Yunus and Yusuf looked at the papers in their hands. Yusuf, who could read Gujarati, skimmed through the pages but couldn’t make sense of what was written. Yunus looked at him for an explanation, but Yusuf only thought, “I wonder what the Major’s intention is, because I just don’t get it.”

“This is the course brochure for Indira Gandhi National Open University,” Yusuf added.

Yunus looked at him, but he had other thoughts running through his head. He’d know Mohammed for years, and his train of thought halted where the lawyer’s began. He was still trying to make sense of why Mohammed had plans for them to study. If none of them had expressed such a desire, why had Mohammed told the jailer they were interested. 

Yunus was lost in these thoughts when Yusuf shook his hand and asked him, “What are you thinking of so hard? Say something.”

Coming back to the present, Yunus looked around as if afraid those around would read his mind. He dragged Yusuf to a corner as the other inmate became more and more curious. Yunus again looked around to see if anyone was listening to them.

“Look. If Mohammed asked about studying, I am sure he has a plan. I know him very well. He can think way better than we do. We will study—I have no idea what we will study and what jobs we can take up after this—but we will follow Mohammed. You talk to Chand, Danish, Riyaz, Abu and Parvez about this and tell them not to question Mohammed. Even if we do, he won’t answer, so we’ll just follow what he’s saying. I am sure something good will happen,” Yunus said, as he looked up and thanked Allah.

Whatever Yunus had said went over Yusuf’s head, but he had no choice but to trust him. Both stood there for a while without talking, appearing as if without a thought between them. 

Parvez langda emerged from the barracks. Seeing the two standing in a corner of the ward, he walked up to them expecting them to notice his arrival—which didn’t happen. He took a couple of steps down from the high platform of the barracks, but they still didn’t realize he was next to them. Putting a hand on each of their shoulders, he asked, “Any problems?”

On hearing the question, Yusuf decided to have some fun. He looked around to check that none could hear them, then spoke in Parvez’s ear: “Yes, we have a big problem.”

Parvez looked worried.

“Now we will all have to study compulsorily.”

With that, Yusuf put the papers in Parvez’s hands.

Returning the papers as if they were a piece of burning coal, Parvez said, “I am not going to study, even if the superintendent’s father comes and tells me to.”

Yunus burst out laughing as Parvez realized they were toying with him.

“Look. Passing the exams is necessary, but studying is. Not because the jailer wants us to, but because Mohammed does. And so we will,” Yunus told him.

Parvez stared at Yunus, who tried to explain further: “We have been here for the past eight years. We don’t know when the trial will begin, when we will be sentenced to death…”

Yusuf and Parvez felt a jolt of electricity pass through them on hearing the word “death.”

“So, if Mohammed has spoken of studying, there might be a reason for it. We don’t have to wrack out brains much. Mohammed will do that for us.”

Parvez couldn’t comprehend what he was being told. It was 10 in the morning and the food had arrived. The inmates had lined up with their plates and bowls. Yunus took note of Mohammed’s expression—a kind of mirth he fought hard to hide. As usual, they all sat in a circle. Mohammed ate silently while the others looked at him. The lawyer noticed Chand had being dipping his piece of roti in the dal again and again, and placed his hand on the man’s thigh. Startled, Chand quickly put the roti in his mouth.

Mohammed hadn’t said a single word, but his expression was enough to ask him what he was doing. He started laughing as Chand let out a sigh of relief. The others started laughing, too. Taking the opportunity, Yunus began talking to Mohammed, who was still looking at his plate.

“Everyone here has a question.”

Mohammed looked up.

“What are we going to do studying in the jail?”

Yunus spoke for them all. At first, they thought their companion hadn’t taken the question well. They all stopped eating, as Mohammed opened his mouth to speak.

To be continued…

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