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How far would you go for the people you love?
As a child, I believed that all actions are categorized into two types. Right and wrong. Lying, stealing, cheating, hurting someone fall under the wrong category. Helping someone, respecting elders, making a person smile come under the right category. As the child in me grew, the actions weren’t so simple anymore. ‘Middle aged man stabs guy for molesting his daughter.’ ‘Teenager steals huge amount to pay for mother’s hospital bills.’ ‘Young woman indulges in prostitution to seek aid for dying sister.’ ‘Mother of rape victim tries to strangle attacker on being released from jail.’ It was difficult to fit these actions in either of the columns. How could I possibly call these people as criminals? They weren’t insane or a threat to the society. They didn’t have an enormous criminal record. They were ordinary people like me who could clearly distinguish between right and wrong. They hadn’t committed crimes for their own sake. They were merely trying to protect their loved ones. Had they crossed the boundary and gone too far? But when it comes to protecting your loved ones, how far is too far? How far would you go for the people you love? These questions kept lingering in my mind. And that’s how the world didn’t look so black and white anymore.
As a child, I believed that all actions are categorized into two types. Right and wrong. And then I discovered the third type…
She would never forget the reason why she started dancing in the first place. She was just six years old. She was hiding in the backyard, trying to muffle the loud noises. It was half past midnight. It was the time when the entire neighbourhood would fall asleep but her house would be wide awake. It was the time when he would come home, drunk and abusive. It was the time when he would show his monstrous side, the one that no one knew existed. For the world, he was the reputed surgeon. He was the noble man who could bring back people from the clutches of death. They praised him endlessly, gushed about his righteousness. They told her he was beyond greatness. They told her he wasn’t human. As she watched him beat her mother every night, she agreed. He wasn’t.
And so, as soon as the clock struck half past midnight, she would stay hidden in the backyard. She would wait for it to end. She would then rummage through the drawers for a first aid kit and bandage her mother’s arms. The two of them would sweep the floors clean, throw out the broken pieces of glass and turn the torture chamber into a ‘home’ again. But truth was, the four walls couldn’t have been less of a home to her. Home is supposed to be the place where you feel secure and she couldn’t have felt more unsafe there. For her, home was the sheltered backyard, where she slipped on her ballet shoes and put on music to drown the screams. Home was the place where she danced to her heart’s content, not caring about the rough gravel brushing against her toes. Home was the place where she transformed from a quiet, reserved girl to a graceful swan, gliding smoothly over the waters. For her, dance wasn’t just a hobby. It wasn’t just her passion, her ambition, her salvation. For her, dance was the breaths she took when there wasn’t any other reason for survival. Dance was breathing.
I walked into the interrogation room, shutting off all the events of the day. This was it. This was the place where I wasn’t supposed to think about the fact that my teenage daughter had just told me I didn’t understand her anymore. This was the place where I wasn’t supposed to ponder over her hurtful words,” You don’t feel like a father anymore. You just talk to me, the way you talk to the people you are questioning. Whenever I am answering, I feel like you are waiting to pounce on something I have done wrong.”
I remembered my own counter response. “But I hear what you say, don’t I? I always ask you what is going on in your life, about your college, your friends, your problems. I try to take out time for you, for our family. I hear everything you say, what more do you want?” I tried hard not to picture her face as she spoke the words which shattered my heart. “Maybe for once, I don’t want you to just hear me. I want you to listen.”
But this wasn’t the place where I was the confused, misunderstanding father. I was the person who had to deal with the criminals, in a firm and rough way. But what I saw inside shook me to the core. My criminals for today were completely different from the usual bunch. It was a group of three, looking scared yet determined. Two boys and a girl. The girl was weeping quietly as she rested her head on the shoulder of one of the guys. It wasn’t the kind of crying which could be termed as playing the sympathy card. She looked more miserable than guilty. The boy who had his arm wrapped around her looked up when I came in. His lower lip trembled slightly as he bit it nervously, not breaking eye contact. The third guy seemed to be in a world of his own. He looked neither guilty nor scared like the other two. His expression was confident and unwavering, rather contradictory to the tears swimming in his eyes. But the common factor was that they didn’t look the least bit dangerous or insane. They looked like what they were. Young children.
