That's Arundhati, shot by me as we sailed into the historic port of Dubrovnik, Croatia..
This appeared in The Week....
Letter from the gallows….
Since I am not Omar Abdullah, I don’t have to be politically correct, incorrect, or even political. The case of Afzal Guru’s hanging is far too complex for any and everybody to jump in with an opinion. But, as a woman, wife and mother , I was deeply concerned about Tabassum ( Afzal’s wife ) who received what would be the last communication ( the rejection of his mercy petition) about her husband at 10. 20 am , hours after her husband was hanged. The letter was delivered to her home in Sopara by John Samuel, the Post Master General of Jammu & Kashmir Circle. Afzal’s hanging (code named Operation 3 Star ), was conducted on a Saturday. Afzal, the condemned- to- die prisoner, wrote a farewell letter to his wife and son (Ghalib) on Friday night, after he was told he would be hanged the next morning. The letter ( written in Urdu) was posted to the woman who went from being a wife to widow without even knowing when or how or why it happened. This action by the authorites has been described as ‘inhuman’, with arguments that say Afzal’s family members should have been allowed a final meeting. The State insists all procedures were adhered to as per the rule book (“ Secrecy necessary or the State cannot execute”). So be it. It’s a done deal now. What’s the point of quoting from rule books and jail manuals. The man has been hanged. Afzal Guru is dead.
But Tabassum is alive.Unauthorised and unauthenticated leaks about the contents of this important letter suggest Afzal wrote his aakhri khat most thoughtfully. Apparently, he advised his wife to remain calm and dignified, to hold her head high and raise their son with the special responsibility her position demands. There is a great deal of poignancy in those words. Afzal must surely have known the historic value of that final letter. And I ask myself, how does anybody frame such a letter knowing it will inevitably be in the public domain now and forever? What about the emotions of the writer who is composing the text, not just for a beloved to whom he is bidding goodbye….but for the prying eyes of the world? For posterity? Imagine the inconceivable tragedy of that moment : A man knows the gallows await him at dawn. He has but a few short hours left in this world. He is asked if he has any final wishes – something he’d like to eat, maybe? A favourite dish ( I find this the most absurd of all the procedures listed in jail manuals). Which human being can think of food at such a time? Not even a glutton. Well, the ironies continue to pile up… the condemned man is offered treats as he prepares to die. Afzal asks for a paper and pen, instead. The world shall never ever know what went through his mind as the countdown began. Most prisoners turn to prayer. Afzal also turned to his wife…
And what of her emotional state when she received a letter from beyond the grave? Did she tear it open? Push it away? Did her tears prevent her from reading it? Perhaps, she felt cheated and angry ?Maybe her rage at what had happened superseded every other feeling? Did she collapse? Faint? Stop eating? Weep uncontrollably? Hug her loved ones? Lock herself into a room ? Block out the pain somehow? Go into denial? Spent quiet time with her son? Mourn in the privacy that only the dark offers? Seek solace in the scriptures? Contemplate her bleak future? Remind herself that the inquisitive eyes of the watching world would be boring holes into her during her hour of grief? And that she was duty bound to honour the memory of her dead husband by not breaking down in public? I have tried to put myself in Tabassum’s place and ask what I would have done. It is a useless, meaningless, exercise. There are no answers. No rules. No manuals. In any case,how many women in the world have been in Tabassum’s extraordinary position and been informed about their husband’s hanging… that too, 50 hours after it has taken place? Was Tabassum mentally prepared for such an eventuality? Can any wife be ‘prepared’ for her husband’s death?
What happens to Tabassum and Ghalib now that Afzal Guru is dead? Philosophers will say they will eventually move on… life will go on… as it must. Tabassum and Ghalib will become footnotes in history, regardless of any fresh development in their lives. Soon , the world will forget. And the name of Afzal Guru may cease to interest even those who are trying hard to keep it alive right now. By this time next year, most people will ask, “ Tabassum? Who’s she?”
Life is indeed fragile, uncertain and precious. Cruel, too.