Chapter 1: Hatch a plan.
Arthur Jail, 1st December 2000.
The eggs were uncooked, the yolk raw and drippy. The cook had dropped the pretense of cooking ages back. Durvesh stared at the yellow runny mess on his plate, tried to summon the will to eat it. Chotelal, his cellmate, interrupted his self-cajoling. His countenance was grim, tears held back by a silken thread.
“I got the lab results.”
“As we suspected, it is the last stage of prostate cancer. The chances of survival are zero, with 6 to 12 weeks to live. It is over, Durvesh.”
The thread snapped. Silent tears rolled down his gaunt cheeks. He flicked them away, anger lacing his movements. His raspy voice, thick with emotions, was low. The prison during the best and the worst of times was full of eager eavesdroppers.
“Durvesh, you are a good man and like a son to me. We share a deep bond. But in my absence, these vultures will tear you apart. You are an innocent man, and you do not belong here. I have an idea that may solve your problem. So…”
Durvesh, married recently, had landed a plum job as a CFO in a start-up, MOTHEaRth Inc. Lady luck smiled down at him. A great life partner and a fabulous job. What could go wrong?
Apparently, a lot. His naïve enthusiasm, inexperience, and gullibility egged him on to sign the fraudulent loan documents. When the financial audit loomed over, the CEO dropped him like a hot potato. The police arrested him. There was a mountain of evidence against him, and the public defender was ineffectual. The courts sentenced Durvesh to 10 years of imprisonment. His wife, though devastated, stood by him. She visited Durvesh as often as the prison rules would permit.
Chotelal took him under his wings from his first day in jail. Chotelal was a politically well-connected gangster. A man with a heart of gold, with blood on his hands. He ‘adopted’ Durvesh as his pseudo-son, which granted him many advantages. For Durvesh, a slim young man was a prime candidate for sexual assault in jail. Chotelal’s tutelage was a godsend. Durvesh was unhappy with the life Chotelal led –still leading, but he kept mum. As a member of Chotelal’s coterie, he had unlimited access and unrestricted movements. But the privileged cover was on its last leg. The leader of the rival gang was eying him as fresh meat.
He had eight years, one month, and 17 days to be a free man.
Chapter 2: Whoosh of deadlines.
D.N. Road, 1st December 2000.
“Your deadline is approaching, Charchika.”
My newspaper editor, Showmick’s, arrival, was preceded by the stale cigarette smoky cloud that enveloped him. It was an early warning system.
“Yes, sir. I will deliver it on time.”
“You’d better. Are you working on the same assignment, now?”
“Yes. I am doing some research.”
Pep talk delivered, he dawdled back to his office. Leaving the rest of us to breathe the natural – odourless air in the newsroom.
I worked as a journalist in a local newspaper. I had a hot lead I had been pursuing a while. Bhumi, a leading activist in the nascent global warming area, had tied up with another NGO to plan a protest march. They aimed to elucidate the effects of burgeoning environmental issues on over-packed prisons.
I have had the pleasure –rather, displeasure of meeting Bhumi in person. Under her Ms. Goody Two Shoes exterior, I sensed a sly mind, bent towards criminal intent. I had been chasing that angle but without success. If I could lay my hands on any evidence linking her to monetary misconduct, I could break this case. It was better than writing humiliating fluff pieces. Like, the starlet and her developing lust-affair with her spot boy.
Ugh. Just ugh.
Chapter 3: March me a protest.
Byculla, 1st December 2000.
“Why did you choose taking up environmental issues despite your high-profile job?” the journalist asked Bhumi.
“We are heading towards a disaster if we don’t take control now. We have converted our city into a concrete jungle. Construction sites are cropping up everywhere. Everything leaves a carbon footprint, and very soon will start impacting our lives.”
“But why tie it up with the prison reforms?”
“The metal walls and bars in the overcrowded prisons are kilns, baking the prisoners. The fan–to–inmate ratio is low, and due to safety reasons, fans operate at low speeds. The extreme heat conditions are a violation of human rights. The rise in temperatures is due to the changing climate. We can reset it.”