I took a deep breath before I walked in and sat down in front of them. I attempted a smile, trying to ease them a little bit.
“So Kanishka, Adhrit and Jyran, age 16, 17 and 17 respectively. Am I correct?”
The guy and the girl sitting together nodded mutely while the third guy gave no reaction to my question, just like he hadn’t responded to my presence. I usually never tolerated being ignored by the people I was interrogating but I realized that this was an extra sensitive matter. I was trying to be more understanding. I looked at the other two and asked as gently as possible,” I want you to answer all my questions with one hundred percent honesty. I am not here to frame you guilty or to declare your punishments, that is not my job. My job is to merely find out the facts. You are completely unlike from my usual clients. And so I am going to try my best to keep this as less messy and uncomplicated as possible. All I want is honest answers. Can you do that?” The two of them nodded again.
“Good. We’ll start now. I have been told that your lawyers are aware of this interrogation.”
“What were your relations with Jahnavi Raut?”
“She was my best friend,” the girl whispered, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. The guy next to her nodded in agreement. “Our best friend.”
I turned to look at the third guy.
“Jyran, I am trying to make this easy on you. You have to say something.” He gave no reaction and so I repeated my question.
“Jyran, what was your relation with Jahnavi Raut?”
He lifted his head slowly, as if making a great effort and bore his eyes into mine. “I don’t know anyone with that name.”
His words rang out, loud and crystal. I looked at the other two in confusion but they seemed completely unsurprised by his reaction. “Jyran, now is not the time for this.” The guy looked a little exasperated as if he had already dealt with this a lot of times before. “Jyran please,” the girl pleaded, her words punctuated with a sob. He looked at their faces for a moment and then turned back at me with a sigh.
“Jahath. Her name was Jahath.” I looked at my files and then back at him in confusion.
“But the records say…”
“Jahath was her name. Not Jahnavi,” he interrupted me.
The girl tried to explain. “Jahnavi was the name her father gave her. She hated it when people addressed her by that name. We all called her Jahath.”
“Did she have issues with her father?”
I was stepping on familiar territory here.
Jyran snorted. “Issues? He was a ba##ard.” The girl flinched a little at his choice of words as did I. I wondered what what kind of person my daughter’s friends saw me as. Was I notorious as an insensitive person in her friend circle too?
The second guy interrupted my trail of thoughts. “Jahath and her father had never been close. He had always been a reputed man in the society but Jahath said that it was just a mask. She would say that at night-time he would convert into a raging, abusive alcoholic. He has done things which make him nothing less of a monster. He claims to be sober for the past 16 months but Jahath was never able to forgive him.”
“She told you everything, didn’t she?” I asked, softly.
The two of them nodded. Jyran buried his face in his palms in response.
“So you were truly close to her? You loved her?”
The girl let out a strangled sob, leaning closer to the guy.
“Then why did you kill her? What made you kill your own best friend?” I was trying to keep my tone gentle but there was no easy way to accuse someone of murder.
“We loved her a lot. That’s why we killed her.”
The girl broke down into the guy’s arms at the end of her startling declaration. He glared at me as if I was responsible for her tears. I, however, nodded my head at him apologetically. “I understand this is hard to talk about. But I need to what your motive was. I need to know what exactly you were thinking.”
Jynath was the one who answered my question.
“We aren’t murderers. We did it for her. We killed her because she asked us to.”
“This is the most beautiful gift I have ever received.”
Her face was glowing with happiness and that was his biggest reward. Witnessing her bright smiles was rare, especially when she wasn’t on the dance floor. So he considered every successful attempt of making her smile as a great achievement.
