New Delhi: With the hours ticking away inexorably, hope that her son will be spared the noose is fast slipping but, weary and angry, the woman stigmatised as "Nirbhaya rapist's mother" has one last ask — will she be able to get his favourite "puri, sabzi, kachori" meal to him?
Her son Vinay Sharma is one of the four men sentenced to be hanged in Tihar Jail at 5.30 am on Friday — seven years-three months after the night of December 16, 2012 when a young woman, who came to be known the world over as "Nirbhaya", the fearless one, was gangraped so savagely that she died a fortnight later.
With the hangman conducting a dummy run on Wednesday and the Delhi High Court rejecting yet another appeal by one of them, the execution of the four is all but certain after three postponements.
While the Supreme Court rejected Sharma's curative petition on January 14, his mercy petition was rejected by President Ramnath Kovind in February.
And the woman, who refuses to divulge her name and says she wants to be known only as "Vinay Sharma's mother" is increasingly more despairing.
The years of harbouring the realisation that her son is guilty in the horrific crime that made headlines across the globe and dealing with unrelenting media spotlight have clearly taken their toll.
"Who are you? What do you want? There is no one inside. My husband has gone out for work. I am Vinay's mother," said the woman outside her home in south Delhi's Ravidas Camp.
With its narrow lanes, shabby quarters and open sewers, the slum colony which represents the capital's seamy underbelly, just next to the upscale government colony of R K Puram in south Delhi, was home to four of the six men convicted of the crime.
And somewhere deep inside, a narrow, congested lane leads to the home of Vinay Sharma.
The nameplate reads Hari Ram Sharma and outside is the mother of four, in her 50s but looking older beyond her years, washing clothes on a grimy surface.
She doesn't let visitors enter.
"Kya likhoge tum? Kuch hota hai tumhare likhne se (What will you write now? Has anything happened till now with your writing?) If god wants he will be saved," she lashed out.
"It is all god's wish. Look at the coronavirus. It is god who decides everything -- who lives and who dies. It is beyond the control of any human. Neither yours, nor theirs," she said.
And then there is the glimmer of something resembling hope.
"The jail personnel in Tihar never allowed me to take food or any other thing. But if they allow, this time I would like to take some 'puri', 'sabzi' and 'kachori' for him," she asked.
Now, with the end near, she said she will soon be meeting her son in jail, for one last time.
The 26-year-old will be hanged along with Mukesh Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25) and Akshay Kumar Singh (31). On March 5 this year, a trial court issued a fresh death warrant with March 20 as the date.
Of the other two convicted in the case, Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail in 2015 and the sixth, a juvenile, was sentenced three years of punishment in a reform home and released in 2015.
While the widowed mother of brothers Ram Singh and Mukesh Singh has left the locality and gone back to her family in Rajasthan, the families of Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta still live in the slum colony.
The family of Pawan Gupta sells fruits to make a living and refused to talk.
The Nirbhaya case hangs like a shroud over the colony, which looks like just another on a weekday morning -- men leaving for work, children playing, some women washing clothes, others standing around chatting idly. But mention 'Vinay Sharma' or 'Pawan Gupta' and it all changes.
The laughter switched to awkward silences and people began to look away when asked for information on the family.
"Who are you? No, we don't know anything," said a woman at the camp as she stopped other women from talking too.
And then some in a group standing close by shared their views, hesitantly at first and then more assertively.
One man forwarded the "boys will be boys" theory and the others quickly stepped in to say the sexual assault and murder of the 23-year-old physiotherapy intern -- gangraped on a moving bus -- is a "horrific mistake" that merits exemplary punishment.
"People here have been talking about Vinay, Pawan and the other convicts since the unfortunate incident took place on December 16. Publicly most talk in favour of the conviction, but there are a few who would also say things against the punishment and ask if this will end rape in India. Some also ask why other rape convicts were not executed," said a nearby tea-seller.
"But one thing we all strongly feel about is how our home has been painted as evil by the media and other big people," he added....