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25 Jun 2022, Edition - 2538, Saturday

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Columns

A father’s last wish

P GOVINDARAJAN

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The sentry guarding the main gate of the prison takes the wooden hammer in one hand, with the musket in slanting position on his left shoulder, marches towards the big brass plate, which is the manual clarion used to remind the hour of the day.

The brass plate bell on the frontage of the gate is polished meticulously and reflects people crossing it like a mirror, hangs on an iron bar. No one can miss to notice it. On the other side, one can see VOC memorial with the Chekku as reminiscence of freedom struggle.

The sentry halts, looks at his watch, swings the wooden hammer and strikes the bell. The high raised stone wall of the prison echoes the sound. A pause is given for every strike of the bell, so that the vast area of the prison complex resonates with the sound. After the fourth strike, the sentry returns to his place and keeps the wooden hammer in its place.

At this early morning hour, the main gate is unusually busy with the movement of special guards who are assigned for the day’s unlikely event. Prison warders, who normally greet their colleagues with ‘Good morning’ and pass on vital information to the reliever, looked grim today. There were no exchanges of greetings.

The guard officer with his commanding voice alert the men on duty ‘’guard attention’’. On hearing this, the officer in the main gate understands that the jailor has arrived and orders the gate warder to open the door.

When the jailor enters, his deputy reports to him with a salute ‘’Sir, everything is ready. The medical officer, psychologist, welfare officer are waiting in the office and the RDO is on the way’’.
The long room, adjacent to main gate has two entrances of which one is always closed, is the jailor’s office where one can see the portraits of national leaders like Gandhiji, garlanded and framed just above the ‘Burma teak wood chair’ meant for the jailor and other paraphernalia like handcuffs, baton, helmet are placed on a holder fixed on the wall, the old pendulum clock facing the jailor’s table is alive with its ‘tick-tick’.

The jailor having long prison service is an encyclopedia of experience, knowing the nuance of handling any critical situation, starts explaining the procedures to be followed. At this juncture RDO enters and the jailor introduces him to all waiting there.

The welfare officer sitting near the jailor’s table says in a low tone ‘’Sir what we can do for Natrayan’s request?” Death sentence prisoner Natrayan is the father and Natudurai is the son. Both of them are ordered to be hung on the same day.

The gate keeper gives the command “gate attention”. It’s the traditional way of receiving the SP of the jail. The officers, who are waiting for the SP in the jailor’s office go to the main gate and receive him. The SP and other officers, led by Chief Head Warder, move towards the condemned yard.

Within few minutes, officers headed by SP stand before Natrayan’s cell. The ‘Black Warrant’ i.e. the court order to execute a prisoner was read by SP loudly, and as a tradition he asks “Natrayan, do you have any final wish?”

Natrayan pleads “Sir it is unbearable to hear the death of my son, so please hang me first’’. SP looks towards the jailor who responds “Sir, Natrayan’s register no is 1947 and his son’s no is 1948’’, gives a meaningful pause and continues “No problem sir, we will go according to the serial no”.

On hearing this, Natrayan’s breaks down and looks at his son’s cell. He began his last journey. There is an unearthly silent communication of a fateful father to his son, ‘Good bye and see you in the other world’.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own

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