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BOOK TALK: THIS UNQUIET LAND … by Barkha Dutt

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THIS UNQUIET LAND

(STORIES FROM INDIA’S FAULT LINES)

By Barkha Dutt

(Published in 2016)

Publisher: Aleph

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about

    There is an old saying. ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.’ I think the saying fits in quite well in this case as you’ll come across many lives in this book.

    Barkha began working in 1994 for a news show that was originally broadcasted on Doordarshan. Her entry into journalism coincided with the birth of private TV. But, then, why this book all of a sudden? Showcasing India’s fault lines that runs deep and wide. Some of them even go back, centuries. The book is some three hundred plus pages. Where, she has selected certain topics, that have been haunting India for quite some time now. And these topics have even besmirched India’s reputation abroad. Basically she has handpicked issues that she came across during her career as a journalist. And around those issues the book spreads like a Banyan tree, but without any storyline. Hence it is difficult to summarise or even write a synopsis. However, what I’ve attempted here for you is, the trait of the book. Along with its central points that will give a sense of what the book is all about.

    The book spins around issues and the issues spin around Barkha. It has a gamut of aspects—starting right from her childhood, including parents, education, career, enthusiasm and even frustration. But most of the time … it is India’s helplessness. So, not a very superlative narrative for the country I would say. But I guess it can’t be helped. Because, for most journalists the uncompromising tenet is to first broadcast the negatives comprehensively, and beyond that if the time permits a few positive outlines too. Remember by broadcasting achievements you don’t get as many eyeballs as you get by broadcasting disasters. To substantiate the point Barkha quotes a VIP who says—‘India is a country that moves from headlines to headlines.’ Of course sensational ones. 

     The central theme of the book perambulates around, the last hundred years of India. One could call it the not-so-recent as well as the recent events of India. But then, while cruising through the book one does get a stale feeling, as if you’re zipping through some old newspaper columns or an old magazine article in staccato effect. Certain pages get you a feel as if you’re negotiating a long prose, though well described but high on verbosity. And what really keeps you charged during such narrations, are things that you don’t know, and that too, within what you know and also what goes on behind the scene. Many of us know a lot about the Kargil war through electronic and print media. Yet, we may not know, how important a role, late Mr Brajesh Mishra played in solving the crisis. Or we may have heard about Bhanvari Devi rape case in Rajasthan. But we may not know that ‘Bhanvari Devi’ was the starting point in the rape history of India where the other end was ‘Nirbhaya.’ The title covers the following chapters. Where, each chapter appears to be a short book in itself.

    PLACE OF WOMEN:  the chapter is almost like the rape history of modern India. The description below is about Bhanvari Devi and how ghastly.

     ‘Post rape: ‘Back at the police station, she was asked to strip and leave her ghagra behind as evidence. It was past midnight when she made her way home draped in the thin cloth of her husband’s turban.’ she picks the narration from Bhanwari Devi rape case of Rajasthan and links it up with Nirbhaya.

    In between, the lady author also spreads across to other rape cases, that had figured in various headlines during all these years. At times the narration appears as a memoir with a lot of emphasis on the sufferings of Indian women vis-a-vis the unceasing tyranny of the Indian men. Something, that is even otherwise known to most Indians. But then she doesn’t really relay any out-of-the-box suggestions, to at least dampen the malaise. She gives a good account of a lady journalist. Problems she faced while commencing her career. And in all of that, she juggles quite well with the words but the content doesn’t seem to be very uncommon. In certain pages sentences are long. But then they are vivid and to the point. The book has a tilt towards feminism which is quite obvious.

     It’s high on lexicon for an average reader, who might have to Google more often, to keep cruising. Therefore, the target audience is clearly the elite. But shouldn’t books with such historical sparks be, in easy read format? She has dug out some exhaustive statistics on females of India, especially, working women, and their sexual harassment.

    The book has a striking hard cover. The title is appropriate and gets further substantiated by a pin pointing sub title that says—STORIES FROM INDIA’S FAULT LINES. It is well presented in terms of font and flow. But it is still not a very moving book. As it swings between, diverse chapters and the personal memoir and does not have a linear penetrating plot. And it goes on and on. Sure intermittently it has interesting frills. As a messenger she has reported the happenings in the most erudite style, but has not presented too much of her own view points. She also touches upon the Gulabi gang of Uttar Pradesh that once operated in full flow. At places the narration is quite pungent when you compare it with the topic. Chapter deals with women’s issues, especially rape where it also cites three other cases. But then there are no incites or suggestions to solve the menace. She also goes on to describe the methodology of women politicians and about the callousness of women officers who are not sensitive to women’s cause. Superwoman versus supermom is comparison she draws quite artfully.

