It was a small tiled house that had not seen a colour wash for years on the outskirts of a small town. Nandu lay on the charpoy gazing vacantly at the ceiling in the dimly lit room He had become silent and morose, ever since he heard from the small health centre that did the duty of a government hospital, that his only daughter needed an immediate surgery to relieve her from the acute pain. The local health centre in a ramshackle building had no facilities for surgeries and the private hospital in the adjacent town was the only one in the vicinity that was equipped to do surgeries. He had no money to pay the amount they demanded. His efforts to borrow from some known people did not fructify as they knew he had no regular income to return the money.
“What is the point in idly staring at the roof when Neelu is crying in pain? You must accept the offer on hand readily without the morals of your action coming in the way. Do you want the girl to die for your false principles? It is not something that is new to your family. Your father did it many times and so did your grandfather. It is your hereditary calling. Get up and tell the authorities your willingness to do the job and they can arrange a date,” pleaded his wife Meenu.
“You don’t understand Meenu. It is not false principles as I have myself done this earlier and our family has been the traditional hangman. That is why they are persuading me to take up the assignment and luring me telling that the fee for the services is presently high. But what bothers me is something different that you are not aware of,” replied Nandu.
“Tell me what bothers you more than the suffering of our only child? Have you become immune to suffering of people by having hung criminals in the past?” asked Meenu.
“No, not at all. I have no qualms in doing my hereditary profession. But, in this case hanging the young man who has been convicted wrongly would tantamount to murder,” said Nandu
“Why, was he not sentenced to death by a judge after considering all facts presented to him? Since when you have become a bigger judge to question the judgement? Your job is to do a professional job when the jail authorities ask you. You are not a supari killer. Do not let your mind trouble you by some ethical notions. If there is a miscarriage of justice, the judge will be answerable to god. I urge you to go today itself and convey your willingness. With that money we can get our daughter treated quickly,” implored his sobbing wife.
“I am surprised that you feign ignorance when the entire world knows that this young man hardly 21 has been framed and made a scape goat for the brutal murder committed at the instance of a neta. The only fault of the boy was he stumbled on the body lying hidden in the bushes when he went to answer the call of nature early in the morning. He was foolish enough to touch the body to see if it was alive and handle the blood stained machete that was lying by its side leaving his finger prints all over,” explained Nandu.
“oh, my god, what happened there after?” asked Meenu.
“The idiot messed up further by wiping his blood stained fingers on his dhoti. When this illiterate fool went to police, they took note of his blood stained dhoti. The finger prints on the machete nailed him further. All his protestations about his innocence were of little avail and the poor fellow was taken into custody,” commiserated Nandu.
After drinking a glass of water, he continued “The wily neta seized the god-send opportunity and in connivance with the police managed to get him charged with committing murder for personal reasons.”
“When the case came up before the judge, he could not explain satisfactorily why he went far inside the bushes when it was still dark exactly to the place where the body lay to relieve himself and why he took the murder weapon on his hand and wiped the blood on his dhoti. The circumstantial evidence was heavily against him as in the previous week only, he was seen quarreling with the dead man opposite a tea shop for stalking his sister and misbehaving with her.
The dead man was a rowdy and a side kick of neta and knew many of neta’s secrets and his benamis. The revenue authorities were after the neta who was apprehensive that his house could be raided any time. He did not want any trail to lead to his benamis and feared that the sidekick who knew too much could be a potential threat to him. He had him liquidated through his hatchet men.”
“Everyone knew but could do little being afraid of wicked Neta. I could not also do anything to help him but I am very clear that I will not do the hanging of an innocent man. He has an aged mother and two younger sisters. I cannot take up this assignment even if they offer me a lakh of rupees,” said Nandu with a finality.
“If the whole world knew as you say, was the judge not aware of the wrong accusation?”
“What can the judge do? He goes by the evidence presented. There was no lawyer for the young man and a government lawyer was provided and he did not evince much interest for whatever reasons,” said Nandu with a sigh and added “Do not worry. I will find some way to get Neelu operated soon. The doctor had said the surgery can even wait for couple of months and she can have pain killers.” Pacified, she did not argue further.
Five weeks later one evening Nandu asked his wife to get ready for daughter’s surgery. Surprised, she asked “Where did u get the money so soon when everybody you know had refused? “
“Don’t you bother about that. That is neither important or urgent. Get ready and tomorrow morning we will go. Have some clothes for all of us,” he said. Meenu did not pursue the matter and was happy that her daughter would soon be normal.
A fortnight later post surgery on one evening as Meenu was leisurely plaiting her daughter Neelu’s hair on the pial outside her house, a car screeched to halt opposite their house. Who would be coming to our house in a car, wondered both mother and daughter, when a tall dhoti clad rich man and his well-dressed wife got down and approached them. The driver followed them with a big basket on his hands. Nandu had gone out on an errand.
The bewildered two rose when the man with folded palms asked “Is this Nanduram’s house? Am I speaking to his wife and daughter?”
“Yes Saheb, he has gone out and would be back by night,” Meenu said.
“Can we both come in? We have come to thank him for the great help he had rendered to save our daughter from the jaws of death. This is a secret that should not be told to others. He had very kindly donated his kidney though in a hush hush manner for obvious reasons,” said the man.
Confused and shocked as Meenu was, she remarked,” It could be someone else as my husband had not mentioned about any donation to me.”
“No, it is only your husband. He confided in me that the money was urgently needed for daughter’s surgery. Did your daughter undergo any surgery recently?” asked the man.
When she nodded in agreement, he added “He did not bargain and wanted money for meeting the expenses for surgery. I did not give much thought to it then. When I see my daughter fully cured and resumed her studies, I realized that Nanduram has not given not only his kidney but given my daughter a fresh lease of her life. From what I learn from you, the selfless man has given his daughter also a new life. I was suffering from a sense of guilt that I had not compensated him adequately for his great sacrifice. I have brought some money that would do justice for the sacrifice he has done.
Meenu’s heart, while sorry for her husband losing a kidney, suffused with pride at the thought that her husband had ethically declined to hang a man whom he knew for certain was innocent even when no one would have accused him of any wrong in doing his professional duty and more so when the money was badly needed for saving his daughter.”
“I am sorry for my incivility in making you stand outside. Please come in,” she said as she hurried to the kitchen to get buttermilk for them.
“Circumstances do not define you. How you deal with them does.”