Prison Memoirs

 

THE JAIL NOTEBOOK AND OTHER WRITINGS by Bhagat Singh (in 1929)
LeftWord Books, 2007 (compiled and with an introduction by Chaman Lal)

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These notes by Bhagat Singh became part of national folklore because they were jotted on foolscap sheets of papers and were the published as 404 pages of The Jail Notebook. The Notebook was received on 12 September 1929 when an agreement was made between the hunger strikers and Special Jail committee.

In the book, Bhagat Singh quotes the poet Morozov, and says:

Naked walls , prison thoughts ,
How dark and sad you are!
How heavy to tie a prisoner in active,
And dream of years of freedom

Later he quotes Engels when he says:

Not only the ancient and feudal, but also the representative state of today is an instrument of exploitation of wage labour by capital.

MY YEARS IN AN INDIAN PRISON by Mary Tyler
Littlehampton Book Services, 1977

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In this 192-page book, Tyler describes the prisoners from Hazaribagh and Jamshedpur jails. She says:

“Nearest to the bars slept Bulkani, old, skinny and asthmatic, a retired colliery worker, in prison without trial for three years already, on a petty theft charge.”

She cites the case of 55-year-old Gulabi:

“Together with four other labourers she had been harvesting paddy on a landlord’s field, unaware that the ownership of that particular land was disputed by his cousin who promptly had all the labourers, and the man who had employed them, arrested for stealing his paddy. Ironically, the two landowners settled their quarrel and Gulabi’s employer was released from jail, while the labourers remained behind bars. Gulabi had been in prison for nearly three years… without once seeing the magistrate.”

Tyler goes on:

“A child was brought into our care. Her father, a widowed coal miner, had gone on hunger strike outside the colliery manager’s office after being redundant. On the fifth day he had been arrested and since there was nobody to look after his three-year-old daughter, he had been obliged to bring her to jail with him.”

CAPTIVE IMAGINATION: LETTERS FROM PRISON by Varavara Rao
Penguin Books India, 2010

9780670082575

This slim book is a collection of 13 essays or meditations from Vara Vara Rao’s time in prison, where he spent more than 10 years, as a political prisoner during the Emergency period. Originally penned in Telugu inside the prison cell, the book has been translated into English. There exists a literal translation in Hindi as well.

The foreword to Captive Imagination is by the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

As Varavara Rao stated during the launch of Colours of the Cage, his poetry and his politics flowed into each other in prison.

He says on page 80 of his book:

Poetry is an open secret
That destroys the disquiet
Stirring in my heart.
It reaches in a trice
Those it is meant to reach.
Suddenly the ones who need to,
Will understand.
Rising in my thoughts,
It inspires movements.
The secret is,
My poetry was born
From the pangs of struggle.
Cover it if you must –
You will see it escape through
The spaces of your fingers,
Its vibrant, anguished notes
Snapping in anger,
Setting tears on fire
And flowing forth –
A river of blood-red syllables

Later, at the launch, while answering a question from the audience at the Press Club, he tells us, his writing was a exploration of the experience of prison, and how prison transforms into a metaphor for the innumerable curtailments of freedom in the world outside it.

He says: “You are in a small jail whereas we are in a big jail. That is the only difference.”

MY DAYS IN PRISON by Iftikhar Gilani
Penguin Books India, 2005

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Iftikhar Gilani is a scribe and he worked with newspapers like The Indian ExpressThe Pioneer and Tehelka. He was taken into custody on 9 June 2002, and finally released on 13 January 2003.

My Days in Prison is an account of those days. The book describes the days (and nights) that Gilani spent in Tihar Jail, following his arrest under the Official Secrets Act. The Urdu translation of My Days in Prison won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award.

Siddharth Varadarajan in his foreword to the book writes,

“The shocking story that this book tells is not just an indictment of the capriciousness and arbitrariness of power, or a grim chronicle of the sheer viciousness of the Indian State. It is also a depressing account of how all the so-called estates of society – including the Fourth – came face to face with an obvious injustice and were found wanting.”

Varadarajan continues:

“For seven months, Iftikhar – Delhi bureau chief of the Jammu-based daily Kashmir Times and a well-respected journalist in the Capital – was imprisoned without bail under the draconian and much-abused Official Secrets Act (OSA). His crime — possessing out-of-date information on Indian troop deployments in “Indian-held Kashmir” culled from a widely-circulated monograph published by a Pakistani research institute.”

