Translated from the original Bengali JEEBON ADHYAYAN, by Dhira Dhar. Reproduced with permission of Jay Bhattacharjee (son of Kalyani Bhattacharjee)

Years in prison

In December 1937 as I stood in freedom after years spent in prison and in detainment, the question that arose over and over again in my mind was, "Are we really a defeated army? Defeated, we have returned from the battlefield. Freedom is still far away." As prisoners we had yearned longingly for a breath of free air in the open.

But as we stood outside the prison walls under the open skies, neither the soothing breeze, nor the caressing arms of our loved ones could give any consolation to our grief-ridden tired souls. Why was it so? Was our tiredness the only reason? Or was it the sad memory of friends left behind, friends lost on the wayside, friends we could not find around us? Or was it the horror of the terrible poverty and want so nakedly all around us? