I’ll leave you with the court room for some time, imagine it in your head, make a picture of what a court room looks like in your opinion, We’ll come back to it later.
The person in the chair on a raised platform looked like he was in his late forties. Magistrate, without details as to at what level, seems to be abetter word than judge here. We’ve had too many stories about judges or involving them. This one is not about judges or judgements anyway. It is more decisively aimless.
“Why did you kill them. Now that you refuse to refuse admitting killing them, that’s the only question that remains. None of them remain to speak about this question that remains and it is very important to know why you killed them before I decide how stern the punishment should be. So Adwan, why did you kill them?” he asked the man sitting in the dock presently. This person, in turn, seemed to have unlocked his lips multiple times already as his lips looked dry and the voice that’d follow shortly sounded a little hoarse too. He spoke; still; again,
“Third law of mechanics” he said, in a clear reference to some sort of an action-reaction scenario, but what followed was not as obvious, not without prior knowledge of the context, which the magistrate seemed to be having trouble with too, establishing the context. “Sometimes context can’t be separated from reasons” he had thought to himself some time back, he had yawned too.
“Smell, the smell” man uttered, stammered a bit, as if knowingly and added,
“Rose Bud!” and laughed, clearly, audibly, first looking up and away, at the people sitting behind the public prosecutor’s desk and then finally at the person on the chair. Sound of his laughter was way clearer than his voice had been so far and so far had it reached that a crow sitting on a branch of a tree in the quadrangle somewhere hesitated for a moment in his small, confident leap before the flight. He flew away anyway, wayward to start with, wayward still before settling into a hoppy yet smooth short burst characteristic of any crow of reliable pedigree.
“Rose bud, hmmm….., well, since I know it is difficult to know if you know what I am alluding to, let me clarify. It is a joke. It doesn’t mean anything no matter if you have seen the movie or not. Name of the movie is Citizen Kane. ” he explained further.
Magistrate on the other hand, looked at him, straight faced, looking offended and conveying his displeasure at something, may be that he indeed had seen some movies and Citizen Kane could very well be one of them, or may be he was just pretending to be offended so that he could cut straight back to the point. It couldn’t be figured. It could also not be figured if the likelihood of him being offended was because of constant disregard to his question, which he seemed to have asked a number of times, or if it was because of the assumption on man’s part that the magistrate hadn’t seen the movie. But since we can’t figure if the man was offended at all, we wouldn’t bother figuring the why out.
Out in the canteen, Sachin Tendulkar just square cut someone to the boundary and some claps could be heard, even inside the court room and it was this sound that finally managed to wake the teenager who served tea to the staff here out of his slumber. He slurped a little, wiped his nose and eyes quickly, erected himself and left as if jolted out of the revery that was to be followed by his employer scolding him.
“Don’t test our limits and answer the question Mister” the magistrate said finally, putting so much emphasis on Mister that it seems appropriate to spell it fully.
“I know you are acting, I know you are in your senses alright and are behaving this way just to evade a tough judgement” he continued.
“So now let me know why you killed them. Eight of them, have you any realization! You have killed eight people in cold blood.” And now he started to look a little flustered as if he himself had this realization just now.
“Well, firstly, when I killed them, they were normal, hot blooded mammals and secondly, when I last counted, the number was six, but then I didn’t count after killing the last two. I haven’t had the time, first I was busy convincing myself not to run and let them catch me and since then the smell, you see, it’s stuck there, the smell. Nausea equates to that smell these days.”
“Are you trying to be funny here!” responded the magistrate, his throat sounded dry, his lips looked so. So it can be deduced that the exasperation was a result of something more justifiable than impatience.
“Now I can’t hear you,
the disease is back,
the disease is back,
the disease is back,
the disease is back
Man seemed to have gone into a hysterical trip of sorts. Two policemen, standing on either side of the dock, moved their jaws abruptly yet slowly, one because he swallowed the beetle leaf he had been chewing on and the other as he was about to call out to him to help him do the usual routine of dragging this man back to the van.
“Take him away.” The magistrate said
“Scoundrel”, he murmured, pulling his sleeves up and exhaling forcefully, expressing his displeasure at being left with no choice but to wait for the next hearing. Adwan, in the meanwhile, and amongst some degreee of chaos as some papers were dropped and collected and some voices were raised and hushed, was dragged out of the room towards the van.
“And yes, I want a complete report from the doctors tomorrow. I am not going to sit on this case forever” he demanded and moved slightly in the chair he was sitting on.