THE COST OF WAR

    This chapter by and large takes you through the sad tale of Kargil War. During the war Barkha was often seen near the the LOC. It was well covered by the channel she was working for, then. I’m sure. She must be carrying evocative memories about it. Such memories don’t die. Rather, you carry them to your grave. In this chapter, she even goes on to describe the role of Brajesh Misra, principal secretary and national security advisor to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in quite a detail, which you won’t come to know unless you read the book. She even elucidates the role that the diplomats of India played in bringing the war to an end, together with the balancing act of the US. She throws up some good war statistics. But she could have vented her views more ferociously. The chapter has a lot of stuff from ground zero.

    It fleshes out some good war statistics. It also hazily talks about gun configurations. The chapter explicates extensively, about the various wars with Pakistan and even the border skirmishes with China. She mixes the blend of her career and the Kargil war quite efficiently. For the general public doesn’t know what all goes on behind the scene and this is where she makes a killing. Excellent and moving description about martyr’s cremation.

     The sentence that moved me was, ‘And so in Kargil without snow shoes or proper high-altitude gear, Vishal and other first-time troops literally crawled their way up to peaks as high as 18,000 feet, where the temperature slipped to as much as ten degrees below zero to fight for the honour of their platoons and regiments.’

TERROR IN OUR TIME

    The chapter covers the gory parliament attack of 2001. It also gives a good account of, the history of terrorism in modern India. In this the lady author covers selected terrorist attacks. She gives a wide coverage of 26/11 Mumbai attack, describes Ajmal Kasab’s episode in detail. And how, in that moment of disaster, communities come together in Mumbai’s Zaveri bazaar. Narration is good and content is extensive. She also sketchily talks about farmer’s suicide. As a true messenger she reports whatever is happening in India. She talks about various issues without any solutions. Then she goes all over and even touches upon Sheena Bora murder case in page 95. She then even adds Samjhauta express and Malegaon blasts. A lot of it is the same and reverberates in your mind as news items of those times. But yes there are some finer points too, which were kept under the carpet, which is interesting. ‘Extremism is a bigger threat than terrorism’ she hears from another VIP.

    But in the ultimate analysis I would ask. If such books even reach the think tank of the dispensation to act upon, or they just get into their personal libraries and sit their as literary accolades. She further makes an important point–200 districts have Maoist movement—India’s red corridor. Where, she richochet’s some good statistics. And gives a good hidden perspective of India, overall.

IN THE NAME OF GOD

    She covers Gujarat riots together along with with the rapes that happened in 2002. A lot of it is a recount of recent history. How kar-sewaks were murdered and Muslims were massacred as a consequence of that. But she nowhere blames the media for reporting inflammable stuff. Rather she rarely points a finger at the media. She covers Gujarat riots in great detail but has less to say about the sentiments of the relatives of the kar-sewaks who were murdered in Godara. The narration appears as catchy news reports without author’s own modulation. She talks about the strong points of Indira Gandhi. She covers Babri Masjid demolition too. And compares the trinity– Narsimha Rao, Rajiv Gandi and Rahul Gandhi

A CHRONICLE OF KASHMIR

    Barkha mentions the minute India released Maulana Masoor Azhar, Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed on 31.12.99 for hijacking IC-814 India turned into a soft state. Farooq Abdullah who was then the Chief Minister of J&K vehemently protested this. She narrates further, ‘the minute we gave in, India became a soft state; an apoplectic Farooq Abdullah, who was chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir during the hijacking of IC-814, would tell me later. He phoned L.K. Advani, the then home minister, to vehemently oppose the release of terrorist.’ … She doesn’t hesitate in exposing India’s weakness. Then she covers the 1st suicide attack of the valley. Even harps about countries spreading terrorism, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. She of course has a lifelong obsession about J&K and doesn’t forget to talk about Nehru’s background and the birth and growth of JKLF. An interesting point that she makes is:

    ‘A month later in September, the prevaricating Maharaja Hari Singh made an offer of accession to India for the very first time. Nehru stunned him by making the deal conditional on the release of Sheikh Abdullah from jail. The maharaja refused.’ She also goes on to describe Patel’s conversation with Nehru. And of course she has described J&K’s constitutional history quite well and has also dealt with the malaise of Kashmir in detail.