“But why only the inmates? Even homeless people are potential victims.”
“Right. Everyone is a potential victim, whether you stay in a high-rise, a chawl, or a prison cell. But it is the incarcerated who are more captive to the effects of the environmental woes. It is a humane issue.”
Bhumi turned to face the camera.
“We need reforms in jails as well as for our planet. We need to act now. For this endeavour, I need your monetary support as well as volunteers.”. She addressed the journalist.
“We are organizing a unique march in about ten days. We have obtained prior police permission for it.”
Bhumi looked straight into the camera.
“Do I have your support? Please remember, we borrow the planet from our children. Thank you.”
The studio audience broke into thunderous applause.
This interview should set the cash counter ringing.
She observed people in the audience handing over cheques to her assistant.
The event will be a success. A wave of change will flow. And by God’s grace, I will be the reason for it.
Chapter 4: A spousal visit.
Arthur Jail, 3rd December 2000.
“Visitor for inmate number 100801,” droned the intercom.
Chotelal nudged a napping Durvesh, “It must be your wife. Tell her wife about our plan.”
Armed guards accompanied Durvesh to the meeting room. Once inside, they unshackled him.
“How have you been, Durvesh?”
He rubbed a hand over his clean-shaven jaw. “Same old.”
“I got you something!”
His eyes lit up with joy. “What?”
“I added money into the jail card.”
Watching his face fall, she laughed. “But that is not it. I got books for you. Surprise!”
“Wow! Which ones did you get?”
She opened her handbag and handed the paperbacks to him. The sight of the book brought tears to his eyes.
“I miss the freedom of reading books in silence. Here, the cacophony is deafening. If only…”
“Durvesh. Revisiting the past won’t help us. Let us stay positive.”
“Shona, I can’t! There are eight more years! I am innocent, darn it. I did not embezzle, yet I am the one who is paying the price. I lost everything. My life. My reputation.”
“You still have me, na?”
“You are the only reason for my existence. If it weren’t for you…”
“Hush. Let us not get maudlin. Did Chotelal’s results come yet?”
“Stage four. He has about 6-12 weeks to live.”
A frown appeared on her forehead. “What will happen to you when he dies?”
“I don’t know. Chotelal got all emotional the other day and started sprouting some wild ideas.”
“Durvesh, don’t do anything foolish. As it is, we are walking on eggshells.”
“No, Shona. Forget it. How is …”
Their attempts at small talk couldn’t disguise the fear in their hearts.
Chapter 5: Ironing out the creases.
Arthur Jail, 3rd December 2000.
Durvesh fidgeted on the bed linen, damp with his sweat. It was blistering hot in prison. To add to his misery, the wretched mosquitoes were buzzing around.
“Did you make a decision?”
“No, Chotelalji. Not yet.”
“Listen to a dying old man.”
Chotelal changed the topic. “I have news. A large group has planned a march outside. They are protesting the government’s lackadaisical response.”
“So? What’s that got to do with the price of all the tea in China?”
“Everything, my friend. The protest will happen right outside our prison gates.”
Chotelal gave Durvesh a meaningful look, added. “In ten days. Outside our prison gates. Think about it.”
Durvesh exhaled, his frustration evident as he tossed and turned in vain.
Chapter 6: Shh…the march is on.
Byculla, 3rd December 2000.
The money started rolling in, and it made Bhumi joyous. Their event t-shirts had been printed and distributed to the volunteers. Everything was proceeding as per. The Asia Book of Records had confirmed they would certify the event as a record. A record of the largest number of mute protestors. Sponsors were bound to be attracted by it.
There is no such thing as too much publicity. The money from this vigil will ease the pressure. And pay off my gambling loans. This time around, the debt is quite high. I must seek professional help for it. I can’t keep dipping into the company till. I should help myself. Charity, after all, begins at home.
Bhumi had another interview coming up. Game face on.
More publicity. More money.
Chapter 7: What are you on?
