Yakub Memon is imprisoned in Faansi (death row) Yard of Nagpur Central Jail. A month ago, G.N. Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound Professor of English, who was accused of having links to the Maoists, was in the same jail, but in the Anda cell, an egg-shaped labyrinth meant for convicted and under-trial terrorists. Last May, the two prisoners were introduced to each other in a meeting room, as they waited for their family members.
A year later, on June 30, Saibaba was released on bail, as his health had deteriorated. But Yakub, who has exhausted two mercy petitions, is likely to be hanged on July 30. Since the two of them have shared some moments in prison, The Hindu sat down with Saibaba for an interview in which he described his relationship with Yakub.
Yakub has aged beyond recognition, Saibaba said. The young Yakub sporting a black stubble in newspapers now has a white beard, a wrinkled face, and a tired body.
In their first few meetings, Yakub and Saibaba often discussed writers like Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare and John Keats. “He’s a voracious reader and a big Hardy fan,” Saibaba said.
One day, all of a sudden, Saibaba asked Yakub if the blasts convict would teach him Urdu. “Memon asked, ‘Why do you want to learn Urdu? This is a language nobody cares for. This is a dying language,’” recalls Saibaba. The Professor told Yakub: “I teach my students [works by] Urdu writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mirza Ghalib. I feel ashamed teaching the text in English, not knowing Urdu.”
A few days later, Yakub gave Saibaba a basic Urdu textbook and asked another inmate in the Anda cell to teach him the language. Yakub sent him newspaper clippings, short stories and Urdu poems in Urdu. “But I felt frustrated because I wasn’t really picking up the language,” said Saibaba. “Then he started teaching me whenever we got a chance to meet.”
Exchanges between the prisoners were prohibited, but Saibaba and Yakub fixed their meeting dates by sending messages to each other through the prison guards. Since Saibaba’s failing health took him to the prison hospital frequently, Yakub would come and meet him there. “Before seeing the doctor, he [Yakub] taught me [Urdu] for 20-25 minutes,” Saibaba said.
The last time Saibaba met Yakub was during the first week of Ramzan. The jail authorities allowed the Muslim inmates to gather in a common prayer hall. Saibaba remembers Yakub leading the prayers. At the end, Yakub raised his hands and begged God, “Have mercy upon those who are wrongly implicated.”
The Hindu, “Urdu lessons in prison,” in The Hindu, July 26, 2015. Accessed on July 26, 2015, at: http://www.thehindu.com/sunday-anchor/urdu-lessons-in-prison/article7464991.ece
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