“the disease is back
The disease is back …” Adwan kept repeating religiously, perspiring slightly, twitching his nose every once in a whittled while. In the beginning, as the hearings started, they used to carry him carefully as he’d have such fits, not any more. Number of policemen accompanying him decreased too.
“Take him away, take him away, take him away…” magistrate could be heard murmuring.
Soon the court was back in order and I think by now you must be ready with your image of the court room too. Now add some years to the furniture, some broken chairs at the back of the room, take most of the blue away from the cloth stretched at the front of the platform, add some squeaky sounds to most of the hinges, remove some of the people present and add a couple of ghosts sitting across each other on the frame supporting the frame. Ghosts looked at each other once in a while; sternly. Then they looked at the magistrate; sternly, ruefully. One of them used to be a person killed by the person the other ghost was of. They both hated the magistrate. One because he was sentenced to death by this very magistrate and the other because he couldn’t make it to the court room on time that day and had waited one entire week for his killer to be presented in the court room for hearing, until finally he saw the other ghost in the court room. That one week was heavy on him, as he waited anxiously for his killer to be convicted.
“the disease is back, the disease is back…”
The man was tired by now and could only murmur as he sat in the van, which drove away, onto the road.
“Logical sums can only be done at the bit level” aged voice of a young man sounded. Asylum looked deserted as most of them were still away for their routine check up. “They” is how the inmates were referred to as by attendees here.
“So you see, it’s difficult to do a logical sum if you can’t think at the bit level. You can multiply without zeroes and as a logical extension can conclude that even divisions can be done without introducing the concept of zero but summation can’t happen without nonzero steps. Hence zeroes my dear friend. What’s your name? hmmm, yeah, Vrind, imaginative name I must say, but sounds like a tired invention too, as if a writer sat down to come up with something really ambitious, then got bored, sat a little longer and finally came up with a short name for the protagonist.” the man added, chuckling, twitching his nose a little in every whittled while. It’s the 30th day since he was brought here, Adwan, after his last hearing at the court. A report bearing signatures of multiple doctors brought him here. Nobody could say if it did him a favour, least of all him.
The magistrate was still not convinced that he was an invalid, but such are the ways of law that he had to overlook his personal opinion and look at things the way they were supposed to, which is not necessarily the way things should be looked at, he had been observed to have observed,
“Since the doctors' report declares him insane, I have no choice but to send him back to the asylum, though in my personal opinion man is nothing but a sham, a charlatan, someone with a mind utterly capable of scheming, but no soul.” He started thus his final statement and added, as some people looked at the man’s sole,
“and it is indeed disappointing that there is no scientifically proven method to ascertain his true mental state. So as I have already said, he can be taken to the asylum and is to be treated there until he is cured and can be transferred to a jail for the rest of his term, which is 14 years of rigorous imprisonment”.
Both the ghosts looked at him sternly as he finished reading the final statement.
Adwan, so, was taken to the asylum. A police van drove through the bricked quadrangle on to the dusty, crowded road crisscrossing its way past the other leaner lanes to the main outer ring road. The van took half an hour once it emerged on to the ring road to reach the asylum. It was a big compound with a decently tall wall surrounding a number of small buildings scattered around. The biggest of all these sparsely distributed buildings stood in the far right corner. It and all the other buildings were painted in the same shade of gray and looked like they had been given a fresh layer recently. Trees were not many in numbers and were numbered, each of them.
“you see the biggest number on these trees aspires to outnumber the branches of the smallest tree” Adwan had remarked on one of the days following his first here. The same day he met Vrind, the only person he would engage in conversations with. Vrind was a 24 year old from a small town around 100 kms from the city. A broad, strong frame was covered with flesh sparingly, a rather dark complexion accentuated his sharp, strong nose and made his small glinting eyes more noticeable, eyes that didn’t seem to blink too often. He spoke slowly and gently, taking pauses as if measuring the words coming out, but one thing that nobody failed to notice was that he had a lot of stories to tell. Actually that is what brought him to a mental asylum, he did nothing else but tell stories. Some involved him, most did not.
“Why is he here? he appears to be alright” a doctor had asked one of his colleagues once as Vrind narrated one of his stories to him.
“Even the way he tells his stories points to that” he tried to convince everyone about his observation, but then he was reminded immediately that it was precisely the reason why he was brought here, because all he did was tell stories. He wouldn’t talk to anyone if he didn’t have a story to tell.