OF POLITICAL DYNASTS, JUGGERANUTS AND MAVERICKS

    The chapter is full of anecdotal tales which the readers would love reading. It covers lady author’s encounter with various national and international leaders and even there close relatives. Where, it starts from Priyanka, Raga (Rahul Gandhi) and even Robert Vadhra. Barkha is curt and brusque when she wants to be. She compares Modi with Gandhis only to say, ‘Modi was determined to overthrow the political royalty of the Gandhis. He was a citizen who had come to take the kingdom.’ She disparages Raga, who had the luxury of several years of authority without any responsibility. But he neither became a minister in the government nor took charge of the party.

    She then goes on to describe the sum and substance of Arvind Kejriwal and at one point even draws a comparison between him and Raga. Both are youthful men, in their early forties—where, Arvind is acutely educated, and has a self achieved track record.

    Another interesting point that she makes is about Indira Gandhi under whose leadership Congress as an institution collapsed. She then spreads across to various political leaders of India and their parties. Her description about Mani Shankar Aiyar is engrossing. And there is a good compilation of political barbs. And of course how could she leave out Dr Manmohan Singh. L. K. Advani couldn’t have been left out either with his stories about Babri Masjid and his visit to Jinnah’s grave.

    The interesting comparision she draws is in between the ‘Chaiwala’ and the ‘Mufflerman’ (Namo and Arvind Kejriwal). Talks about ‘Achhe Din’ and ‘Make in India.’

    She opines about Modi, ‘I have always felt, in the many years that I have observed him, that Modi’s ambitions are personal not ideological.’

    I personally feel her overexposure to the affairs of Pakistan and Kashmir in some ways narrowed her journalistic prowess. She got branded. And that reflects in the book also. But then exposure is not always in your hands. She covers Nawaz Sharif and his delegation in the US, and his calling Manmohan Singh a ‘Dehati Aurat.’—that she clarifies.

    She talks about AAP party at length and the anti corruption movement.

A SOCIETY IN FLUX

    This chapter flows all over. It has no direction or plot. Whatever she felt … she has written about. And is quite a contrast to the previous chapters. I guess she wanted to close the book now. India is prone to disasters, so she talks about the Nagapattinam Tsunami of 2004, in Tamil Nadu which she had covered. She describes Ambedkar’s conversion ceremony to Buddhism. Where, she doesn’t forget to remind what Mahatma Gandhi had to say about conversion

    ‘I am against conversion, whether it is known as shuddhi by Hindus, tabligh by Mussalmans, or proselytizing by Christians.’

    Then she covers certain topics that had made it to the headlines. She of course digs into the history of India and fetches out things she had not come across in her career. She describes the pliant middle class of India. Talks a bit about the Modern School, where she had studied. Remembers, the Mandal agitation of 1992, and also brushes past IPL, Sunanda Pushkar and even Lalit Modi.

    Overall, a valuable read. Only if you’re interested in knowing how India operates or rather how the government of the day operates.

*****

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Share it if you like it

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****

 

 

 

 

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POETRY: GLAMOUR VS HONOUR … in honour of defence forces

Copyright@shravancharitymission

SOLDIER 3 SOLDIERSOLDIER1

GLAMOUR VS HONOUR

(In honour of defence forces)

Away from the glamour and in a corner,

I lead a life of honour,

Where I defend my motherland,

While you claim all the glamour.

*

For me my motherland is my honour,

About which there is no clamour,

Where in the line of control,

I often display my valorous banner.

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And when I stand in the border alone,

I find it is bereft of any glamour,

Where in the dredge and murk,

I defend my honour,

While you sleep at home,

In those serene corners.

*

When I enter the martyr’s memorial,

I find it is decorated with honour,

But there is no glamour.

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And one day when honour met glamour,

Glamour had lots to clamour,

But only about glamour,

For glamour felt,

Honour had not made glamour,

But glamour had made honour,

But I didn’t realise,

Without honour there isn’t any glamour.

