I am lost in deep thought. That’s what I do now-a-days…think. How did I end up here, in this 8×6 cell? There are no windows. The walls and ceiling are bare; only a bulb glows near the ceiling, above the small steel-door entrance with a tiny, barred window that is shut from outside. I sleep on a cement slab at the far corner. A sentry gives me water in a disposable paper cup whenever I shout or bang the door.
I have lost track of time. I have lost track of how many days passed by after I landed in this country via sea route. I have lost track of the calendar after I was overpowered and arrested by the police.
I am cut off from the rest of the world. The area within these four walls is my world now. I don’t get to read a newspaper nor can I watch TV or listen in to radio…
The chain of my thoughts is broken. Wait, someone is calling my name…
…It is my mother, calling me for dinner. I shout that I will come later. I am busy playing with my friends. My life is going smoothly. Until…
…he came to me. He gave me some money and said that I will get more if I do what he says. I ask what I have to do. He says that I will have to attend school. I reply that I already attend one. He laughs and says I have to attend a different school. I agree. He leaves saying the classes start from the next day and gives me an address.
It really is like what he said, a different kind of school. There are no buildings; no classrooms. The teachers are not in trousers and shirt or dhoti and kurta, but in army fatigues. There are a few more teenagers like me. The teachers start shouting orders and make us fall in a file. We are ordered to march. Our learning started at that moment.
A year passed by. Our ‘batch’ is now fully trained. We have not been taught English, Hindi, Urdu, but a language of hatred. We have not been taught to read or write, but to wield assault guns and hand grenades. We have been told that we will soon have to give a ‘practical test’. We wait…
Our examination day has come. We report to our team leader. We are bundled into a motorboat. We are carrying our backpacks, filled with food for a few days and lot of arms and ammunition. On board the motor boat our leader gives us the details of our targets and our mission. We are told that we are soldiers of a holy war and our reward is heaven. We wait while the boat chugs on.
A couple of days later, in the dead of night, we land on the shores of our target. We march on while the boat vanishes into the darkness. We walk for a couple of hours. We halt in the dark shadows of some obscure street corner. Our leader instructs one final time and we split into teams and proceed towards our ‘targets’ for our ‘practical examination’.
The air is rent with staccato of machine gun fire and screams of people. The atmosphere is filled with blood and gore of our ‘targets’. The ‘test’ continued for several hours. My team mate and I are surprised to receive back gunfire. My mate takes several bullets and half of his chest is blown away. My gun falls silent as I exhaust all my clips. Before I can hurl a hand grenade a small posse of policemen pounce upon me. Minutes later, I find myself inside a police van and hours later inside this cell…thinking.
Have I passed? Have I come out in flying colours? Is my ‘practical examination’ a grand success? Unfortunately, my team leader is not alive to answer the questions. I heard he took a couple in his skull and died.
Before I was arrested and put in this cell, I saw the ‘result’ of my ‘practical examination’. There is no paper; no test tube, pipette or burette; no acids or alkalis; no computer aided drawings. Only blood, brains, bleeding limbs severed from bodies and viscera; wounded adults and children crying in pain; howls of ambulances, screams of policemen.
I am satisfied.
Or…am I? I am thinking.
I am not convinced that what I have done is right. Then why have I done it? Why have I allowed myself to be brainwashed? What have the ‘targets’ done to me that they got what they got? Have they harmed me in any way at any time?
No. Then, why?
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. A year passed by. The case against me has come to the court. This past year was worse than a nightmare for me. I could not sleep properly even on one night. Hunger eluded me. I lost taste for food. Everything reminded me of the ‘targets’; their blood, gore, brains and viscera, and above all their screams. I desperately shut my ears but the screams were emanating from inside my brain. I will surely go mad.
God, help me. I pray…and think…
I start questioning myself. When even a pin-prick gives us so much of pain, how could I ruthlessly pump bullet after bullet into human beings? How could I do this in the name of war, a holy war? How can an evil called war be holy? How did I expect to go to heaven by unleashing such unspeakable evil on innocent fellow humans? Which religion teaches or preaches such unspeakable evil? Which religious teacher teaches or preaches such unspeakable evil? Which religion do I belong to? Do fiends like me belong to any religion at all? How can genocide solve any problem? My eyes are opening up to what I have become. Is there any redemption for me?
God, help me…
The judge pounded his gavel on the bench marking the end of my trial. Two years elapsed since the carnage let loose by me.
I am found guilty. I am sentenced to death by hanging. I will not contest the judgement in higher courts. I deserve this and more.
It is wee hours of my execution. I am fed and clothed properly and pronounced to be in good health. Accompanied by prison officials and doctors, I walk the last walk of my life.
I would have loved to see my mom, dad, siblings and friends one last time. But it is good that they disowned me and refused to see me.
The words are reverberating in my ears and mind: “Holy war”, “Heaven”.
I smile. I do not deserve a place even in hell. I have sinned; against Almighty; against humanity. I do not deserve to populate this beautiful earth any longer. I must go.
But, if given a chance, what will I do to alleviate the cruel tragedy I inflicted upon hundreds? I cannot undo the monstrous act. I certainly cannot bring back the dead. I will serve their families in every which way till there is breath in my body. But …
I start climbing the few steps to the noose; my destination; my destiny. I am filled with remorse for what I have done, for what I have become.
Any last wish? I am speechless. I shake my head. A mask is pulled over my head. I can feel the noose being placed around my neck. I wait. I think.
Suddenly the boards beneath my feet give way. I drop several feet. The noose tightens around my neck. I choke. I fight for life-sustaining oxygen.
A last thought goes through my benumbed mind: “Holy war”, “Heaven”, “Hell”.
Then, black out…
by Shyam Sundar Bulusu