Shahjahan's face was beaded with perspiration. He walked into his one-room home, sat down on the bed and asked a young boy Kamal (not his real name) to turn on the stand fan. "I get dizzy even on short walks now," he said apologetically.
He recently stopped making doctor's visits. "The last time I went to see a doctor, they billed me Tk400 for the visit, and Tk60 for the medication. And then there are follow-up tests with a high price tag. How will I pay?" he asked.
Shahjahan has heart problems, "and pressure," and respiratory difficulties. He uses an inhaler that's kept by the cigarette pack on the only table in the room. He also has two phone sets.
"Kamal had to show me how to use these," he chuckled. A flash of life washed over Shahjahan's face, if not still and careful, it's easy to miss.
Smartphones are new to Shahjahan. In fact, mobile phones are new to him. He pointed at the first Nokia phone set he received in June this year, "and sometime later, I got this one [pointing at a smartphone]. Kamal is still showing me the ropes," he said through chuckles.
On 18 June this year, Shahjahan Bhuiyan walked out of Dhaka Central Jail after serving 44 years in prison. Not just new technology, but Shahjahan walked into a life unknown.
"The prison became my home," he said, where, over the decades, he built a network of acquaintances and well-wishers.
In fact, the never-married Shahjahan, now in his early 70s, has been able to afford the one-room home with a kitchen, and bathroom right outside the door for Tk5,500 a month, because of those well-wishers. "These phones were also 'given' to me," he said. "But it's been three months, how much longer can I ask or rely on their help?" he said.
After stepping out as a free man, Shahjahan processed and collected his birth certificate and National ID card. "Can you get those from the drawer Kamal?" he instructed, and when he showed them, they seemed important to him. Perhaps the most valuable possession for him was his identity stamped on pieces of paper.
When he spoke, Shahjahan held a stare. He maintained eye contact, there was no hesitation or a speck of agitated muscles. He was calm, composed and poignant.
His voice is clear and in some moments, stern. The sound of onions simmering in a hot pot broke the calm. It rose from the background. Kamal was making lunch. It was bitter gourd and eggs for that Wednesday.
"I have served the longest imprisonment time in the country," he told us, "and now I have nothing to do. At least in prison, I did not have to worry about my meals and expenses."
"Also, it's a complete farce that one can get wealthy as a prisoner. Sure, there are ways to make quick cash, but not ways to get 'wealthy' — there are so many misconceptions about that life," he added.
Shahjahan said now he cannot just go out and pick up a day labour job for cash, "because people recognise me. There were times when people would gather and ask if they could take photos with me. I don't like it. I am no longer Jallad Shahjahan, I am just Shahjahan now," he said.
The melancholy of a lonely man was evident. Not just in Shahjahan's voice, but even the air carried it. Everyone in the room was breathing it in.
"The people I have executed, some are big names. They have people around I am sure," he said. There's also a distinct safety and security concern lurking around in his mind.
A hangman's tale
When Shahjahan walked out of prison, he did not quite expect the fanfare, people's intrigue and the crowd. But he was, after all, known to the world as Jallad Shahjahan.
On a recent Wednesday, he told us, he had pulled the lever for 60 executions as chief executioner — a post he served since 2001. Some executions were across districts in the country, "so then they would escort me to those prisons. The whole journey [back and forth, protocols and the execution] would take approximately 10 days," he explained.
Among those 60 executions, were convicted men such as Bangla Bhai, war criminals and Bangabandhu assassins.
"Each time, the execution was attended by a fixed number of law enforcement officials – from the OC, NSI, IG, DIG, and others – and a medical team," recounted Shahjahan, "and for the execution itself, it takes about 6-8 people."
"I knew that the execution was ordered by the state. I was not doing anything wrong. Simply carrying out an order. There was no guilt [in me]. But the moment life left the body, every time, grief descended, for however briefly," he said.
According to him, to ease the heavy load of taking a life, "I arranged for alcohol and ganja. It helped me to drift into sleep, not think about it. I remember sleeping a lot."
