Death row inmates grapple with uncertainty in varied ways. Some clutch to faith; others adopt art and scholarly pursuits
6/30/2017 2:23:00 PM
|written By : Reema Abbasi|
Their passing will not be dignified with obituaries; they are seen as lives after death. So, before a condemned prisoner stares one in the face, assumptions run amok in the mind.
Trudging towards their sordid barracks through tree-lined, idyllic pathways and lawns where the green is broken by the magenta of wild flowers, it is conventional to assume that the night sky is a hard hue of ink, the stars, dimmer and each journey towards dawn longer than the last. That, they will present a cacophony only dead men talking can.
Happily, these men slaughter trite notions – facing a blurry final frontier, they are portraits of the human mind at its edgiest. Life after death is, in fact, living for death.
Death row inmates grapple with uncertainty in varied ways. Some clutch to faith; others adopt art and scholarly pursuits.
Aftab, a fair, soft-spoken Baloch of 36 years has spent nine years in Karachi’s Central Prison. He has the burden of multiple sentences -- a 210-year imprisonment and three life terms for explosions and murder. However, he discovered a new him in jail -- the flawless artist lurking within now produces fluid, intricate work.
“I make sculptures, calligraphy and abstract paintings to reign in my mind. Otherwise the thought of two centuries can paralyse and each piece fetches 5000 rupees,” he smiles.
“No one has come to see me in two years. I still stay shaven for ‘mulaqat’. Many look like sadhus because they know they have been forsaken.” Aftab also says he filed an appeal five years ago. “Being associated with Bugti cannot mean that I can’t be heard?” he asks.
This is the jail’s art world where a sense of achievement is definite – an inmate sketches his mother’s face to perfection as he holds her photograph tightly; a thin, pony-tailed Husain shows exhibition coverage in magazines with delight and mentions his life sentence as a footnote and a gentle teacher praises their endeavours with generosity.
Interestingly, Urdu newspapers with Bollywood fare pasted on a notice-board bear blackened faces of actresses. When asked about it, Husain’s reply is poignant. “Because it makes us feel caged.”
And then, into this red brick courtyard walks Akbar Sheikh of Larkana. At 53, he has spent the longest time here of 24 years. Tall, large and chirpy, Sheikh is dapper in a starched white suit, a Sindhi cap and kohl-rimmed eyes. “If you include the pardons then I have done 55 years for kidnapping. In these years, I lost my parents, watched my two sons grow up through the bars, and saw my wife in photographs.” He recalls that when he was taken in, his eldest son was four and his wife was expecting their second son.
Sheikh’s survival lies in laughter. “This is a beautiful place now as opposed to when I had walked in. I spend my time laughing with friends and waiting for my sons. Now its easy; just two years to freedom,” he giggles.