20 May, 1991
Sivarajan was explaining to us the plan in detail. There was a large map of the area on the table around which we were standing, looking at the place marked with a red circle. Thenmozhi Rajaratnam (aka Dhanu) the most important person of the meeting was standing next to him. To my right was my husband, looking over the map with an excitement burning in his eyes.
“Rajiv is expected to reach the place at around ten fifteen,” Sivarajan said.
People were nodding, keenly concentrating on the assassination plan. But my mind was occupied with something else. I had just missed my second period in two months. I hadn’t expected to get pregnant, at least not at this point of time. This was our biggest venture ever since our vigilante organisation launched itself into its active phase. Till the moment I realised I had missed my second consecutive period I didn’t care about human life. I didn’t respect it and I didn’t value it. I did to it what I was told to. But when I realised I was carrying a life within me I realised its importance, its value. I get this feeling that I have no right to take away life.
“Nalini are you listening?” asked Sivarajan from the other side.
“Oh, yes!” I replied.
“He will get out of his white ambassador,” he continued, “and walk to the dais to deliver his campaign speech. He will be garlanded by congressmen and other well-wishers on the way. Dhanu will be among them.”
“You should fall at his feet and detonate the RDX explosive-laden belt that you will be given only minutes before he arrives,” he said to Dhanu.
He straightened a little and looked at her with some hesitation. “You will be remembered by us forever. History will speak of you as the woman who changed the future. Good luck Dhanu!” He said.
She merely nodded her head and smiled a little. I somehow became totally against the whole plan. Is it necessary? It isn’t only Rajiv who will be there. School children will sing a welcome song in all his campaign outings invariably. Innocent people and party workers will be surrounding him. Oh my god! This shouldn’t happen.
I pulled my husband aside and told him that I was pregnant. I thought he would be happy, but he gave a somewhat surprised expression and looked at me for a minute.
“Are you serious?” He asked.
“Of course I am,” I replied.
He shook his head violently and pulled me out of the cottage by my hand.
“Why are you telling this now?” He asked once we were out of earshot, holding my hand tightly.
I didn’t reply to that. After all, what kind of question was that! I was still struggling out of his tight grip. He again shook his head uncontrollably and allowed his left hand to rest over my stomach for a couple of seconds.
“Don’t let anyone know about this,” he said and went inside.
I stood there, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t even think of an abortion. There was already some attachment that I could feel, something heavy inside my heart.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I was thinking of what to do, tossing left and right. I just didn’t know it would be my last night of freedom. Next to me was Dhanu. She wasn’t sleeping either, but for a different reason. It was her last night altogether. Even for people who don’t fear death but welcome it, knowing that it is your last night is an incomparable mental torture.
It was around 8.30 p.m. We were going over the plan for the last time. At the end of it we got into a red omni van and were driven to a small reserve forest area near Sri Perambatur. The journey took an hour and throughout it my husband was giving me looks of apprehension. I just didn’t know if it was my pregnancy that was causing it or our current mission. We got out of the van.
I was sitting on the doorway, my husband and Sivarajan were pacing up and down the road and our two other men were sharing a smoke. Dhanu was standing at the edge of the road; it was so apparent that her mind was occupied with a deep thought while her eyes were just pointed at something far off. I felt a deep pity for her. Will I still be able to turn over the whole plan? Can I convince everyone out of it? Come on Nalini, it’s now or never.
I got up and went to Sivarajan. I knew my husband will be against whatever I have got to say on calling back the mission.
“What is this she is talking about, Murugan?” shouted Sivarajan once I told him.
My husband came running towards me and looked at me angrily.
“Is this necessary, what we are doing,” I asked them.
“If you want to live with me, stay on the plan. Otherwise you can move on right away.” He said, standing very close to me and whispering in a husky voice.
I couldn’t argue further. If only he had listened to me, we wouldn’t be here for the past twenty two years.
At ten sharp we all assembled back to the van. Sivarajan took the explosive-laden belt from under the back seat and gave it to Dhanu. We all hugged her in turns and started to take positions when Sivarajan called out.
“Wait!” He said, taking out a brown paper parcel, from under the same seat, that we hadn’t set our eyes on till that moment.
We went to him and were each presented with a thin black nylon loop carrying a brown capsule. We knew exactly what it was.