He always had one, his family had reported, tried to have him cured and then had to give up and bring him here as he grew more and more violent if people wouldn’t listen to his stories. It was a sunny day, the day he was brought here. Someone somewhere cried too.
And that is why it was seen as something rather strange that Adwan chose to talk to no one but Vrind, but then since it was a mental asylum, everybody seemed to come to terms with the oddity finally. This oddity was come to terms with on a day that coincided with the 6th death anniversary of Salvador Dali. Date read January 23rd 1995 and if one noticed it was also Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary. Nobody noticed that, Vrind did, and related a story about this boy who loses his hearing ability as a kid and never regains them. Despite this disability he grows to be an excellent musician, who upon completion of his first major concert realizes that people need to overwhelmed to be convinced. That them regarding him as a genius because he could create music without being able to hear was nothing but a complete disregard towards other faculties.
He also concludes that music is created by mouth more than it is created with ears. Vrind added a number of other elements to make it sound more interesting but the moral of the story was that to be able to express means to be able to chew and swallow. Some people died too in the story. And as always happened with Vrind’s stories, this one too was followed by a conclusion drawn at will by Adwan
“I have told you a hundred times, a cat reluctant to jump on a hot tin roof is either pregnant or lazy; later in most cases is a more likely scenario given ubiquitous birth control methods these days”
It was a sunny day, some clouds were seen the evening before that, but were not heeded to as generally nobody expected them to rain given it was the middle of a chilly winter. Air bore a smell that emanated from somewhere and headed somewhere, so the air was not still. It was the seventh day after they had met for the first time and fourth since they had had lunch together for the first time and 2nd since Vrind had told a story about a woman who always tells a story to her husband every time she gets back home late, then the husband makes it a point to point it out to her and this altercation is followed by a pointless altercation, which is not focused on anything apart from both of them accusing each other of not caring for the child, who is asleep on the bed and is used to pretending being asleep as they exchange words and stories. Slowly the child grows up, and slowly he grows up because he can’t do anything about the pace at which human beings grow, so to say. His mother who has long forgotten all about telling stories is now more open about her not needing to come back home late, as now she is divorced and can bring her male friends along. But she also realizes that the child tells stories about a lot of things now, and this realization grows slowly as the number of stories being told by the child grow. The story ended with the child telling stories and nothing else, mother calling her ex-husband up and accusing him of being responsible for the child’s condition and finally, an hospital vehicle drawing its screeching wheels to a halt.
“A man’s van is a man’s van” adwan had concluded then.He had also noted somewhere towards the middle of the story that the man was not justified in not believing in his wife’s stories and that women are to stories as men are to jokes about private parts, but then he changed his statement slightly by stating that in fact men tell more stories than women do and that is why it was even more remarkable that this woman was so deft at coming up with stories. Finally he attributed the peculiar circumstances to husband and wife both being drunk by the time she came back home late.
Same day two more people were convicted in different parts of India and are now part of the group of ghosts who sit on erections and frames of different kinds inside court rooms. They look at their respective magistrates sternly.
None of the inmates were given footwear inside the asylum, rooms they lived in were 20x14 square feet halls with a few windows, big ones, on either side of the longer stretch, beds were lined along the walls leaving space only for doors, some cabinets where some stuff, which couldn’t be seen presently was kept. In one such room Vrind and Adway were sitting on their respective beds. Their beds were next to each other's and now proximity can be taken as the most valid reason why these two fellows started hanging around together. But since it was an asylum, everybody gave up trying to figure the reason out long time back. Still, for the sake of making a statement it can be said that proximity always leads to something, either a level of antipathy or empathy or both depending on how indecisive one is. Apathy in such scenarios is difficult to maintain. There was a window between their beds and it looked on to a wall at some distance and a few plants planted alongside it.
“Why do they give windows if they have to have walls!” exclaimed Adwan suddenly, gently without being too loud. Vrind on the other hand kept looking at adwan questioningly, the way he had never looked at anyone before, so it was quite possible that the thoughts going on in his head were not the same as the ones he generally had as he related his stories. Adwan noticed it too and made another inconsequential statement to evade a question, which he feared Vrind might ask for the first time during his stay here,
“You know, windows and doors were born out of fear and not ennui as most people would tend to think” he said still trying to look away from Vrind.
“Why did you kill them?” Vrind asked suddenly, but he didn’t look at Adwan the way he had been till then, now he looked sympathetic instead.
