Friday, December 24, 2010

An excerpt from my novel: "The Inheritance"

It was seven in the morning. The Mumbai sun was already a bright yellow ball in the sky. The sweltering heat of the day was yet to set in. This was the time of the day for the morning exercise routine of the prisoners lodged in the heavily guarded Bombay Central Prison located near Sat Rasta in the southern part of the city. Space was at a premium in this prison, more popularly known as Arthur Road Jail for reasons lost in history, and prisoners looked forward to their thirty minutes limited outdoors opportunity in the expanse of the courtyard.

Built to accommodate one thousand and seventy four prisoners, the Arthur Road Jail currently housed three thousand and forty five inmates. The cell – more like a dormitory – in which Akshay Joshi was lodged had one hundred and eighty undertrial prisoners crammed into it – it had been designed to house just fifty.

Akshay Joshi had spent his nights in the jail trying to sleep in awkward positions, without much success. He already had enough accumulated sleep in his muddled up his brain to last several lifetimes. He looked forward to the illusion of space the morning release into the courtyard gave him.

Akshay Joshi was a mere shadow of the man he had been until a few days ago. Prison had been a revelation. The world here was as far removed from the life of glamour and luxury that he had been accustomed to as desert sands were from mountain glaciers. Apart from the heat and dirt and crowd and cramped spaces, it was the lack of privacy that was killing. Also demeaning and disgusting was the very close company of some of the worst dregs and scum of society – for whom the film actor Akshay Joshi was an object of curiosity, pity, mirth and ridicule. Akshay looked forward to the day his expensive lawyers would get him bailed out from this hell hole.

That day was not far away, he had been promised by his legal team.

Now, as Akshay was led by the guard to the courtyard adjacent to the jail barracks that housed his cell for his thirty minutes exercise opportunity, this bright and sunny morning in Mumbai, he prayed that he would soon be able to breathe the fresh air of freedom. As soon as he was out of this hell called Arthur Road Jail he would be able to focus his energies and resources on extricating himself from the attempt to murder charge that had been slapped on him. He would buy his freedom with all the money he had, if it came to that – but he would not return to this cesspool.

And he would use all the resources available to Satinder Singh also to get out of this mess – his lover Satinder would help Akshay stay out of jail. That was the least he could do. Otherwise, thought Akshay grimly, he would make sure that he dragged Satinder down with him…

The first thing that struck Akshay Joshi as he entered the small exercise courtyard and heard the clang of the gate being locked behind him by the jail guard, was that it was unusually empty. Normally, about one hundred jail inmates were released into this courtyard every morning, to walk around and stretch their limbs and steal a smoke from the cigarettes that had been surreptitiously smuggled into the prison premises by enterprising friends and associates of some of the prisoners.

Today there was nobody in the courtyard. Not a single soul.

Akshay wheeled around to stare at the gate through which he had entered the courtyard. It had been firmly locked by the guard who had escorted Akshay from his prison cell. The guard was nowhere in sight.

A cold hand clutched at Akshay Joshi’s heart.

His head spinning, Akshay began stumbling around the courtyard, not quite sure why. He just needed to be in motion – he did not want his brain to register the forebodings that were quickly pushing themselves into it, numbing his mind with dread.

The forebodings were not misplaced.

Seemingly out of nowhere four men appeared. Akshay knew two of them. One had been arrested for the rape and murder of two prostitutes in the slums of Dharavi. Another of the men had, it was alleged, wiped out a family of five, including three children, with an axe, in an act of vengeance for some past slight, real or imagined.

The other two men looked equally menacing. Their faces were impassive as they slowly approached Akshay.

The truth hit him with the force of a truck travelling at a hundred miles an hour. These men – and the guards – in fact the whole messed up prison establishment, had been paid off to eliminate him…

Akshay turned and ran from the four men with death imprinted on their faces. He ran round and round the courtyard in a blind frenzy of motion and action until he collapsed in a heap on the ground – already half dead from sheer exhaustion and gut wrenching fear.

The four men stood in a tight circle around him. Then one of the men raised his booted leg and kicked Akshay Joshi violently in the head. Another boot smashed into his groin. Then another boot smashed into Akshay’s writhing body. And another.

Akshay Joshi spent his last three minutes on this earth facing unremitting and cascading violence that ripped him apart from inside. He died in unimaginable pain.