Forty years ago I was convicted for a crime I did not commit. And it took the government the very same forty years to realize that. Last week a search operation was conducted in pursuit of a man named Arnab Malik.
Arnab Malik. Forty years ago, it was a name I adored and respected. A name which brought back old memories. And a name that instilled an essence of joy within me. But today, forty years later, things changed; and they changed drastically. ‘Arnab Malik’ was no more just a name; but a lethal idea that had conspired to put me behind bars. For forty years.
The officials had gone to Arnab Malik’s house. They had finally procured the evidence which proved my innocence. They had thought that justice, though late, would finally be done. But the news they received subverted the very definition of justice itself. Arnab Malik had passed six years ago. A peaceful death it was, which arrived at his doorstep when he was sound asleep, in a large cotton bed in his air conditioned bedroom.
I sat down in my cell, scratching the cold floor beneath with my fragile fingernails. It was a small cell, which had a concrete bed in one corner and a rusted metal commode in the other. The cell was pitch dark, except for the faint rays of sunlight which entered through the tiny slits atop the walls every morning.
There were a couple of solid knocks on the metal cell door. The tiny rectangular access at the bottom flapped open and a steel plate with a couple of servings of rice sat there. Dinner time. I went over and dragged the plate in. I could see the constable’s shoes, black and shiny, polished as a mirror. He didn’t leave. He stood there still. Then he bent down, sitting on his toes, till I could see his wrinkled neck.
‘You are getting released tomorrow.’ He said. And gave out a soft chuckle. He then got onto his feet and walked away.
I was unable to figure out if the reason behind his chuckle was a sarcastic or a sympathetic one. For forty years, he had been bringing me dinner; the very same two servings of stale rice peppered with something I could not even imagine eating. When I came here, he was a lean man in his late twenties. Energetic and ambitious. But today, an obese structure with furrowed skin took over his personality. Not energetic or ambitious anymore.
I sighed and ate away my dinner. And like always, it tasted sick. They don’t serve you good food in prison. If they did people would be happy getting here.
I did not sleep that night. Just like every other night in these forty years. What the constable said did not make much difference to me. A quarter of my life was gone understanding what life was all about. And about half of it was gone in this rotten pit of misery. Tomorrow, when I walk out of here, all I would be heading towards will be an endless expanse of nothingness.
They unfairly put me here when I wanted to be out there relishing every slice of my life. And today, when I want to stay nowhere but here, they throw me out there.
They took away my life, and gave me freedom. They had clipped my wings, and now expected me to go fly into the world with the freedom they had given me.
The next morning I breakfasted on the usual two slices of cold bread. I was given a pair of new clothes to wear and some money to start a life. I was asked where I would be going and what I would be doing with the money I was given. I didn’t answer them. I didn’t. I just stood onto my feet and walked away. Out of the prison gates.
At the entrance an old guard stopped me. I probably would have seen him last, some forty years ago. He gently smiled at me and placed his palm on my shoulder.
‘Your family should be happy.’ He said.
‘I don’t have one.’ I said.
‘Oh, I am sorry.’ He said.
‘No that’s okay. I was not married anyway. Didn’t have the time.’
‘Your parents?’ The old man asked.
‘Mother was dead when I was a kid.’ I said.
‘Your father? What’s his name?’
‘He is dead too. His name was Arnab Malik.’ I said.