Only a decade had passed since India had gifted itself a constitution. There was a lot of fuss about this new movie which had released then. It was called ‘Mughal-E-Azam’. Poverty had spread itself all over the country. Schools were the places only rich brats thought of going. The rest of them, all they cared about were the lengths of land they were going to inherit from their forefathers. There were only two things that could fit in the minds of poor then; figuring out ways to fill their stomachs twice a day and waiting for their grand-dads to pass on to the next world leaving behind a scarce property for them. Yes, it was India in 1960s.
A teenager has just completed his father’s funeral in Azamgarh, UttarPradesh. His now-late father was a farmer with a very small piece of land (even less than an acre). His mother decides that they will not stay in Azamgarh anymore. So Devi Lal and his mother find a minimal shelter in a nearby village.
More than a decade passes. It was a long decade with India undergoing several radical changes. India had been attacked twice by Pakistan and once by China since the time Devi Lal left Azamgarh. India was governed now by its first lady prime minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi. With Devi Lal’s age, his hunger was also growing. It was difficult to sleep with a filled stomach for him and his mother. It was 1975 and two things were trending in India-setting up a new business and ‘Sholay’. Well, Devi Lal was interested in the former.
After almost one and a half decade Devi Lal comes to his old village, Azamgarh in search of a bank loan that could help him start his new handloom business. Finally, Devi Lal finds himself sitting in front of the Lekhpal of the bank. When the procedures are about to complete, Lekhpal suddenly refuses to offer a loan. Devi Lal is stunned by his sudden refusal. When he enquires about the reason for not getting a loan, the Lekhpal announces something so groundless that Devi Lal couldn’t help grinning. Lekhpal says, “You are dead according to the government records”. It takes a second for poor Devi Lal to digest the fact that Lekhpal was not bantering. “But how can I be dead when I am sitting here in front of you asking for a loan?”. Well, Lekhpal had no answer to this question of ‘biologically-alive-but-legally-dead’ Devi Lal. Azamgarh could only find him a wife, not a loan.
It took a while for Devi Lal to shove whatever had dawned upon him down his throat. But soon he succeeded in finding out the reason behind this escapade. It was Devi Lal’s very own uncle who had bribed Lekhpal a sum of Rs. 300 to declare him dead. The motive was very clear-to get Devi Lal’s dead father’s land under his own name while Devi Lal and his mother were out of the village. In just a moment, everything fell inside out for poor Devi Lal. He was just a mere corpse to his nation. 300-that is what Devi Lal’s uncle had calculated his life’s worth for. Was it all it took to end it all? Or was it to begin something new?
Devi Lal initially tried to file a case but he discovered that the officers who were appointed for investigation were the very officers who had sucked the life out of him. He tried various other gimmicks like arranging his own funeral, proposing widow’s pension for his wife. But all of it ended up in otiose. By this time, emergency had been implemented in India by the prime minister.
Pepsi and coca cola had arrived India by now. Safari suit had become the new dress of the rich. And a poet’s son was slowly becoming the face of Indian film industry. People were obsessed about his height and voice. ‘Amitabh Bachhan’ was his name. It was 1980s. As for Devi Lal, he was not doing very well. All his efforts had failed to buy him a life. He was losing hope gradually. Azamgarh welcomed a politician named Shyaam Lal Kanojia the same year. When he came to know about Devi Lal’s case he sparked the first flickers of a never ending movement. He suggested Devi Lal to add the word ‘Mritak’ to his name to shame all those who did this to him. The idea appealed to Devi Lal. He also started an organisation named ‘Mritak Sangh’ that aimed at helping people with similar trauma. But currently, Mritak Sangh had only one member-Devi Lal Mritak.
The word ‘Mritak’ started showing its upshots eventually. Many local newspapers wrote about Devi Lal Mritak’s case. Devi Lal had now decided to avenge his uncle by kidnapping his cousin brother Baburam. Hunting after the right opportunity, when his brother was heading out of his school Devi Lal took him to a movie. He kept him for five days but his uncle didn’t complain. He also sent Baburam’s shirt soaked in goat’s blood to his uncle’s house but that had null effect on him. Soon he had to release him. Devi Lal tried bribing various police officers to file a case against him but they refused when they came to know the intention behind it. And yes, India had won its first world cup by now.
In 1986 he went to Lucknow having a plan in his mind. He somehow managed for a special pass to enter the Assembly. He sat there for a while. When the veritable assembly activities were amid, Devi Lal stood up and started screaming, “Mujhe zinda karo”. But in no time, he was dragged out of the assembly remorselessly. Next, he found himself in a jail. He was released after seven hours of imprisonment. He still hadn’t given up on his life, although the law had.
It was 1988 when Devi Lal Mritak sold all his property. He decided to give it a final shot with all the momentum he could. He contested in 1988 Lok Sabha elections from Allahbad against former prime minister V P Singh. Astoundingly, he received 1600 votes. This filled hope in Devi Lal Mritak. A year later in 1989, he filled nomination papers against Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi. After a while, he promptly filed an application for countermanding the election, as he was dead according to the government. He was sure this would make everything alright again and would get him his life. But he was again proved wrong. This time it hit him hard. He couldn’t see his hope getting crashed anymore. He was exhausted now. He had no more energy to fight. He fell this time to never stand up ever again. He was legally dead, he had now become morally dead too.
There is a lot of furor among the young lads about the new actress who acted in ‘Hum dil de chuke sanam’. It is a good time for Indian Film Industry. Young generation is also unusually zealous after some new music director named A.R. Rehman. India’s first surface to surface missile ‘Prithvi’ has also become operational. 1994 has just arrived. Life is miserable for Devi Lal Mritak, who now works as a labourer to feed his family. He has learned to live the way a Mritak should. He works like an animal every day with no spark in his eyes. He doesn’t smile often now as it is not something for a dead man to do.
So in the two thousand and third year of the century, he sits among hundreds of people who are waiting to hear his name announce. He remembers that beautiful day of 1994 when he was working as usual. A tehsildar had called him to come to the municipal corporation. When Devi Lal Mritak reached the office, he was handed over certain papers. What contained in those was something he had fought so many years for. He had been blessed with a precious gift: his life. Yes, finally in 1994, all his efforts had paid off and Devi Lal Mritak was now Devi Lal. Brushing all these memories aside, he brings his mind back to the present. His ears hear his name being announced as the crowd applauds and goes insane cheering for Devi Lal. As he takes his first step, he feels the enthusiasm only a free man can. He is awarded with a Nobel Prize, 2003. His organisation ‘Mritak Sangh’ still operates to help hundreds others who are declared dead by the corrupted government officials.
Later that day, he remembers everything he went through for 18 years to get his own life back. Life had completed a circle for him. Although, death is a common consequence of life we all share, one is lifeless the moment he stops dreaming. It’s not about how hard life hits you; it’s about how quickly you stand up again. An old memory passes by Devi Lal’s mind. It’s about the day his father had brought a radio for the first time. He still remembers the first words that had come out of it….
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens JUSTICE: Social, Economic and Political; LIBERTY: of thoughts, expression, brief, faith and worship; EQUALITY: of status and of opportunity and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unit and the integrity of the nation in our constituent assembly, on this twenty sixth day of November, 1949, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this constitution.
Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies. Devi Lal now lives with a hope that one day this country would be poles apart from corruption. He lives to help hundreds of poor who are still facing a similar cark. He lives to lift anyone who is hit hard by life. He lives……
Post by: Falan Vachhrajani