“Do you really like it? I wasn’t sure whether you would like it. I mean, I know you like ballet the most but I thought maybe you could give the Indian styles of dancing a shot too.”
Even before he had completed his sentence, she was standing before him, wearing the ‘ghungroos’ he had gifted her.
“How do I look?” she asked with her eyes shining in excitement.
He stared at the smiling girl in front of him, her grace visible inspite of her immobility.
“Beautiful,” he whispered.
“Now watch me perform.” And in front of his eyes, she transformed into the most delightful form of art he had ever seen. Watching her dance was a treat to sore eyes. It was incredible that nature had managed to create something so aesthetically pleasing.
“Well?” she asked as she sat down next to him. He looked at her, with her face flushed and messed up strands of her hair caressing her cheeks. And without a second thought, he leaned in and brushed his lips against hers.
Quite predictably, she pushed him and stood up, her eyes flashing with shock and anger. “Have you lost your mind?”
How was he supposed to tell that it wasn’t just his mind that was lost but his entire heart and soul too?
“I love you.”
“Don’t.” Her voice trembled that. “Don’t ever say that again. And don’t ever try to kiss me again.”
“Jahath, I am not him. I am not your father. I am not going to hurt you. I love you, I really do.”
“Jyran, do you know what Jahath means? It means broken. I am broken, Jyran. I have been broken for a long time now. I know he hasn’t tried to touch me again. I know he he says that he’s trying to get better but I don’t believe him. Kisses aren’t a gesture for me, they are a reminder of the molestation, of the hushed warnings to keep it quiet, of the threats whispered behind closed doors. Love isn’t a promise, it is merely a reminder of what I have survived without since birth. So I am nothing but a stone-hearted person who is broken beyond repair. I am dead inside; I died a long time back. The only breaths I take are the rhythms which I dance to.”
“Are you aware of the fact that aiding and abatting suicide is as good a crime as committing it?”
Jyran looked at me without blinking.
“We prefer the term mercy-killing.”
I stared at him speechless for a moment. “Jyran listen to me,” I said, softening a little. “I understand that there are times and situations when ending life seems like the only option. But suicide is a permanent solution for something that is temporary. Pain is temporary. Even at its worst, even when it feels like there is nothing worth living for, you will find a reason worth holding on for. You people aren’t even adults yet. One day, you will look back and miss the petty heartbreaks of being a teenager. One day the pain will be nothing but a distant reminder of what made you stronger.”
The three of them were quiet for a moment. Jyran was the one who broke the silence. “You don’t understand.” His voice was softer now, less defensive. I sighed at the familiar sentence. “It’s a common fault, I have been told.” I looked at the girl. “I have got a daughter of your age. I hear this sentence every morning before breakfast. It really brightens up my day.” She smiled a little at my tirade. I turned my attention back to Jyran.
“Had Jahath ever shown any suicidal tendencies before?”
He shook his head. “She wasn’t suicidal. Yes, she had never been a cheerful person. And there were times, when she was right in the depths of depression. But she didn’t mention death. Not once. She always had a reason to hold on, like you said.”
“And what happened all of a sudden?”
I looked at the other two. The guy sighed softly.
“She lost it, of course. She lost her reason.”
“What was it?”
Jyran smiled faintly, as if recollecting an old memory.
I flipped across the papers in my file and came across a paragraph. “But here it says….”
“That she got paralyzed.”
I looked up at their faces.
“She met with an accident. It was three months ago. She was coming back from the dance studio, late at night. She wasn’t supposed to be out of her house at this hour but she rarely listened to her father. She was driving a scooter and was hit by a truck. There was major damage in her spinal cord which led to paralysis.” The girl stared at me silently at the end of her story. “Jahath was a dancer. She couldn’t survive with a paralyzed body.”
“Okay I understand that dance was her passion and her life was unimaginable without it. But as friends, shouldn’t you encourage her to live instead of helping her kill herself?”