*

Honour returns disillusioned,

As glamour refuses honour’s honour,

And while keeping a watch at the LOC,

The soldier in me clamours,

About the dishonour by glamour.

*

But the call of duty,

Sweeps aside all the dishonour,

Where once again,

In the pitching sun, hitting rain,

and frosty cold,

I embark upon my duty,

To defend my my motherland,

For let my dues remain my dues for my needy countrymen.

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And the “honour” of my nation is my “soldier,”

 And the glamour–anything that dishonours my “soldier.”

***

By Kamlesh Tripathi

*

https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

*

Share it if you like it

*

Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases. Should you wish to donate for the cause the bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE

(Archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)  

ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY

(Archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture)

AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES

(Launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2014)

REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD

(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. Book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)

TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN

Story of an Indian salesman who is lowly qualified but fights his ways through uncertainities to reach the top. A good read for all salesmen. Now available in Amazon.com

(CAN BE BOUGHT FROM ON LINE BOOK STORES OR WRITE TO US FOR COPIES)

*****

 

SARBJIT SINGH’S SISTER RECOUNTS THE 3 TIMES SHE MET HIM IN 23 YEARS BEFORE HE DIED IN 2013

Copyright@shravancharitymission

By Kamlesh Tripathi

New Doc 67_1New Doc 68_1

This is a nostalgic account narrated by Dalbir Singh, elder sister of Sarbjit Singh:

  • Sarbjit Singh had to spend 23 years in a Pakistani prison for a small mistake he committed unknowingly, and eventually he was murdered there—He headed in the wrong direction, towards Pakistan, at night after working in his fields located close to the LOC in Punjab and was nabbed by Pakistani rangers.
  • It is an emotional account of a sister; and pixels well about their relationship.
  • Dalbir Singh, Sarabjit’s elder sister considered him as her son. And after Sarabjit was whisked away by Pakistani authorities for 23 years she slept on the floor to please her God for his safe return.
  • It is said; sometimes there is success in defeat and sometimes there is defeat in success—it was success in defeat for Dalbir. For one cannot fathom the turbulence Dalbir must have undergone for 23 long years, each time blaming only herself that she hasn’t done enough to save her brother and she must continue with bigger and untiring efforts—so that was her success; and in the end not being able to save Sarbjit, her defeat.
  • I liked the account as it reminded me of my defeat, when I too could not save my ailing son from cancer, but like Dalbir the untiring  efforts that me and my family had put in gave a whiff of success. For in life one should only try his best and not get intimidated by what is beyond one’s capacity.
  • It also gives an account of how Indian prisoners are treated in Pakistani prisons.

  • Briefly describes how Indian prisoners are treated in Pakistani prisons.
  • Soon to be released as a film.

TOI- 26.5.15

SARBJIT SINGH’S SISTER RECOUNTS THE 3 TIMES SHE MET HIM IN 23 YEARS BEFORE HE DIED IN 2013

I am now determined to tell the world the real story of Sarbjit

Dalbir Singh, 61, is the older sister of Sarbjit Singh, a farmer from Bhikhiwind in Punjab (just 5 kms from the the Indo-Pakistan border). He by mistake crossed over in 1990 while farming, got mistaken as an Indian spy, was given capital punishment in 1991, but was not hanged. He was kept in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore for 23 years, before he was killed by inmates a few days after the death of Afzal Guru in India. During his 23 years in jail, his older sister Dalbir Singh who treated him more like her son than her brother, made it her life’s agenda to get him released. While she finally did not succeed, she is determined to reach his real story to the world through a film being made based on his life. The film will be directed by Omung Kumar, the National Award-winning director of Mary Kom. Dalbir Singh met her brother only three times in those 23 years. She opens up to us for the first time after her brother’s death in 2013 and recounts the three times she met her brother in jail. Excerpts:

Did instance like the Kargil War affect you?

At the time of Kargil, I got very scared. There is a nearby village called Khasa, where many army officers live. I went to meet them and asked Brigadier sahab, given the situation how it would affect the way Pakistan would treat our prisoners. I was scared that if there would be war, how would the prisoners come out? I met another Brigadier who told me that if there would be war, we would open up the jail and release the prisoners, so that an innocent man should not get bombed and die in jail. But he didn’t know what the Pakistanis would do. We would feel scared that Khuda na kare, if there was a bomb thrown in jail, how would he be able to run? My heart would sink if there was a flood or earthquake in Lahore.

