Escape from the gallows
I am now 85. The village boys and girls call me the storyteller. They would gather around me every evening and insist for storytelling. I too was happy as it gave me inner peace. It continued for long. One day they asked me to tell the story of my own life. I agreed. The incidents of the past at once flashed before my eyes.
I was travelling from Patna to Delhi along with my mother It was a crowded sleeper compartment. There were many passengers without reservation. Naturally, those with the confirmed tickets were finding tough to get their births. Even those who got it were having so many persons around. I tried my best to protect my birth from encroachment but ultimately had to give in. A police man with gun in his hand sat near my head. I gazed at him but could not do anything. After a while I saw an army man sitting near my feet, so my quota was full.
The train as usual was late. The crowd inside the train was getting restive. Essential requirements like water, refreshments were becoming unavailable. The passengers had blocked the toilets and the corridor making life miserable with every passing moment. The passengers were unable to move even when their destination arrived. That used to be followed by lot of hue and cry. The stranded passengers would pull the chain of the train to stop its movement so that they could get down.
Somehow the train reached Mugalsarai station. Huge crowd were waiting on the railway platform to get into the train which already was overcrowded. Not finding any space some of the passengers moved to the roof of the compartment. There were repeated announcements by the railway authorities requesting the passengers to come down but nothing was happening. The train remained static on the platform for more than an hour. There was huge contingent of the police force on the platform to clear the rush but that was not effective. The train could not move ahead.
Suddenly there was huge sound followed by exodus of the passengers. The train started burning. Many passengers sitting on the roof of the train jumped. Persons waiting on the platform ran away. Nobody was knowing as to what had happened. Soon the platform was packed with injured persons. The train was burning non-stop. Many passengers were left burning inside the train. The actual numbers of the dead were beyond anybody’s guess.
TV channels started flashing breaking news about the accident. Every channel had its own version. VIP’s starting making comments expressing sympathy with the dead and the injured. But assistance to the injured arrived quite late. Many injured persons died of over bleeding.
A VIP had come to inspect the sight of the accident. The platform was cornered by the police force. An old lady with an injured hand was repeatedly crying. She was unable to locate his 10-year-old son who was travelling with her but there was hardly anybody to listen. The VIP was busy taking rounds on the platform, giving instructions. But the old lady kept crying. She was thrown out ruthlessly as she had crossed the VIP security cordon.
The lost child was none but me. That is how I was separated from my grand mother while travelling in the crowded train. Luckily, I had no injury. I was totally safe but the incident made me speechless. I could not say anything. I could not react at all. There was confusion all-round.
I kept moving here and there on the railway platform for the whole day. I tried my best to locate my mother. But she was traceless. I wanted to return to my village but I did not have any idea of the return route. I also did not have money to buy tickets. So, I kept wandering here and there. In the meantime, a few persons dressed like army men saw me wandering. They took me along in a car. They gave me something to eat following which I became unconscious. I got up only to find myself in a forest.
There I saw many persons dressed in army suite and equipped with arms and ammunitions. They used to talk among themselves in the local language. They treated me well. I was given good diet to eat. They also gave me necessary clothes and deputed three armed men to guard me day and night.
After two three days I found another boy of my age being brought by same group of persons. However, he was not allowed to meet me. Gradually I saw many such boys who were all kept in separate cells in the forest. I was scared to see the plight of the children who were brought to the forest by these persons and kept confined. The dacoits started training me along with other children. I learnt so many things necessary to carry out robbery. After a few years we were taken out along with the gang and given small tasks. My role in the gang increased with the lapse of time. I used to accompany the gang leader as his most trusted man. I carried several dangerous missions which included bank robbery etc.
13 years have passed away since then. I am a dreaded dacoit. The government has notified reward of twenty lacs over my head. But nobody could catch me so far. In between the gang leader died during an encounter with the police. I was the unanimous choice to take over as the gang leader.
One day while travelling along the road I saw a beautiful girl moving on the road. She belonged to a moderate family of local farmers and did not have much idea about the worldly affairs. She was simple, attractive and talkative. Her body features were remarkable. All this made her an ideal choice for me.
I developed liking for the girl. I followed till her home located in a nearby village, arrived. I gazed at her again and again and returned. I kept visiting her place secretly. She told me that she was Ragini the only daughter of her father who was a Judicial Officer in the nearby court. She developed some affinity towards me with the lapse of time but was scared to learn that I was a robber. I told her the story of my life. She was pained to know that I had been pushed into this life only by circumstances. She wanted me to get out of the present life but that was not easy. I could have been killed by other members of the gang even when they had the faintest idea of my leaving them. Even if I leave the gang the police would have arrested me or even killed me in a fake encounter. I told her about the situation but she would not buzz.
