Dr. Khaleel Chisti’s 20-year fight for justice has finally borne fruit. He tells Mita Kapur why he is not bitter about what happened.
“Don’t ask me bitter questions, please,” says Dr. Khaleel Chisti. The Pakistani national was recently acquitted under Section 302 for a crime he did not commit. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Dr. Chisti, the Head of Department, Virology and Microbiology, Karachi University, had come to Ajmer in 1992 to spend time with his mother and younger brother. A fight with a neighbour led to the death of a member of the neighbour’s family. Dr. Chisti, who happened to be on the scene, was booked under Section 302 and 307. The trial took 18 years and, in 2010, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. An appeal in Rajasthan High Court was turned down and Dr. Chisti moved the Supreme Court. During this time, though he was on bail, his passport was impounded.
With age and time against him, Dr. Chisti took to writing poetry. But his poems are not quite what one would expect. Instead of a tortured soul raving and ranting about being victimised, his poems have a refreshing childlike bounce.
On the morning of judgement day, he sounded lifeless over the phone. “You can interview me at 4.00 p.m. according to my watch.” At 4.00 p.m. his voice had acquired energy. He had been acquitted. “Yes, justice has been done. Justice Katju studied my case properly.”
Remarkably the man has no rancour in him; 20 years of a bright academician’s life were spent living on bail, making appearances in court, away from home and family. “I was always interested in human nature and natural phenomena. Loneliness propelled me to write poetry as a reaction to them. I used to write scientific papers, which doesn’t really count since they were technical. When I look at a child break into a spontaneous dance in the rain, I want to write about it. I’ve always been a positive thinking man. What I have faced has changed me as a person. I took on whatever came my way because I believe in God. Whatever has to happen will happen.”
His attitude comes from spiritual strength, he says. “As a child I learnt horse riding and riding through the hills taught me to be fearless. No panther or wolf could hurt me as long as I was riding Moti, my horse. That gave me confidence.”
The will of God, requires your signature raise your ‘self’ to celestial heights/Enjoy your own, and respect other’s rights/In Edinburgh I developed holes in my language cheese/Confused by a doze of the Scott’s little wees/Listening to their drawl I lost my double R’s and P’s/although I still dot my I’s and cross my T’s.
Poetry that rhymes, follows the measure of rhyme and metre, is hard to come by in this age of free verse. “I write from my heart and all the hurt I bore was my energy source,” he says. “The rhyming scheme comes naturally since my training has come from reading Persian and Urdu poetry. Iqbal and the Delhi Urdu poets have resided in my mind forever.”
Of the experience of having lived for two decades hovering between uncertainty, fear and trauma of separation from home, Dr. Chisti says, “My wife and children were never far away from me. I had faith in my own ability to deal with the situation. I knew I would get past this and live for another 15-20 years doing what I have to do. I’ll go back to my family now and revive my strength before travelling throughout Pakistan. I want to go to all the places I have memories of and may be visit Ajmer again later. I’ve always studied human nature and, to me, even the least educated person has some special knowledge that may not exist in books but his experience can teach us what an educated person may not be able to. I value that because I feel status in society is not relevant.”
His poetry reflects his beliefs. It’s not every day that you come across poems on the Aravalli Hills but for Dr. Chisti, “If you’ve grown up in these hills you can’t be a coward. Historical examples like Prithviraj Chauhan prove that. The hills teach you to fight for your principles.”
Off villages and valleys, hills and hovels, I express opinions dour
Of rocks and trees and the creatures in there I write the lore
In sympathy of birds and beasts and folks in hills my heart pours,
Betrayal of values, human and natural I sadly abhor
As a handful of Arravalli rock dust is substance of my core
And a whiff of Arravalli breadth in my soul lets me soar
Up above the ordinary land bound, that think no more
Of the beauty of the hills and valleys, brooks and lakes and shore....
I am the creature of these hills, that’s the identity, Arravalli pour.
Will writing poetry while under trial lead naturally to an autobiography, I ask. “I might do it. I am an encyclopaedia on India and Pakistan since no one has had the kind of experiences I’ve had.” But ask him specific questions on systems, legal processes and he insists, “I will not live in the past. I wish people in both countries would introspect on the mistakes we are making and what can be done about them. My poetry was written under a sense of insecurity with the sword of confinement hanging over my head. I have to rejuvenate my brain cells and become the same sharp person I used to be.”
Teaching has taken a larger picture in his life now; what Dr Chisty can tell us of his last 20 years will give us lessons we can’t find anywhere else.
Life is not cricket
Fair in fair! All men should admit
Except in the mannerly cricketing circuit
Life on this planet is a sticky wicket
Apply not off ground, cricket rules tacit
Honesty and truth have, no chance to mix
And rules of living require a quicker fix
If you ball straight you’re hit for six
On your misery thus rejoice pavilion kicks
None can afford to hide in a thicket.
Keep on batting don’t lose your wicket
Till your Maker sends the return wicket
'Then register your complaint: there being no cricket.
I knew I would get past this and live for another 15-20 years doing what I have to do. I’ve always been a positive thinking man. What I have faced has changed me as a person.