How did Sarbjit actually cross over to Pakistan?

Our village is just about 4-5 kms from the border. I myself have gone many times to the other side while working together with the women from the other side on our fields. We would be working on our respective fields and sometimes, even eat a meal together with the Pakistani brothers and sisters on the other side.

Gradually and slowly, the situation got bad to worse and they first put a rough line to segregate a boundary and then, there were some fundamentalists on both sides who did not have good thoughts. Though I believe that ours were not as negative as the people on the other side. There would be things smuggled in across the borders, but the women had good behaviour towards each other and there was no enemity. However, if there was anybody who went the other side by mistake, they would be caught and put behind bars termed as ‘spies’. That night, we had finished our dinner when a friend of Sarbjit came and took him to the fields to work. The field was right next to the border. As is usually the case in Punjab, the men drink and then work. Sarbjit and his friend too had their full share of drinks and then, Sarbjit put his axe on his shoulder and not realising which direction he was walking, he walked into the Pakistan side. At that time, there was not even a wire to show the borderline. He was caught and blindfolded and only the next morning, he realised that he was in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail, accused of being an Indian spy by the name of Manjit Singh. Sarbjit was very fond of playing kabaddi and he would often tell me, ‘You wait and see. One day the world will know me as this famous pahelwan.’ I didn’t know then that he would one day become world famous, but not as a kabaddi player. When Sarabjit suddenly disappeared, I initially thought that he must have been picked up by a terrorist group. But it was after nine months, later when he was first presented in the Pakistani courts that he wrote a letter to me telling us how he had been arrested accused of being a man called Manjit Singh, who was allegedly behind four bomb blasts. He asked to please get Shri Akhand Sahib path done. After that in every subsequent letter; he wrote to me details of what he went through. I have all his letters kept in a big bag with me. On August 15, 1991, he was held guilty and sentenced to be hanged. But for so many years, they neither released him nor hanged him despite my making so many appeals and requests for his forgiveness, even though he had committed no crime.

Why was it difficult for you to meet him?

I did not even have a passport, but right from 1990, I tried a lot to go but I never got the permission. At times, I would read in the newspapers that yes, his family can come and meet him, but then there was a call from Pakistan that there was news printed there that they would not grant us permission. Finally I met Rahul Gandhi and took his help to get the visa for me and finally got the visa along with my husband, Sarbjit’s wife and his two daughters Swapandeep and Poonam (Swapandeep was adopted by Dalbir as she does not have kids of her own). While we got the visa and reached Lahore, we were still not allowed to meet him. The jail authorities would say that they had not got permission from Islamabad and Islamabad would say that Lahore had not given the permission. After nine days of feeling mentally tortured, living in Gurudwara Dera Sahib there, I decided to appeal in the High Court. The judge was very kind and he immediately granted permission. It was too late that day, but the next day on April 23, 2008, we all went to jail to see Sarbjit.

What happened in jail that day?

He had been kept in a tiny room where you could hardly stand up with tall walls outside with a big lock. A mother can easily recognise her son. As soon as they opened the door to his room for us to go inside, I recognised him. He was standing at an angle and seeing him, my heart was sinking. His eyesight had gone weak and he wore a broken pair of glasses tied with a thread to hold them together: I told him, ‘At least you could have worn proper glasses.’ He said, ‘I got a lot of gaalis to even get this.’ I remembered that in one of his letters to me, he had written how his eyes burn and itch but the authorities would abuse and harass him, but not give him medicines and glasses. I wanted to hug him but I was not allowed to do so even once, so I held his hand and sat down on the other side of the bars next to him. I held his hands and told him, “Sarbjit, I wish I could have turned blind before seeing you like this.’ I cried profusely so much so, that I fell down holding the bars and got hurt in my forehead. That day knowing we were coming to meet him, he had requested the jail authorities to allow him some water, cold drink and ingredients for tea, as he wanted to make tea for me and serve me. They had given him a stove and he had made tea himself, sticking his hands out of the bars, and then kept it in a flask to serve us later. When I fell down, he got hassled and quickly gave me water and cold drink. Most of the 48 minutes went into crying, but fortunately he met his daughters and we talked a little about his case. I also tied him rakhi and he said, ‘I have nothing to give you today.’ He had tears in his eyes, but he tried to hide them from me even though I knew. I fed him with a piece of barfi like I always did and he bit my hand with his teeth. He said, ‘You have come to give me strength, then why are you scared?’ He recognised his daughters as he had seen their pictures through the newspaper reports. He told me how the Indian prisoners would send him newspaper cuttings hidden behind his rotis. And these he stored in the register he had kept. At that time he was sure he would come back. The one regret that I had was that I was not allowed to hug him.

