Jailer Kaushik Pandya tried to regale Mohammed with his exploits—how he set straight the Khalistan front militants in Vadodara jail in 1993, how he gave a gang of thieves from Maharashtra a chance to step on to the right path when they were lodged in Surat jail.

Mohammed had no interest in the jailer’s tales, but Pandya had found a new audience for his stories of bravery after some months, and the inmate knew he had to keep him in good humour if he had to keep his plans simple. So he shook his head and feigned surprise and admiration at the right moments. The warden, who had accompanied Mohammed to the jailer’s office, took turns looking at the two. He’d heard the stories hundreds of times. The wardens outside Pandya’s cabin would joke that his wife wouldn’t let him speak at home, which was why he would harass them with his stories.

Mohammed eyes scanned the office. Behind the jailer’s chair was the emblem of the Gujarat prisons department—and a lock and a key. To the left was a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, not cleaned in ages from the film of dust that covered it. Two red bulbs blinked on the other side, a sign that electricity flowed through the barbed wire fencing atop the jail walls. These lights would stop flashing if any inmate attempted an escape over the fencing. There was a set like this in every officer’s chambers.

A large TV showed CCTV footage of the premises, switching from one viewpoint to the next. Mohammed noticed that Pandya never looked at the screen. The footage seemed to be streamed for the sake of it, as none of the authorities kept a vigilant eye on it. The inmate dropped glances at the screen as he listened to the jailer’s tales, trying to figure out which barracks were monitored from the chamber.

Pandya seemed to have forgotten the reason for which he had summoned Mohammed as he rambled on. The warden, a sharp man who had served the jailer for five years, released that if Mohammed didn’t speak, they’d never get to the point.

“Sir, should I take Mohammedbhai back to his barracks?” he asked.

Mohammed was surprised by the interjection, but caught on to the ploy. “Oh yes, sir. Was it something specific that you called me for?”

A startled Pandya got back onto topic and quickly opened a drawer. “There is so much work to do. The government is not even filling in the posts. I am taking charge of three jailers here. The superintendent called me and asked me to provide whatever help I can give to Mohammed as he is a very good inmate,” he said.

Handing over a stack of papers, he said, “Read this and decide for yourselves what to wish to do. I assure you of all the possible help I can give.”

Mohammed took the papers, touched his forehead with them and looked at them as if they were his release order. He thanked the jailer with folded hands.

Pandya stood up from his chair. His bulging belly pushed against his khaki uniform, the strain on his shirt revealing the white vest he wore below it. He approached Mohammed and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Mohammed, if you need any help, tell me,” he said, signalling for him to leave as he too seemed in a hurry.

Mohammed, again folding his hands in a show of gratitude, left the chamber.

The warden walked past the State Reserve Police (SRP) jawan who looked at Mohammed from head to toe, searching for contraband. Only then was the inmate allowed to walk back to his barracks.

After looking around to make sure no one was in earshot, the warden stepped near to Mohammed and said, “We could actually file a complaint of human rights violation against Pandya Sir. Anyone on death row, instead of being sent to the gallows, can be locked up in Pandya’s cabin for 24 hours, where he will die listening to him talk nonstop.”

Mohammed laughed. He walked towards his ward, this time without caring about the looks he drew. He looked at everyone he passed, but was busy with his own thoughts. The warden was talking, but he didn’t hear a word.

Mohammed stepped off the pucca road, off Kachi Kedi, past the Hanuman shrine—this time bowing his head, surprising the inmates there with his gesture. In fact, even he was didn’t know he’d done that.

The warden left him at the gate of his ward. Yunus and Yusuf rushed to meet him. He had different expression of happiness on his face, one that the two, of course, couldn’t comprehend. He put the papers the jailer had given him in their hands and walked into the barracks grinning from ear to ear.

To be continued…

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

The story so far: Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7