Friday, February 8, was like any other day for Afzal Guru. He had dinner with his fellow prisoners who were in the six other cells of Jail No. 3 in Tihar jail. All of them were Kashmiri Muslims, and would meet thrice a day for their meals. This had been Afzal’s routine for the eight years he had been kept in isolation as a prisoner on death row. This Friday was no different. The men chatted as usual while they ate. There was no special food for dinner and Afzal had little inkling that it would be his last.
On a regular day, Afzal and other prisoners would be let out of their cells at 5.30 am to offer prayers. On Saturday morning, however, as Afzal walked towards the cemented open space in the compound, the guard informed him that he’d have to offer his prayers alone. Afzal turned and walked towards another block. Once he finished his prayers, he was told his mercy petition had been rejected and that his execution would take place some two hours later.
Jail authorities say he was very calm and did not say anything at first. Then he asked for a pen and paper and wrote a letter to his wife. Handing it over to jail authorities, he requested them to get it delivered to his wife. “In his letter, he asked his wife not to regret his death, but celebrate it,” the jail staff say. “Life takes its own course,” his letter to Tabassum went on to say, “and god looks after everyone. Be brave and truthful, and everything will be fine.”
“All of us are feeling very sad,” says a senior jail official. “He was a noble soul. You ask a peon or a senior official; though they may not talk officially but deep down in their heart they are all feeling bad.”
Afzal, say those who interacted with him, was pleasant to have around. He enjoyed music; the radio was his constant companion. He’d often complain about the lack of non-vegetarian food. In the time he spent there, he read books on philosophy and poetry. “He read all the four Vedas. He’d say the teachings of Quran and Vedas are no different. They give the same message: of peace and oneness,” says a top prison official.
Regarding his last few words, the authorities would only say, “He was always categorical in saying the soul never dies; it changes body. Who knows my son will become my father in my next birth?”
By Chandrani Banerjee and Amba Batra Bakshi