The gate keeper slowly opened the gate as I showed my identity card. My name was clearly mentioned on the card with my occupation. John Isaiah, journalist. The guards slowly escorted me along a long corridor. It was surrounded by stoned walls on both the sides. The long walk through the corridor reminded me of those old Bollywood movies. The walls were adorned by wired fences on the top, those wires must have been shrill and sharp. I was at the Churchill prison on wheeler’s Island, 35 miles off the coast from Cuttack. Those freaking walls were too high, no one could have escaped. It must have been tough living here as an inmate. After all it was the most secure jail in the nation. No one even knew it existed. How did I get here? Well, my boss hated me to the core and he thought the jail assignment would be a perfect way to get rid of me for almost a week. My boss, well he had links everywhere. The only thing he ever did was order Viagra through online shopping. Me and my colleagues often wondered if he sold them or consumed them. Perhaps that is what made him so cynical. The guard asked me to wait as we reached the end of the corridor. He disappeared for a few seconds and returned and signalled me to follow him.
“Climb the stairs and turn right. Last room on the left. The door is open.”
I quietly said thanks but I guess he was not interested. I saw the stairs in front of me and the darkness that spread over it. I unlocked the pattern on my smartphone and switched on the flashlight. A scorpion silently panned the horizon on the stairs. I did not finch. I slowly started climbing the stairs. I was here for a reason, a reason I believed in. I believed the world ought to know what happens when you derogate the symbol of your country. I was here to meet Yasser Kaifi who was convicted of rape and derogating the national flag. The stairs came to an end. Perhaps they were exhausted or maybe I was. I turned right and saw the faintest tungsten light emerging out of a door extending towards me. I unzipped my bag as I walked towards the light source, took out my Dictaphone and rehearsed the first question I had intended to ask. The door was cracked at all places. On it was a board that read.” Beware!!! Grade A criminal”
I entered the room and saw a convict in his white prison clothing tied with iron chains to a chair. He had not shaved, precisely for two years. His eyes looked dull and his lips were hidden inside his moustache!!! He was fixed to the chair like a driver is just before an accident. There were no expressions on his face. I placed the Dictaphone in front of him on the creaky wooden table and made myself comfortable on his bed. There was a pungent smell around the room, I wonder how he had survived for two years. I coughed to clear my throat and switched on the Dictaphone. That was the first time I saw life in his eyes. He looked at the Dictaphone and then at me.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“My name is John, John Isaiah and I am a journalist.”
“What the hell is this?”
“It is a Dictaphone, it records voice so that I can analyse this interview”
“And publish nonsense about me like they accused me in the court just because my name in the way of Allah”
“You were convicted of rape and then derogating a national symbol in the Supreme Court. Every evidence was against you.”
“Oh! So you fucking believe in law and those who break the law every single day but when the day came to fight for a poor man like me they did not care about the law!!!”
“The entire country knows what you did and I have done my research on you. Gone through the charge sheet numerous times. There was no way you were framed. Why would anyone frame a rape?”
“Because no one had the courage to know the truth, you all are cowards and believe what is shown to you by a guy who speaks at 9 pm on your fucking televisions. The truth is never revealed. You cannot handle the truth.”
I switched off the Dictaphone and threw it on the floor in frustration. I banged my fist on the creaky wooden table and looked into his eyes. “Tell me the truth!!!”
“You will not believe me!”
“And why would you say so?”
“Because I am not Shyam, I am not David. I am Yasser. This is what every Yasser has to go through in the largest fucking democracy in this country. This is what every Yusuf has to suffer in the so called secular country that we live in. That word secular looks good just in the Preamble John! Not in the courts, not in the room where law is supposed to prevail.”
I calmed my senses and spoke” I have travelled six hours on a small boat where there was even a place to sit. I am tired Yasser, if I have come so far to meet you I deserve to know what happened. Don’t I?”
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He was silent for a few seconds and then tears rolled onto his filthy beard. He spoke and then I could not speak for a long time. “It was raining that day, I was returning back from my office on my bicycle. It was already quite late. I guess it was around ten o’clock. It was as usual except for the rain and I was too busy in my thoughts. I had to pay the fees of my elder son. It was already overdue. Lost in these thoughts I saw a woman running out of the morgue. I cannot describe how she looked. It was horrible, beyond words. May no woman ever suffer such fate? She fell onto the pavement as the surface was quite slippery. I dismounted my bicycle and looked around. There was no one except silence and the rampaging rain. All this while I never realised in darkness that she was completely naked.” And he started crying. “I fear Allah John and trust me I will never sin. That woman was bleeding from her head and I could not see her unconscious and naked on the pavement. I looked around in the rain. I saw a flag-post placed by the local Hindu association. It was our national flag. I rushed towards the pole and pulled the flag down. I wrapped it around her body and called the police. Before the police could reach someone hit me on my head. When I woke up I was in handcuffs. Some guys from the local Hindu association had spoken against me. The worst part was that my lawyer only turned against me. My friend had visited me before the trials. According to him the guys from the association had only raped that woman and framed me for using the National flag to protect her.”
“You want me to believe you?” I raised my eyebrow.
Yasser stood up from his chair. All the iron chains were loosened somehow. I was startled and I was speechless.
“John! I had loosened these chains a year ago. Still I pretend they are tying me down and I never tried to escape. You know why?” and he screamed “because there is no use, I gave up that very moment when I realised that protecting a woman’s image is not important. The flag looks over us, it is meant to be our saviour when we are afraid and when we need guidance. If it was used to protect that poor woman, tell me what wrong did I do?”
I was silent.
“I do not want you to publish my story and tell people what the reality is. I just want you to tell the truth to people when you know what the truth is. Hiding the truth can hurt people, sometimes kill them.”
I was still silent.
“I will be hanged in a week’s time. It’s already too late. So forget about me the moment you step outside on that small boat. Just forget all this ever happened. Most of your television shows have already garnered enough fucking TRP’s because of me. Maybe that was my destiny.”
I was still silent.
“You should leave John. I told you it’s hard to handle the truth.”
I stood up and silently walked away closing the door behind me. Just like the recorded voice in the broken Dictaphone was lost, my voice had vanished in shame of being born in a treacherous and Unsecular country, Yasser’s voice was lost in the blasphemy of our fucked up system. I am sure Yasser must have tied himself back as I climbed down the stairs. The broken Dictaphone and the broken faith he had were the only testimony to his truth!!! From when did it become a crime to use the national flag to protect a lady in despair?
‘Fuck the system’ I wanted to cry as I walked through the long corridor surrounded by stone walls once again.