Gilani says about his days in prison:

“I was beaten up many times while inside the prison. For 41 days, I worked as a labourer. It was good that I had such an experience. Recently some of my journalist friends visited Tihar jail and wrote reports about the life inside the prison but it’s entirely a different experience through the eyes of a prisoner.”

Gilani speaks about the days there were raids conducted at his home in Delhi. He says:

“My children were in Kashmir. My wife is a homemaker and had never ventured out alone in Delhi. It was a painful experience for us … but she coped with the situation. She met my friends; organized things with the lawyer. She was the only visitor to the prison as the prison rules were very strict regarding visitors. It was indeed a tough time but we had the support of family and friends.”

PRISONER NO. 100: THE STORY OF MY ORDEAL IN AN INDIAN PRISON
by Anjum Zamarud Habib, Zubaan Books, 2011

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Prisoner No. 100 is Anjum Zamarud Habib’s account of her years in jail, most of which was as an under trial. She was falsely implicated under POTA in 2003, jailed and released in the winter of 2007. The four years of torture at the Tihar Jail and her tryst with the other inmates led to the book, Prisoner no.100: The Story of My Ordeal in an Indian Prison.

Her self-description is:

“I am an ordinary, middle-class, educated Kashmiri woman. I am no writer and I do not know what the art of writing is. I wrote what I could, but at times I felt that my mind registered much more. It seemed like the thoughts were flowing and it was difficult to capture all of it.”

Anjum Zamarud Habib is the founder of the ‘Muslim Khawateen Markaz’, which was established in 1990 to lend support to Kashmiri women. She looks back at her time in prison and makes five points:

  • Jail culture has rules and regulations of its own. There are customs one needs to follow.
  • Tareeq means a lot in the life of a prisoner; it decides the fate of the prisoner. A court date is a very unnerving process.
  • I shared a very strange relationship with the people in there. We used to fight and then talk. You can’t escape people — sooner or later one has to come to terms with the other.
  • Nobody is interested in anyone else’s life beyond those four walls. All one wants is to move on. The absurdity of it all is a learning experience.
  •  Incarceration can bind physically but cannot bind one’s conscience; no jail can cuff one’s thoughts or imagination.

THE BAD BOYS OF BOKARO JAIL by Chetan Mahajan
Penguin Books India, 2014

9780143421535

The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail is about the CEO who learnt more about the big bad world in prison than his MBA degrees. It is about the CEO who understood humans better through inmates in jail than from colleagues who adorned Ralph Lauren jackets and Aldo shoes.

The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail began in Bokaro Chas Mandal Karawas, the Bokaro Jail. Chetan Mahajan was hoping to be released the next day. But that was not to be. It was vacation season for the courts and so, he had to wait for weeks before his case came up for hearing. To remain sane, he wrote a daily journal, which became his memoir, which dates back to the days of 2012 when he was divisional head of Everonn, an education firm owned by the Gems Group, a conglomerate from the Middle East.

Chetan Mahajan was caught in the cross-fire for “a white collar crime” which had to do with an IIT entrance coaching chain called ‘Toppers’, that had a strong presence in Bokaro, Jharkhand. One thing led to another; and Mahajan was in prison.

Mahajan says:

“Corruption is rampant; if you have money, you get anything. Prison guards and cops are part of the game. Jail officials use the powers vested in them to make money. Those who can’t pay suffer. Some inmates are so poor that they can’t even pay for their bail – so end up being in jail needlessly.”

Mahajan adds:

“The jail doctor is a fraud. He never touches a patient. Never picks up his stethoscope or looks into anyone’s eyes, ears or throat. He sees about 30 patients in 30 minutes.”

He concludes,

“A realization for me is that even now, we all live in a jail at some level. That is the jail of the limitations we put around ourselves. And we all have the potential to gain release from that prison if we can start thinking a little differently about life.”

Today Chetan Mahajan is a free man. He is CEO of HCL Learning. The legal proceeding against him was quashed in March 2013.

Colours of the Cage-cover_2

 

Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir by Arun Ferreira is published by Aleph Book Company. The perfect bound, softcover book of 176 pages has been printed by Replika Press.

 

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