“You know what you should do if we mess it up,” he said.
We took our positions. I was standing along with one of our men at the beginning of the line that was fast growing to welcome Rajiv Gandhi. Dhanu was in its middle with a garland in her hand and a RDX belt laden around her waist. My husband was standing near the podium and Sivarajan with the other man was waiting near the road, taking in all that was happening. Five minutes later we heard a siren sound approaching us. It was all that was required to shoot up all our heart beats.
Rajiv got down from his car and waved his hand high above his head. He carried his usual smile under his nose. He started walking towards us, with two policemen before and after him. A series of garlands were put around his head and didn’t stay there for a long time. He crossed me, smiling at me, not knowing he is about to die in a minute. I turned to the podium and could see two small girls getting ready to sing a welcome song. When I panned my head right I could see Dhanu put the garland over him and fall at his feet. He raised his right hand over her head. Dhanu raised her half-size kurta and pressed a switch under her breasts.
Several people were arrested on charges of suspicion. Three people were indicted for the murder conspiracy. Me, my husband and one of the other two men I was mentioning. After about two months of prison life I got to know of Sivarajan’s death. He had consumed cyanide without hesitation when the police had surrounded him in Karnataka.
I lost track of time. It was just light and darkness to me. I couldn’t even monitor my child’s growth except for the growing bulge in my stomach. The male jailors used to stare at me strangely and I feared everyone I came across, even a few women.
I gave birth to a girl child after nine months and twenty six days (I was informed by a good-natured cell keeper of my section). The cell I was kept in sheltered not only me and my daughter but also lots of mosquitoes. I could manage somehow but my new born baby… She used to wail at nights, not able to sleep. And her health was fast depreciating. The prison doctor wasn’t of much help. The same cell keeper got me a mosquito net for my child and took care of her intake. A person I shouldn’t forget.
On the third birthday of my daughter I was approached by a concerned party interested in taking care of my child. Though mother’s love did not allow me to part away from my daughter I couldn’t think of any good future for her in a place like this. So I parted away from her, but not before I kissed her a hundred times and she cried uncontrollably for her part. I was left standing at the visitor’s section with tears rolling down my cheeks.
I was transferred from prison to prison as my case was handled by different Supreme Court judges. I was permitted to visit my husband and daughter once a month. And I was more than happy that my daughter was being brought up at the right place.
I was treated differently at every place I was moved to. Some were overly affectionate and some didn’t even give me a glance. At one prison two jailors even attempted to rape me. I was working in the kitchens (considered a privilege) when two jailors came in and closed the door. One pushed me to the ground and stuffed a waste cloth inside my mouth and the other began to undress quickly. He started coming towards me slowly. I was trying to yell but I couldn’t even breathe properly. They forgot to lock the back door in their thirst for flesh. My cell mate burst in, took the vessel containing boiling oil and poured it over the man coming towards me. Another person I shouldn’t forget.
Prison life was hell. I longed for that one day I was allowed to visit my family. We would be separated by metallic wires entwined together, leaving small holes for the prisoners to see their relatives and friends. It would seem like years for that minute to come. And when the appointed hour finally came it apparently lasted only for a few seconds. The one thing that gave me happiness and positive energy (which you should need in excess if you hope to survive in a place like this for such a long time) was my daughter’s growth and her achievements. She made me proud on her every visit. Be it academic or sports, she was always on top of it. I yearned for the day of my release just to hold my daughter in my arms and congratulate her for what she is. I haven’t touched her since the day I passed her on to her guardians as a three month baby.
It has been twenty two years. I and my husband lost our hearing capacity. I was taken to the warden’s room last week. He said the Supreme Court has passed a judgement that we are to be released in the near future and that the judge was a Tamilian named Sadasivam. I couldn’t even utter a word. Tears began to roll down my cheeks, but now for a different reason. My daughter, now doing her medicine in the UK, booked a flight ticket for Chennai. I could see the excitement in her face from her voice over our phone conversation.
It wouldn’t have been more than a couple of days when I got the message that the attorney general in my opposition has got a stay order for my release and that he wishes to take the case in a different dimension.
This is my last note. I lived in hell with a flicker of hope and now I am going to die just having realised that hope is dangerous.