“Dance wasn’t her passion,” Jyran snapped. “It was her reason. Just what you said. Find a reason for survival. She had been surviving since birth. She wasn’t living, she was just surviving with that one reason to keep her going. She didn’t have a normal family life. She lived all her life pretending to be normal, acting. Dance was the only time when she didn’t have to act. She could be herself.”
She turned to look at him, her last hope. “Jyran please.”
He knelt down at her bedside. “Jahath, this isn’t the solution. Believe me, you’ll make it through this. We’ll convince the lawyers to make you stay at my place. We’ll find some surgeons who can cure this. We’ll find a way out, I promise….”
“I have already found the way out. This the way out.” She looked at her two best friends. “Kanishka, Adhrit, please. I need this. I can’t live a life like this. Just please. Make it look like an accident. No one will blame you just…”
Adhrit knelt down beside Jyran.
“Jahath, this isn’t about us. We are thinking about you. There has got be another way. Death isn’t the solution.”
“What difference does it make? I can never dance in my life again. I am a prisoner in this place. How is this different from what I am asking for? Can’t you see? I am already not living!”
Kanishka sat down on the bed beside her, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Jahath, not living and dying aren’t the same things.”
Jahath smiled a sad smile. “No, they aren’t. Because death doesn’t hurt.”
“Was that how she convinced you?” I asked, softly.
Jyran’s eyes were filled with tears. “Believe me, we tried. We tried so hard, for three whole months. She was living the life of a vegetable. She was an invalid, in the same place which she had been trying to escape since childhood. The only difference was her escape, her salvation, it was gone. We didn’t have a choice. We did it for her. We did everything she told us. We made it look like an accident. Obviously we failed at that because murder isn’t really our area of expertise. But we don’t blame her for that and we don’t regret it. We did it for her, Sir.”
The other two looked at him in silent agreement.
“Active euthensia is illegal, Jyran. I am sure that you three are aware of that. I can understand that you believe you did it for love, but still it wasn’t right. You went too far.”
It was the girl who spoke up this time.
“You said you have a daughter of my age, isn’t that correct Sir?”
This was forbidden territory. I never allowed my clients to comment on my personal life. But today, I nodded.
“How far would you go for her?”
I stared at her wordlessly. I pictured my daughter, as the little girl with pink ribbons eating hot chocolate fudge sundaes with me and as the sullen teenager who complained I never understood or listened to her.
“I understand that what we did was illegal Sir,” the girl whispered, a tear rolling down her cheeks. “But it wasn’t wrong Sir. Please don’t call it wrong. Sometimes it isn’t about right or wrong. It’s just about the people you love and how far you can go for them.”
I stared at them wordlessly for a moment before nodding. I stood up, gathering the papers. “I think I am done with the questioning. Thank you for being honest with me.”
“Is there any hope for us?”
I looked at the three ‘criminals’ in front of me with their eyes shining with innocence and terror.
“I hope so. I really do.”
And for the first time, I actually meant it.
I nodded at the lawyers as I walked out the door. “All yours.” I looked at the set of people huddled closely together with frightened expressions. Probably the parents. Their faces tugged at something inside of me.
“Sir, we have got the council meeting.”
I shook my head at the officer. “It’ll have to wait. I have something important to do.”
“The Sequira case?”
I smiled wryly. “Even more important than that.”
I dialled a number on my cell phone as I walked out. A familiar voice picked up. “Hello? Dad?”
“Where are you baby girl?”
There was silence at the other end. It had been ages since I had used this nickname.
“I am just reaching home.”
“Wait outside the house. I’ll be there in 5 minutes.”
“Are we going out?” She sounded confused.
“Yes. We have got something important to do.”
“We were going to Gelattos to eat hot chocolate fudge sundaes.”
There was silence for a moment, followed by laughter.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe you remember that. We used to that almost every weekend didn’t we?”
I nodded my head mutely at the sound of her laughter.
“Daddy are you there?”
“Yes baby, I am here,” I whispered. “I am listening.”