Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Dark Days At Cuddalore

The Dark Days At Cuddalore
Testimony of a recently released prisoner.
Achintya Pal

Part 1
It has been a few days since I had been released from Cuddalore prison, and yet it haunts me as nightmare. I always remember the tyranny of Cuddalore and the whims of the prison authority. I feel sorry for those prisoners whom I left in the midst of endless brutality and tyranny. Anything can happen to them at that wretched place; we even may not get back some of them. I am eagerly waiting for the day when the prisoners from West Bengal will be released and will return with great courage and firm determination amongst us.

We were imprisoned under 'Misa' at some jail in West Bengal. We were allotted rooms. On 28th December, the jail authority ordered to shift the prisoners under 'Misa'. On being asked, they said that the prisoners under 'Misa' with no other charges, who were ordered by the Advisory Board to be held for one year, were to be transfered by the West Bengal Government to some other Prison. The leadership of the political prisoners protested against this decision and it worked. We were dicided to be transfered to some prison in West Bengal, possibly Baharampore. We didn't even dream of being transfered secretly to Cuddalore in Tamilnadu, far away from Bengal. On 29th December, we came to know that we were being transfered to some prison in Tamilnadu. Prison authority did not tell us discretely, they kept it all foggy. We collected this bit of secret information from other sources. The Government was afraid that the people of West Bengal might protest and form huge movements against this order if they were aware of this decision. They would never allow such decisions of the wayward Government without protest.

The day of departure approached. We were given farewell by the political prisoners of the prison. We noticed that even the young and immature prisoners were not upset to go to a remote and unknown place in south, leaving their relatives and friends. They clearly announced in the meeting, ' Once that we have started this fight for changing society, no attack or no torture from the rulers can demoralize us. We have learn to walk with our heads held high; we shall never succumb to the tyrants.'

We were ready by the afternoon. The prison authority announced our time of departure to be eight o'clock in the evening on 30th December. The other political prisoners gave us Guard of Honour and we started our journey to the unknown. We were counted outside our rooms and searched at the jail office, and then we were taken outside the prison gate. It was funny to see that the Government arranged a huge battalion of C.R.P with rifles and bayonet to shift such a little number of unarmed people. Then we were put into the police van. Each van was for twenty, but at least thirty people were accommodated in a single vehicle. Besides seven or eight C.R.P sat in our car, which made half of us to go to Howrah station standing. We were roped and handcuffed inside the van. When the car started, a C.R.P said,' Be quiet, you scoundrels, or you will have the treatment'. And started the bitter experience of the way to Cuddalore. Anyway, we reached Howrah station at last, bearing the insults of those non-violent and peaceful ambassadors of Indiraji. We were not taken straight to Howrah station from Howrah Bridge, but through many narrow alleyways of Howrah. The sight at the station was astounding. It was crowded with innumerable police officers, police constables, C.R.Ps and B.S.Fs. There were all the ranked employees of the prison division of West Bengal. There were hatred and brutality etched on their face. They were reverberating the station with their footfalls in such a way as if they were going to a war against the enemy. We were kept in the van for a couple of hours, suffocated, without being allowed to drink some water or pee. At about twelve o'clock, we were shifted to the prison van of the train. It was completely wrapped with compact snare. Only about fifteen men could sit in that compartment, and about five could lie down. But they huddled about thirty of us like cattle in a single compartment. Besides there were our own goods and the rugs given by the jail authority. Naturally, some of us could not have a chance to sit. We had to journey a distance of about three days in this ugly and miserable condition.

(To be continued..)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Ghat Revisited

He was standing at the end of the flight of stairs that led to the river. Storm was coming. His nephew, only eight months of age and annoyed for he was standing for the last five minutes, was nudging him as hard as he could. He was supposed to move around.

He started to walk.

Fifteen years it had been since he visited this Ghat for the last time. He remembered the day vaguely. he came with his uncle and bought a toy monkey with a cigarette in it's mouth. That was his favourite toy, but he lost it years ago.

