In the Room: Condemned to death for the Mumbai attack


An Indian judge last week told the only surviving gunman from the 2008 attack on Mumbai he would be hanged from his neck until he dies.

Fair punishment, most here think, for rampaging through India's financial capital with an automatic rifle and helping kill 166 people.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab — the 22-year-old Pakistani man who began the trial so cocky it was as if he'd already ceded his claim on life — began to cry. Then he asked for a glass of water.

What do you do, really, when you've gotten yourself into such a wrong place in life?

Kasab had accepted a final judgment once before, when he set sail for Mumbai with nine others ready for martyrdom. When the trial began, he had swagger. He smiled at female reporters. He joked with his two Indian co-defendants, who were later acquitted. He seemed so young. Nothing could touch him, not physical pain, not Indian justice, not the imminence of death.

So why did he cry last Thursday? What made him regain his hold on life at just the wrong moment?

The year has changed him. Now he is pale and thin. He does not move. He barely lifts his head. He does not like to show his face. He says nothing.

Signs of suffering? Yes.

Remorse? No.

Two policemen held Kasab up by the arms and led him out.

The prosecutor and the judge, a thin man with henna orange hair, were all smiles and congratulations. Someone said something funny to the defense attorney and his round face exploded in a grin. The press corps was giggly and eager to break out of the courtroom to tell waiting TV cameras the news everyone expected.

Looking at the empty dock where Kasab had sat you wouldn't have guessed a man had just been condemned to die.

It was as if a valve had opened, releasing some pressure from the room. The inconvenient actor in a very predictable drama had finally made his exit.