It was 9 in the morning. The seriousness that hung in the air earlier had now dissipated.
The warden called out Yusuf’s name, to everyone’s surprise.
Yusuf rushed out to see why he was being called. He went to the ward gate, where the warden was standing. Other inmates, too, stood near the barracks gate inquisitively.
A pedal rickshaw that brought tiffins for the inmates stood right next to the ward. The prison rules allowed for outside food to be brought in for inmates who were yet to be sentenced. Yusuf and his companions fell under this category, but the superintendent had denied them this privilege because of the seriousness of the crime with which they had been charged. They were allowed to have food delivered for the first five or six months, but that was more than seven years ago.
As Yusuf walked up to him, the warden pointed to the pedal rickshaw. “Your food’s been delivered by tiffin today.”
“How?” “Hadn’t the authorities stopped this?” These and other such thoughts ran through Yusuf’s mind as the deliverer pulled out a five-container tiffin and said, “The jail superintendent has allowed you to have food from outside just for today.”
Yusuf looked at the tiffin, which had oil dripping from it.
All tiffins delivered to the inmates are thoroughly inspected. Rotis are cut in four to check for paper slips. A spoon is run through dal and vegetables. At times, the person delivering the tiffin is even as to sample the food to make sure it isn’t poisoned.
The oil marks on Yusuf’s tiffin indicated it had been checked.
As he walked back with the tiffin, he thought of his family—they had not forgotten him, especially on a day such as this. He felt a lump in his throat as he remembered telling Mohammed that everything was fine. He saw his companions waiting at the barracks door for him. He made his way past them, to his space inside the barracks, placed the tiffin by the side and sat down to offer namaaz, tearing welling in his eyes.
Mohammed and the others went up to him. He put his hand on Yusuf’s back, wanting him to let out his anguish.
Parvez filled a glass with water and handed it to Mohammed. Once Yusuf had stopped crying, he offered him the glass. Feeling better, Yusuf drank the water and wiped his tears.
Sometime later, the jail food arrived. The inmates took their share and sat down for lunch. Sitting in their usual circle, Yusuf opened the tiffin—and created a commotion. To every inmate in the barracks, the smell of the biryani was unmistakable. Yusuf served each of his companions, his heart lightening on seeing their faces.
“My daughter Mumtaz turns 10 today. She was 2 when I was brought here,” Yusuf told Mohammed. “I’m missing her a lot today.”
Yusuf’s father knew his son he wasn’t allowed outside food, but it was Mumtaz’s birthday. He’d been waiting outside the jail since 7.30 in the morning. The guard had refused to take the tiffin when he heard it was for Yusuf, not relenting despite the pleas. Yusuf’s father even offered him some money. “Chacha, do you want to get me fired? Your son is not some Raja Harishchandra that I will take this tiffin to him,” the guard told him.
Yusuf’s father waited for superintendent Vasava to arrive. As his car pulled in at 8.30, he ran towards it. With folded hands, he pleaded. When the superintendent didn’t relent, he started crying and showed him the tiffin. “Sir, it’s his daughter’s birthday today. Please let him have this. It’s his daughter’s birthday.”
Vasava changed his mind. He told the guard to send the tiffin to Yusuf once it was checked thoroughly. The superintendent continued on his way, not waiting for the thanks Yusuf’s father offered.
To be continued…
This is the 14th part of the serialized novel 'Deewal' based on the Sabarmati jailbreak attempt, written by Prashant Dayal, the editor of MeraNews.com.