Arthur Jail, 5th December 2000.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“No. But I will surely go out of my mind if I stay here anymore.”
“Durvesh. This is too risky. It will land you…and us into more trouble.”
“Shona, I can’t stay here after Chotelal’s death. Bhantak and his goons will either rape me or kill me. Or both.”
Tears fell unchecked from her eyes. She clutched his hand.
“I am so scared, Durvesh. What will I do if something happens to you?”
“If it does, I want you to make me a promise.”
“Yes. Please, remarry. Don’t waste your life on me anymore. Move on.”
Sobs tore themselves out of her body as he held her tight. Their tears mingling together, like their sorrow and fear.
After a while, she composed herself and whispered. “We must stay positive. Is Chotelal confident about the shift timings?”
“Yes, he has been here for a long time. He knows the prison routine inside out.”
“Don’t forget to apply for a conjugal visit.”
“Noted. Let us go over it one more time…”
Later that evening in the yard, Chotelal said.
“I found a solution to our problem.”
“As long as it not dangerous for you.”
“You can’t kill a dying man, son. I have committed many bad…heck evil deeds in my life. This act may be my chance at penance, Durvesh.”
Chapter 8: Hello…1…2…3.
D.N. Road, 9th December 2000.
Charchika stepped out of her newsroom to the STD/PCO booth. She dug out a one-rupee coin from her bag and inserted it in the slot.
“I have a tip for you…”
Mission accomplished, she returned and logged into her desktop. She noticed a new email from her informant, a mole in Bhumi’s office. He, at great risk, had managed to get copies of Bhumi’s personal bank account statements.
Bingo! Proof against Bhumi.
The early statement hinted at an anaemic bank balance, but the figure in the current records was a healthy total. The incoming deposits were from a charity account. The same charity account she operated for saving the planet.
Who is saving whom?
Detecting a whiff of cigarette smoke, she picked up the phone receiver and pretended to speak.
“Ms. Shiney, what are your comments on your alleged affair with your spot-boy?”
She continued the charade till the air cleared.
Chapter 8: Conjugate me!
Arthur Jail, 10th December 2000.
The guards watched as the young woman waltzed into jail. After the security check, she greeted them. Placing her hand on the register while making an entry, she engaged them in light banter.
“Visitor for inmate number 100801, in the private room.”
A lot of hooting and teasing greeted this announcement.
“Booty call for Durvesh!” someone screamed.
“Durvesh bhai is going to get some!” said the other one.
Durvesh blushed. The guard slapped him on his back and winked at him.
With the door locked, the couple hugged, and she began to strip off her clothes with haste. Durvesh watched her with amusement.
“First time you’ve undressed so fast. It is almost as if you can’t wait to have me.”
“Durvesh, no time for jokes. The guards’ shift change is due in fifteen minutes. Let us do it fast.”
“At your service, madam.”
She rolled her eyes as she peeled off her kurta and threw it at him.
Soon, lost into a world of their own, the announcement, “Lunch to be served in 30 minutes” went unheard.
After it was over, Durvesh waited for his turn.
Chapter 9: A friend in need.
Arthur Jail, 10th December 2000.
Chotelal walked up to his rival gang’s table and glared at Bhantak, their leader.
“What are you staring at, egghead?” growled Bhantak.
“Nothing,” said Chotelal.
Say something. Or do something. But what?
Chotelal looked down at the plate in front of Bhantak, seeking inspiration. Eggs were on the menu today. Same cook, same uncooked runny eggs. They gave him an idea.
Here goes nothing.
“Bhantak, I wonder if the best part of you ran down your mama’s leg.”
“What do you mean?”
Chotelal gazed heavenwards, sighing. His gang shouted their appreciation, egging him on.
If this guy were a bit more intelligent, he would be a moron.
“What he means to say, boss, is you are dumb,” smirked the inmate, Makkhi, seated next to Bhantak.
“Are you insulting me, Chotelal?”
“No. I am commiserating with your mother. Bearing you must have been her biggest remorse.”
