Incarcerated for last 23 years in an enemy country, surrounded by inmates ready to pounce on him at the slightest hint or provocation, living with the scourge of a (possible) mistaken identity, life of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh has been prickly enough to be pained at the mere thought of it.
As I write this, Sarabjit lies dead in a Lahore hospital in Pakistan, a country where lives fade and fall as easily as flower petals on a windy day.
The weather has always been stormy as far as the relationship between the two countries, separated at birth, is concerned.
They say the past always comes back to haunt you. The same can be said of India and Pakistan. What began as a covert war in the 80s has left deep scars and some unhealed wounds.
Sarabjit Singh was one such unheeded pain, beating silently in the soul of India. The silence just got louder, when six men armed with knives, iron rod and other sharp metal objects pounced on him in Pakistan`s Kot Lakhpat jail. Having suffered serious skull fractures that symbolize the fault lines in India`s policy on its citizens in Pakistani jails, Sarabjit`s only hope was his sister, Dalbir Kaur and her incessant prayers for the last 23 years.
Dalbir continued campaigning painstakingly for her brother`s release for over two decades, and has left no stone unturned in striving for her brother`s release.
Singlehandedly, she kept her strenuous efforts on by running post to pillar for Sarabjit but of no avail. Her pleas fell on deaf ears, both in India and Pakistan. And as she stands in front of media today, wailing her heart out over her beloved brother`s tragic demise, I wonder where are those `Dilwale Dilliwallahs` who filled the streets for Anna and Ramdev. Where are the young hearts that throbbed with pain and pounded with anger for the cause of Delhi gang-rape victim?
One might say, the cause of Sarabjit does not appeal much as far as India`s young blood is concerned.
Just roll on the frames of a grey haired Shah Rukh from the tearjerker movie Veer Zaara and see how many handkerchiefs get soaked. If one can empathise and feel the pinch about `qaidi number 786`, why not about Sarabjit, who has been (falsely?) accused of staging a string of bombings in Lahore and Multan.
If that was a love story replete with generous dollops of poetry and emotions, doesn`t Sarabjit`s story include all the ingredients of a real life tragic drama, worthy of at least some soulful thinking and creative protests?
As Dalbir Kaur suspected, Pakistani authorities were in cahoots with those behind the murderous attack on her brother. And why not? With Pakistan elections just two weeks away and the country`s stuttering economy, rampant corruption and routine terrorism, the political big wigs need a reason like Sarabjit to garner votes.
After all, what better poll sop than Sarabjit would help them win a sea of votes in a country that has many chauvinists, who care not if their family is fully fed, but jihad and revenge rule their radical minds.
Revenge, because last year India executed Kasab, the lone surviving 26/11 attacker. And this year in Feb, Afzal Guru was hanged for his role in Parliament attack in 2001.
Though, no one knew the truth about Sarabjit`s life.
He could have been the simple farmer from Punjab`s Bhikhiwind who strayed across the border in a caroused state, or even by a far stretch, could have been a RAW agent.
The fact to focus on is, even if he was one of the spies working for Indian government, shouldn`t India rethink its strategy on spies and other innocents who go astray near Indo-Pak border and end up meeting indescribable fates?
As I finish writing this, I am blinded and deafened by the shrieks of news channels with dazzling flashes in bold red: "Sarabjit Singh Dead".
Fortunately we are not, as we sit in our comfy cubicles or sea-side drawing rooms, muting the TV and discussing our not-so-fat-as-wanted salary cheques over a cup of free cappuccino.
So while we are definitely not dead like Sarabjit, I just wish, we were not so soul dead.
Sarabjit is not, but I wish we as a society were `alive`.
And the story of treason and apathy does not end here. There are `Sarabjits` galore, in Pakistani jails. And the least we can do, is to be truly alive and at least feel and speak up for them.
Rest in Peace, Martyr Sarabjit Singh!