I myself was not happy with my life. I was further motivated by the girl to change and return to the mainstream. Her sweet words had left lasting impact upon me. I always used to think about her. I continued to meet her from time to time. I wanted to give up the life of robber and to return to the mainstream but that was not an easy choice. The police had registered so many criminal cases against me and my gang members. Surrendering to the police too was a complicated affair. I was not the lone person involved in the gang. I had approached the police through some trusted interlocutor but they wanted the entire gang to surrender which was a difficult proposition. Besides they wanted hefty money as well. Many of my gang members were not interested in surrendering. This situation kept me perplexed.
One day while I was returning from a nearby place I saw an old lady sitting near a temple. A police constable was standing nearby so I could not move further. But I kept looking at her again and again as she resembled my mother. I kept waiting till the police went out of sight. I came near the old lady and was immensely surprised to find that she actually was my mother who was lost in the melee that followed the train accident. I was separated from her unceremoniously and was brought me to the present situation.
I started shouting, Mother, Mother. She recognized my voice and stood up. It was a wonderful scene as she kept weeping out of joy derived from the happy reunion with me after such a long gap. For a moment I forgot everything. I also forgot that that I was a dreaded robber whom police were searching day and night. People started gathering around so I wanted to leave the place along with my mother. I had moved just a few steps when some police personnel arrived there.
The police ran after me. I could not run fast as I had to carry my mother along. I was scared and trembling as I was more concerned about the safety of my mother. After a while they started firing indiscriminately. A bullet injured my right leg and I fell down. I become unconscious. I do not remember what transpired thereafter. I got up next day only to find myself in a hospital with the police around. I immediately enquired about my mother but nobody could give any clue.
Because she was the mother of the dreaded robber, the police caught my mother also while she was lying half dead on the road near the temple. She was, however, remanded to the senior citizen home by the court as she was innocent and the police had no ground for keeping her in their confinement. I kept enquiring about my mother from the police but they did not tell me anything rather they would rebuke me and shouted at me harshly
Next day I was the headline of many morning newspapers. They had printed the news with catchy headlines. I was shown lying wounded in the hospital. The news was also being telecast on television channels as breaking news. Many people were talking about me and bravery of the police.
Hardly anybody was willing to hear my story of life. Hardly anybody had interest in learning that I was only a victim of circumstances and that whatever had happened was done by me under compulsion. But Ragini was too much disappointed to know all this. The judge was her father. The girl told her father about story of my life. He was really disappointed to hear my pathetic story.
I was not getting even a lawyer to place my version in the court. In that situation the Honourable judge ordered appointment of an advocate to present my case in the court. The advocate presenting my case agreed to fight my case even without charging anything. I had a strong case in as much I was only a victim of circumstances but I was an accused with sever criminal charges. As the matter proceeded in the court, the prosecution could not bring about any clinching evidence against me rather they were basing their accusations all on hearsay and imaginary gossips. The judge asked so many clarificatory questions during the argument from the public prosecutor but he could not satisfy him. After hearing the matter for about a year the judge ordered my release from all charges mainly because the police could not produce any iota of evidence of my involvement.
My escape from the gallows was only a miracle. Only God could have done this[p1] . So, I decided to spend rest of my life serving the poor and orphaned of my village. I brought back my mother from the senior citizen home and devoted my entire time and energy in serving her. My mother was very happy to see me back. We had a happy and peaceful time in our simple village home.
Ragini had played a major role in my life. It was because of her help that I could get justice. I had lot of respect for her. Ragini kept enquiring about me. On hearing that I have settled in my village home and was living with my old mother she came to my village home. She was very happy to see me .
One day she was coming to see me. Her car met with an accident near the village. I heard about it. Before I could have done anything Ragini was dead on the spot. Her body was too much mutilated and difficult to be identified. But I immediately recognised her from the car which she was travelling. I was too much heart by this incident. Ragini had done a lot for me. I wanted to repay but she did not give me a chance. Everything finished unceremoniously. Unable to bear with this unprecedented loss I became speechless. I kept gazing at the sky. I could not say anything to anybody.
I spent some time in despondency. Mother was only consolation but she, too, was not keeping well. Her condition was deteriorating fast. She could not survive long and left me all alone. Thereafter I used to spend my time at the village temple. Years have passed since then. I keep gazing at the sky for solace…………