Dileep’s undeterred gaze caught sight of the twinkling stars, through the small window of his cell. Over the past few years, his cell had lost its claustrophobic stranglehold on his imagination. Not straying far from the stereotypical environment of a central jail’s cell, Dileep’s cell looked a sorry state.
The cell probably wasn’t longer than 10 feet in length, and every time Dileep stretched his arms the walls always blocked him. Dileep assumed that the cell probably wouldn’t be more than 6 feet wide. Every time he stood up, his head would hit the ceiling of the cell. The plaster on the walls had peeled off completely to expose the brittle bricks, which had been layered with patches of dried moss.
The night had been made worse by the summer heat. The walls retained the day’s heat. Dileep was sweating profusely. To add on to the stench of sweat, his toilet was within the same cell, right beside where he slept. The water supply in the prison was limited due to the summer shortage. The thick blanket of the amalgamated stench of Dileep’s sweat and the ammonia smell from his unwashed toilet would’ve killed any normal man from asphyxiation. But to Dileep, this was his world. He hadn’t been allowed out of the cell for years. So he had just learned to live with it. Occasionally he would let his imagination run wild with the glimpses that he caught through the small window. But most of his days were spent thinking, and pondering over the actions that led him to his imprisonment.
Tonight he wasn’t thinking about his past, he just gazed out at the stars. Finally, after all these years he would be let outside his cell tonight. As he was due to be hanged to death. During his days of pondering he always wondered what he would feel like once he was given the death sentence. He always knew it was coming but didn’t know when.
Maybe his feeling would be regret? Maybe he would plead them to let him go? Maybe he might even try to run away from the hangman?
But none of those thoughts interested him anymore. Death seemed like the ultimate freedom to him. His world was whatever he could see through the small window or through the bars of his cell door. And that definitely didn’t represent freedom.
The night dragged on as his faded, worn-out jute clothes became drenched in sweat. His hair had become matted over the years although he still somehow managed to keep his teeth clean. He tried to bathe every time there was a water supply. But none of those aspects of daily human life bothered him anymore.
His mind was always on the judgment of his death penalty. As he waited for midnight to be taken away, the prison maid came sweeping the floor in front of his cell door.
Dileep had always been warned by other inmates to avoid talking to her. She apparently got some kind of a thrill from talking to prisoners on death row.
As she swept the floor, some of the dust flecked Dileep’s face. When he touched his face to wipe off the dust, he realized that his skin had become brittle, and only now realized that his beard had overgrown into a bushy frizzle.
“Do you have any regrets?” the prison maid asked pretentiously, in a manner that she actually cared about him.
Dileep didn’t reply, but she continued to stand there. He had been told by other prisoners that she would make him feel miserable with regret. So he tried to avoid talking to her. But she just wouldn’t leave. She stood in front of the bars. Dileep eventually began to speak.
“No, I don’t have any regrets…” Dileep said.
Her face lit up, she began asking him everything about his life.
Dileep began to tell her everything. It didn’t matter if she actually made him feel miserable. Maybe she might even convey his message to his sister.
Dileep was the son of a prostitute. His mother didn’t take the job by choice. His grandfather was a drunkard and had lost a bet. So he sold his daughter. Dileep’s father was a pimp and abused his mother on most days until she drank floor cleaning liquid. It wasn’t any different from just another common tragic story of a nasty childhood turning an innocent child into a hardened criminal.
Growing up under such conditions, the consequences surrounding Dileep didn’t give him an option but to become a criminal to survive. He didn’t have any formal education. But his younger sister Sakshi tried to stay away from all the crime. She tried her best to get through high school. It was for her tuition and school fees that Dileep began to steal.
One day, a routine robbery went wrong and Dileep left a trail of blood. He had killed an entire family of eight to pay for Sakshi’s exam fees.
When Sakshi found out about it, she refused to take the money. She didn’t want to complete her education with blood money.
Eventually, Dileep was caught and imprisoned. He didn’t remember how long ago it was and anyway it didn’t matter.
“So you’re innocent right?” the prison maid asked in a condescending tone.
“No, I’m guilty by the law. I deserve to be hanged” Dileep said with a stoic calmness.
But one thing still bothered Dileep. He had committed a gruesome crime and deserved what he got. But why didn’t the others get punished? His father didn’t raise him in a responsible manner. Why wasn’t his father imprisoned or punished?
His mother was abused by his father, and so many others stood and watched. Watching his mother get abused and beaten like that gave Dileep a rough childhood. The others who stood and watched instead of preventing the abuse of Dileep’s mother, why weren’t they imprisoned or punished?
Lastly, society. The society was responsible for Dileep’s actions. While Dileep was born into a poor family and experienced a rough childhood, everyone around him neglected him and the abuse he suffered as a child. Isn’t negligence a crime in itself? Why wasn’t the society punished for failing to help Dileep and neglecting his plight?
But none of that mattered. Dileep’s opinion didn’t matter. In the moral compass of the society, he was a criminal. According to the righteous law abiding citizens he had to be punished by law. The same law abiding citizens who work and come every day to watch crime news on their television every day and then talk about how society has succumbed to depravity and violence. The law punishes only the criminals, but the people responsible for turning innocent children into criminals are left unpunished.
Dileep gave a wild giggle as he looked at the maid.
“What’s so funny?” the maid asked.
Dileep then took out a faded paper. Something was written on it. He gave it to the maid.
“Can you give this letter to my younger sister, please... “ Dileep said.
The maid gave him a glance and before she said anything Dileep spoke,
“I’m not asking you to do it for free. Buried under the banyan tree outside the temple is the money that I had stolen. Please take it.” Dileep said.
“Yes! Yes! I will give the letter to your sister” the maid said.
A few hours later, the maid had dug out the money where Dileep had directed her to. In her hurry to dig out the money, she had misplaced the letter. She looked at the money and gave a shrug. She then picked up the money and went back home.
Inside the hangman’s yard, Dileep was being prepared for his hanging. He denied any requests for fulfillment of his last wishes. All he asked them was to not cover his face. But they didn’t oblige. As they began to cover his face, his eyes caught sight of the stars. The twinkling stars that he could see for the last time before darkness set him free.
“What a wonderful world!” Dileep thought.
The hangman then pulled the lever.