“Hahahahaha, now even you have started. It’s a question beaten to staleness now, don’t bother”
And presently one could easily sense that may be both the judge and the doctor were right in their respective observations about the oddity of these two gentlemen being here at the asylum. Vrind sounded full of sympathy and pity, Adwan sounded defensive; none, as we know, fails to point towards them being in their senses alright.
“Why did you kill them” Vrind didn’t budge.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Why did you kill them I ask, why did you kill them..” Vrind insisted again.
“But I have killed eight of them, which one do you want to know about”
“Don’t pretend, I know the reasons were the same for all, in fact there was only one reason.” And conviction in Vrind’s voice was reflected in his eyes.
“Yeah....Hmmmmm, the smell, I liked the smell you see. Smell of the gun powder after the shot. It equated to nausea every time I tried to smell the barrel before I took the shot, but after the shot, it was different. Intoxicating” Adwan seemed to be wanting to say it all finally.
“I am not the judge you know, so answer me, why did you kill them.” And now Adwan, for the first time, could notice that Vrind in fact sounded different.
“But that doesn’t matter. I have been telling the truth all along, it is the smell of the gun powder that made me make those shots. Only that the judge could never make me say the complete truth, he would start not to trust me and once that happens you know stories happen. You know they didn’t even ask me which gun I had used, as if simply because I admitted to killing those people. They never asked me any other question but ‘why’ and whenever I said, smell, they would not trust me and that made it extremely difficult to go on and explain further. They did not even ask me which gun I used. Alright, may be they knew it already through post-mortem reports, still I should feel involved, right?”
“Yeah, but am still not sure why you killed them, you could have made the shots anyway without killing anyone and could have smelt the barrel, it would have smelt the same, wouldn’t it”.
“Hmmm…..” Adwan looked like a confused kid who had just gotten an answer he wasn’t expecting to a question he held dear to his heart.
Next 10 mins that followed saw a lot of activities happening; a tree outside the window, next to the brick wall shed a partly yellow-partly green leaf; a lot of voices were heard in the parliament in delhi, some were audible, some were barely so and some offensively so and one of them squeaked ‘please sit down, let him speak’, nobody in the asylum complained during that period, a remarkable event in its own right as it was a norm amongst the guards, to complain, mostly as to how inefficient their superiors were; a girl thinking nervously why her date was even more nervous on their first date and lastly Vrind relating a story about a guy who stole pickles because he didn’t like people eating them since people liked pickles and he didn’t like that. Somebody asked him one day why he stole pickles and he responded by asking why people liked them and when that somebody said he couldn’t explain, the guy responded by saying that may be then somebody would be able to understand why he stole pickles without going into details.
Adwan in the meanwhile sat there, looking at a trail of ants and for the first time be didn’t conclude after Vrind’s story ended. After some time he lay back on the bed and slept off immediately. Vrind on the other hand went out and took a walk around the complex and picked some small pebbles on his way back to the hall. After that day there appeared to be something on Adwan’s head all the time and he would talk even less now, if fact not at all, as Vrind was the only person he would talk to and now they didn’t talk. Everybody noticed it, every sane person that is, insane people around them looked too unpredictable to be said anything of. Anyway, nobody knew the reason why it was so. Adwan would not come out of his room except for lunch, daily ablutions and dinner, Vrind would go for unending walks and would keep collecting pebbles. Days, weeks and finally three fourth of a month went by like this. Ghosts in the court rooms grew in number. They all looked at the judges sternly, and judges would often grunt as they delivered grave sentences.
It was fourth of a cold December morning when someone complained of an unbearable stench coming out of the store room at the back of the main building. It was one of the guards who complained of it and others accompanied him into the room and as they pushed the door open, they saw a horrible site, Adwan was sitting on his haunches in one corner and next to him lay Vrind’s dead body, stabbed on the back, hordes of flies circling around it. His satchel of pebbles lay next to him, one of the pebbles read, “my next story”. Adwan had one in his hand too and it had, “Story of barrels” written on it, now as guards entered the room the pebble slipped out of Adwan’s hands gently.
“I guess I could have kept them alive and could have still smelt the barrel” he said looking at the guards, his lips shivering and a stream of tears rolling down his right eye, left one still looked dry.
A pair of ghosts circled around in joy in one of the court rooms as the judge who they had been looking at sternly for some time murmured to himself, lying in his bed;
“was he insane,
was he insane,
was he insane,
was he insane”
He was half asleep.