He went down the stairs and walked along the riverbed towards north. The old houses were towering over the river under the setting sun. Once they witnessed him walking with his uncle. His old school was visible against the crimson tint on the sky. There was an old brick wall separating the school and the Ghat. They used to climb up the wall and escaped through this Ghat during the second half of school hours. The wall had been reduced to a few bricks kept together by a thin plaster coating, with weeds and roots of banyan trees all over it. His nephew gave a joyful laugh, holding out his arms at the wall. He will never get a chance to jump over it to escape school.

Darkness was falling quickly with the ascending mounds of clouds. A burst of wind blew southward, and the cap of the child flew away. His uncle withdrew the cap from over a bush, and came back to take shelter under the stall of Jilabi ran by an old man just beside the temple. The old man gave him a toothless grin and a wink to the child. He knew the boy. When he was a kid, he used to come with his uncle. His uncle died a couple of years ago. He was a good man, his uncle was. Never forgot to talk to him when he came to the Ghat. He gestured the boy to the bench, and went back to his customers while talking to himself inaudibly. Reminiscence is delicious, specially at the old age.

Rain started to fall thick and fast. The child gave another cry of delight and started trying to catch raindrops in his outstretched arms. The crowd around the stall started to thin. The shopkeeper covered the remaining Jilabies, took two hot Jilabies on a piece of paper and smiling widely gave them to the boy. The boy stood up to pay when someone shouted his name from behind. His mother had come with umbrellas to bring them home.

The boy paid for the Jilabies, got hold of an umbrella and started to walk along the muddy road, his mother carrying the child at his side. The circle of life has been completed.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Ages ago, when I was a kid, my father used to take me to the playground ( there are three very famous playgrounds here, at Chinsurah) in the afternoon. There was a group of my father's childhood friends, who gathered there everyday, and relaxed. They talked among themselves, and I played with the children of my uncles. With the sunset, the play ended. My playmates went home, but I stayed with my father. Now it was our personal time. Hours after hours he talked with me. The crowd in the field dissolved, the darkness took over the regime of the light, and we talked. We talked about stars, about the sun and the moon, about the big old banyan tree beside the field, about football players,about cricket. My father never studied science, and knew nothing about the reactions taking place inside the sun. Neither he heard of Kepler, nor the fact that the shape of earth's orbit round the sun is elliptic. But from him, I learned the names of the stars , planets, and trees. He told me stories about Maradona winning the World Cup, about thirty four test centuries made by some Sunny Gavasker. I memorized them all. He said," And now this is one football player.. Pla.. Pla.. ", and I would shout out "Platini". That was the favorite game of mine.

This might not be a very systematic way of acquiring knowledge, but it was effective. When I went to school for the first time, I knew more things than any other kid of my age. These knowledge were of not much use in the examinations, but when a teacher asked something like" Have you heard of Pele?", I used to be the first one to answer. It was a very great pleasure at that age, and I owe this pleasure to my father.

When I started in class 1, my mother took a greater hand in my education. Being a teacher, she knew how to trigger the curiosity of a child. I became a bookworm very soon. But I never liked my textbooks. I always preferred knowing what Pagla Dashu did to learn some boring mathematics tricks. And I was never forced to do what I did not want to do. I stayed in my Mamar Bari during the first five years of my school, coming to home only at night because I had a morning session at school then , and Baba and Ma both had to go to work. I traveled a lot on my Baromama's bicycle.

Now when I look back to those days of my childhood, I feel sad! Now I have priorities, reservations, and duties. Then I had none of these. Now I have to finish my day's course of study to cope up with the next day's classes even if I am not feeling like it. Now I have to think twice before I say something to somebody. Now I have to answer to none other than myself if I fail to do something that would have been done successfully.

Now I can't spend hours talking with my father in the field under the starry sky every afternoon, even if I want to. My schedule does not permit that. I wish I could do that. That was the most wonderful way of learning I have ever experienced. Even now I cherish those moments while remembering them.

George Bernard Shaw was right. " Reminiscences make one so deliciously aged, and sad."[The Irrational Knot(1905)]