What was his jail like?

There was no fan inside but outside for us, there was a small fan kept. Inside his room, he had a small pot of water with which he had to manage for the whole day, his bathing, washing clothes, using the washroom or drinking.

Did you visit him again?

I met him again in 2011, when he showed me a diary and register, where he said that he had written every word of what had happened to him in those many years. I wanted that diary after he died, as I wanted everyone to know what he went through in jail, but it was not given to me. When his body came in 2013, only that clay pot came with it. I got to meet him for three hours in 2011. And on this visit, I went to visit him twice. Unlike the last visit, this time he had not taken his bath, not prepared anything for me and looked indifferent. He was quiet and I asked him what happened? He said, ‘Didi, for many days, I don’t even eat or sleep or take a bath and I keep thinking why I am in this state and I keep thinking whether I will come back or not. I can’t even tell you what I go through here.’ I felt that if he kept thinking like that, he would get mentally ill. I summed up strength to give him some and wanted to tie many rakhis that I had taken from here, many of which had been given to me by women in the village. He said, ‘Chalo, you give them to me. I will keep tying it up slowly later.’ I said, ‘No, why are you talking like this? You will be with me in our aangan on the next rakhi.’ It’s only when I visited him for the second time that he was waiting for me, ready to serve me lassi that he had made mixing curd and water and the jail dal. He knew that I was the only one he could tell and told me how they would abuse Indians a lot there. If you ask the jail authorities for medicines or glasses or water, they would say, ‘Aaj bahar nikale? Aaj paani pilaye hi dete hain tumhe.’ He said, ‘Sometimes, they would beat me, sometimes I managed by begging them for forgiveness.’

Was it ever proven that Sarbjit had been convicted wrongly?

The sole witness of the Pakistani police Shaukat Ali was once interviewed by an Indian journalist, who managed to find him there and he said, ‘I don’t know whether Sarbjit has done it and whether he is Manjit or Sarbjit. Those days, my father had died and the police had asked me to say that Sarbjit was Manjit and that he had committed the bomb blasts in court and I said it.’

How did he finally die?

Over the years, there were many times when I would wonder if he would ever come back, but then again, I would meet people and get assured that he would come back. I had kept all the navratras, slept on the floor for 23 years, but it was after meeting SM Krishnaji, the External Affairs minister, that I felt most assured that Sarbjit would be released for sure. I don’t know from where I got the strength to fight, but I was determined and had decided that I would fight, come what may. But I quickly trust people and start feeling they are my own, but got cheated each time. Before Sheikh sahab, all the lawyers who represented us took the money from us, but cheated us in court. They did not even present our case of him not being Manjit even though they had the papers proving that. Afzal Guru had been hanged in India a couple of days before Sarbjit was attacked in prison. We learnt that there was a man who would go inside jail and supply sharpened spoons and knives made from sandooks inside jail to the prisoners there. I feel the Pakistani prisoners there took Afzal’s revenge by killing Sarabjit. I was with Swapandeep the day he was attacked. I had been having a severe back problem for two days and was in terrible pain. I could not sleep and was restless when suddenly I got a call from Pakistan telling me how he had been attacked. I screamed and woke up Swapandeep who was sleeping, but I thought we would still be able to treat him and get him back alive. It’s only when I got his body in the hospital in Lahore that I finally broke down and realised that I had lost my son forever: Uss pal meri umeed bhi khatam ho gayi aur intezaar bhi.

Are you free now?

No, I try but I can never forget Sarbjit. I wish he had come back. For 23 years, my only goal was to get him released. But now, I want people to know who he actually was. What happened with Sarbjit inside jail? What happens to Indians inside Pakistani jails? There is an innocent Pakistani prisoner in Tihar, who has paralysis, that Sarbjit would tell me about. Through this film, I want a message to go to all. I could not bring back Sarbjit, but I hope that this Pakistani child in Tihar is released.

Priya.Gupta@timesgroup.com