Bhantak looked at Makkhi, confused.
“He says not only are you stupid, but your mother regretted giving birth to you.”
A smirk on a smirk.
Bhantak stood up, shaking his fist and yelling. “Say, you are sorry, Chotelal.”
“I am sorry you were born, Bhantak.”
“This is it.”
Roaring, Bhantak threw the plate of eggs on Chotelal and flung him like a ragdoll on a nearby table. Plates and spoons clattered as Chotelal crashed into the table. His head hit its leg, his eyes closed, a last prayer on his lips. Chotelal’s gang retaliated, and soon a full-blown riot started. The two packs clashed against each other, using everything as a weapon. Some inmates ran in the direction of the yard, trying to escape.
Humans turned into savage beasts, again.
The guards rushed in. Chaos, everywhere.
Chapter 9: Egg on their faces.
Outside Arthur Jail gates, 10th December 2000.
The armed guard watched the proceeding with wariness in his eyes. The crowd had gathered in front of the jail. The white t-shirt clad supporters were carrying placards. Some read, ‘We Need Prison Reforms’ and ‘Global Warming is Near’. Their leader Bhumi was at the forefront.
The crew belonging to the Asia Book of Records scanned the supporters, making copious notes in their diaries.
The group marched before the jail, forming a muted queue. It was a surreal sight, the silent vigil. The protestors synchronizing their display of placards.
Another loud group headed their way, diverted his attention. They were shouting and booing, “Prisoners are savages. They don’t deserve our mercy.”
I hope the groups maintain their peace. There’s fish at home, and I don’t want to be late. Or, dead. Please, god.
His prayer fell on deaf ears. As soon as the noisy group approached, they started pelting the others with rotten eggs and tomatoes.
“This is what you and your reforms mean to us. You stink!” they screamed.
An egg landed on Bhumi’s face and dripped all over her pristine white shirt.
“Ugh, gross,” she cried, covering her face from the impending egg attacks.
Charchika watched it unfold while her cameraperson snapped away. It came down to blows. People were screaming and hurling eggs and abuses at each other.
The guards rushed in. Chaos, everywhere.
Chapter 10: Stop the press!
D.N. Road, 10th December 2000.
“Charchika, my favourite person!” said Showmick. “What a scoop, girlie! You have unearthed a nest of vipers. That, too, on your last day of work. Stupendous work. Ms. Bhumi is left with egg on her face, literally and figuratively.”
He pointed at a front-page photograph of an egg-on-her-face Bhumi. The headlines read, ‘CEO of MOTHEaRth Inc. arrested in an embezzling scandal’. It was under Charchika’s byline.
“I’m so happy I can hug you,” said Showmick.
He continued. “If you return to the city, let me know. A job offer will await you.”
“Sir, thank you. I learnt so much by working in your newspaper.”
“Keep in touch, Charchika!”
A smile creased my face as I boarded the train to get home. When I reached, I sprawled all over my sofa and switched on the television. It was an exciting day.
“Here is your omelette and toast. Just the way you love it, my shona mona.”
I turned around.
“Thanks. I must compliment you. My salwar-kameez suited you more than it did me. You made a far better ME than me!”
Durvesh laughed as he took Charchika in his arms.
My shona. Thank you for everything. I never thought we could carry it off. Right from the start, your execution was flawless. When you distracted the guards and scribbled two entries in the daily log. Or when I changed into the extra set of clothes, you had sneaked in.”
“To the time when relying on the change in guards, we snuck out, one after the other. I was sure they would catch us!”
“But, it was poetry in motion. And, lest we forget, the whole caper was Chotelalji’s brainwave. He paid the highest price for it, Charchika. His sacrifice will remain unforgettable.”
“True. But you need to break an egg to make an omelette, don’t you?”
The television reporter screeched, “Breaking news. A prison break is being reported from Arthur Jail. An inmate, Durvesh taking advantage of the prison riot, escaped. Another inmate died…”
With Durvesh’s arms around her, Charchika began eating.
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