The Broken fountainhead

I wondered why the noose had been tied so tight… it was aching by then.
“Can’t they let me die in peace?”- The voice inside me murmured.

They say- standing on the scaffold, you don’t argue with the hangman and I better toed the line. It came as a pleasant surprise, when they asked me my last wish; I contemplated requesting them to loosen the noose but resisted. Instead I told them not to bow their head or blink their eyes when I leave this shore enroute to hell. Could there be a better fitting place for a man who plundered souls, destroyed generations and butchered chickens and kids alike? I closed my eyes and mumbled my last prayers- for all the remnants of those I killed, for all the souls like me who led in delusion and finally for the little boy – I last gunned down.

For most part of the courtroom episode, I stood head bowed down, like an errant schoolboy. Charges were hurled and curses turned to froth, yet I stood stone-faced. I had taken no lawyer, thus leaving it up to me to fend the criticisms. Witnesses came and pointed fingers, there were at least a hundred of them; some I recognized were my former accomplices, there were assortment of charges labeled- from treason to murders to rapes-some true, some fragrant lies- yet they passed on with not a single word exchanged. Occasionally, when I put my eyes up, I could see only hatred and loathing for me- their tears burnt my soul like acid rain, their glares conveyed vengeance. Deserted by those I befriended and shunned by those I worshipped, I could sense the blindfolded figure by my side squint under the fold, her scale lopsided with the burden of my sins- the whole hall seemed an allegory of hell. After a month had passed, the judge finally asked me, “Do you have anything to say in your defense?”  Somehow clearing the lump in my throat, I whispered, “Mercy” thrice in the same susurration, in a bid to make it audible through my voiceless-ness. The public prosecutor countered, “Mercy and pity for a heartless sadist?” “Sympathy for a misanthrope who relishes laying cadavers”- he jibed. The repartee garnered a round of applause from the crowd; and the hall soon dissolved into unbearable chaos, prompting the judge to bang his hammer numerous times in vain; they were calmed at last, by the lawyer’s raised hand. Mr. Qureshi, the prosecutor was in his mid thirties, touted as the next big thing, he was a master of ripostes. A black coat without frill, kempt hair parted from side- he seemed to justify every inch of the name and fame. I found his wrath against me was more personal, as I was rumored to have murdered his sister, but having never kept lists of my victims- I could not disagree. Thus my own guilt never allowed me to look into his eyes. After he had finished, I gathered some courage to clarify- “mercy and pity- not for me but for all those who are duped into this pogrom year after year- in the name of caste, religion, peace and God; for all those who were made to believe mass killing opened the doors to heaven”.  With a hint of emotion in my otherwise stony face, I garbled- “They were born ‘flesh and limbs’ just like you; those kids too deserved pens not guns. They shot first blood, before you could figure out the color red”.  Just then, the judge reminded me to respect the decorum of the court and stated, “If that is all you have to say, I would proceed with my decision”. Moving his eyes off me, he proclaimed- “On basis of evidences and witnesses it has been established that the culprit is a perpetrator of all the heinous crimes charged against him, thus under section 302 of Indian penal code…….To be hanged till death” – with this he broke the fountainhead by a single stroke on the piece of paper.

People embraced each other and hailed the verdict, later I learnt some thought even death sentence was leniency for me and I should rather be pelted in open boulevards. In my last few days, I met neither my wife nor mother- the only survivors of my family, not as if they cared anymore.

That day, I could have easily fled away after the fireworks abated, if not for that one incident. Iqbal shook me twice before being parried away by Shawar, but I was too inebriated to move or even bat eyelid. I stood there for a few minutes and then fell on my knees, held him up close to me for one last time and kissed his eyes as I put them to rest. He drooped on my shoulders as he always did while asleep. The same eyes that glittered every time I returned home after months delay. The same nose which sneezed then rubbed my kurta; the same anxious ears which demanded lullabies, each night I would be by his side. The same head I would move my hands over before leaving; and the same hands which would never let go of me. Nothing had changed, not even the glossy pink lips- but why aren’t they parting to call ‘Baba’ again? Why doesn’t he cling on to me as I hold him on? Did he really know which gun fired the bullet that perforated his impeccant heart? I knew, even if he did not that the arms where he found solace had betrayed him today, the man who ought to be his savior had turned his destructor.

It was an ambush which I masterminded. Our leader had thrust the responsibility on me and I cherished this fact like a pious patriot. We had attacked the military base, where ill-equipped soldiers resembled sitting ducks as we blew them one after another. We had almost won the battle, just then I saw the brown pajamas toddling forward and then dozing down. Asif had noticed me behind the shrubs and was running forth to jump into my lap. One amongst his many complaints, when I used to return home would be- his inability to blow away all the terrorists at a go ala Sunny Deol, his favorite movie-star. He wanted to see the real action and treasured ambition of joining the army, because as told to him- his father was a gallant soldier of the Indian army. While, in my academy, they taught me anarchism, religious jingoism, battlefield stratagem, guerilla warfare, etc. but one thing they missed out was time travel. Could I get my Asif back today? Could I return the bullet back to the barrel?

Suddenly I felt a stir; I opened my eyes and saw the AK-47 slipping out of my grip. Then to my astonishment, I saw the same gleaming face, this time the lips moved and uttered,
“Baba give me the gun, I need to shoot the mosquitoes.” I snatched the gun and threw it away and vowed never to pick it up again. I could sense Allah had given me a second chance, a fortuitous escape from the dreaded aftermath. The next morning I landed up in jail, my shelter for the coming years. Asif knows his soldier dad is on a mission ala Sunny Deol and he still brags about it. It seems ‘The broken fountainhead’ has finally been mended.
Debojit Dutta

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