to say nothing was the matter. Raising Yusuf’s chin up, Mohammed told him, “Now, will you lie to me, too? Look how red your eyes have gotten.” Yusuf still didn’t say anything.
Mohammed looked at their companions, who all looked worried. Yusuf was still not ready to tell them what was troubling him. He felt that if held on to that expression, he reddened eyes would give him away and he would have to tell them the reason for his sorrow.
For Mohammed, not telling anyone about his troubles was a habit. He would cut himself off from the others and sit by himself. The others were used to this behaviour.
To the rest of the inmates in the barracks, the silence seemed like a rift between the eight.
Finally, unable to take their silent stares anymore, Batke stood and laughed, so loudly that he even got the attention of the others in the barracks.
Parvez stood, shook Yusuf and asked what he was laughing about.
“April fool! Made you all get angry!”
The rest started laughing too. But Mohammed saw through the lie. Yusuf was not ready to share his pain—with anyone.
To be continued…
This is the 13th part of the serialized novel 'Deewal' based on the Sabarmati jailbreak attempt, written by Prashant Dayal, the editor of MeraNews.com.