Killer who became a poet on death row captivates India

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The Independent Online

Doctor Johnson once said "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully". He has been proved right in the state of Tamil Nadu, where the shadow of the noose has brought forth an acclaimed book of poetry written from death row by a convicted murderer.

Doctor Johnson once said "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully". He has been proved right in the state of Tamil Nadu, where the shadow of the noose has brought forth an acclaimed book of poetry written from death row by a convicted murderer.

India is a land that values its writers, but its newest poet is a little more recherche than most. Ten years ago, V Radhakrishnan was convicted of murdering a man ina courthouse. But while he has been on death row, he has been earning acclaim as a poet.

Not only have several literary figures hailed Radhakrishnan's volume- one said he was moved to tears - but some are backing his plea for a presidential pardon on the sole grounds that he is an accomplished writer.

Jana Krishnamurthy, a local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Partythat was voted out of power in national elections, wrote: "It is astonishing that from the heart of a man awaiting the gallows, so much of poetic outpouring could come forth. His poems prompt us to pray, let not his body hang by the rope, let this lyrical mind flourish."

The anthology of 46 poems includes a condemnation of Osama bin Laden for the 11 September 2001 attacks and a furious attack on President George Bush for the war inIraq.

Sirai Muthukkal 3450, or Pearls from Prisoner 3450 - his prisoner ID number - is written in Tamil and includes more philosophical musings on his fate. "How can this life be sweet when I am counting my days?" he writes. "Does the rope waiting for my neck know the past, the present and the future?"

The murdered man, Ayyavoo, had been accused in a criminal case of slaughtering a herd of cattle belonging to a friend of Radhakrishnan's, and of threatening the man's wife that he would make her into a widow. Ayyavoo was described in the press as a "notorious rowdy". He was killed inside the court buildings. Radhakrishnan, the friend whose wife was threatened and a third man were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

Radhakrishnan has exhausted the appeal process; a petition for clemency from the Governor of Tamil Nadu was turned down three years ago. Now a pardon from the Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam, is his last hope.

In June there was clamour against the scheduled hanging of a murderer in Calcutta, and a last-minute stay of execution. But the President has since rejected a plea of clemency, and the execution is to go ahead.

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