Prior to 2001, Shahjahan worked as an assistant hangman starting in 1988. At the time, he was roughly in his mid-30s. "I was curious. I found my way to the then hangman and convinced them to let me see. One thing led to the other, and I started working as [assistant] hangman."
Around the mid-1990s, he took a partially paralysed prisoner into his cell. "I felt bad for him. I also hired someone [another inmate for little cash] to bathe him and feed him," recalled Shahjahan.
The said companion spent the last three years of his life under Shahjahan's care. The Islamic scholar died due to health complications. "He just fell over and died. It was he who told me to perform Wudu and say a prayer before every execution. I remembered to do so with every execution thereafter."
There was not a single incident when the prisoner facing the noose became agitated and caused problems. "They all knew, it was their last moments. If we [hangmen] noticed nervousness or agitation, we would tell them to recite Surah," he said. "Also the black thick mask [a cloth covering] that we put on them in their cell along with handcuffs and shackles – leave little to no room for anything else," he said, "but to walk to death, peacefully."
The death takes place within 20 minutes. After which, a doctor checks the body for life. "The doctor also makes an incision at the back of the neck. Cutting off the main nerve. This is to make sure he's dead. The body is then stitched up."
In January this year, Shahjahan pulled the lever for the 60th time.
He walked into prison in 1979, convicted of robbery and murder. "I have committed crimes, yes. Two-three people may have died, yes. But the murder conviction that imprisoned me was not my crime," he explained. "In that case, I was found guilty because I was the older person by age. And the main culprit got away with a lighter sentence."
When the conviction came, "I remember thinking I have no one to come for me."
'A father who hates me'
Shahjahan left his home in his early 20s. "I soon got mixed up with the wrong crowd. I believe that there are always people in every neighbourhood who want bad for people," he explained, "and I went with them."
When a young Shahjahan's crimes became well-known to his family of two parents and three sisters, "everyone started to hate me. My father would not see or speak to me. I used to visit my mother from time to time. In secrecy, in our home, she would prepare a hot meal for me. I remember asking her 'do you have cash', 'is everything ok'."
"My mother used to tell me to mend my ways. And she would tell me 'you will hit a stop, a block' – mend your ways."
Since his imprisonment, Shahjahan remembers only his oldest sister visiting. "Perhaps 3-4 times during the first few years. That's it."
His father passed away about five years after he started his sentence, and his mother a decade later. "Two of my sisters also passed away, the youngest about 15 years ago and the middle one about 6-7 years ago."
He missed all the funerals. "I heard about my parents' deaths years after it happened from word of mouth, another prisoner."
Did you go see your parents' graves after your release? "Yes, I went and paid my respect in my hometown. I also went to see my sister [she's in her 90s and Shahjahan's only living blood relation.]"
"I also met three of my childhood friends in my hometown," said Shahjahan. The flash of life was the fiercest in this instance. "We talked and sat together. We watched children play football nearby. And I wondered where did all the time go?"
"I can tell you this much, my time in prison was a rebirth. I have vouched to myself that I would rather die by suicide than fall again on my old ways," he added.
What did you bring from prison? "A piece of the rope used to make the noose, that's all," he replied. Memorabilia, perhaps, of a life lived.
After his release from Dhaka Central Jail, at first, he went to a well-wisher's location and after some time, he settled in his current one-room home location.
But all of it died down. Now it's just Shahjahan, some voices on the phone, Kamal (a relative of a well-wisher to help around the house and cook for him for a meagre pay), an elderly sister and a nephew with a family in his hometown (whom he sporadically meets), and his thoughts.
Shahjahan also teaches Kamal all his school subjects. "He doesn't want to go out. He's glued to that phone of his!" he said, who remembers being a regular at the prison library.
Have you gone out? "No, like I said, I don't like the attention. I haven't even visited a park since my release. Paid a few visits to a friend, but even stopped going there recently."
The melancholy sets in, again – heavier this time.
"I have applied for government assistance. But no word yet. I also exhausted all the contacts I have made in prison to get aid. There are people who would like to help but I know they have busy jobs and busy lives. How many times can I call to inquire?" he said.
TBS' photojournalist Nayem Ali contributed to this story.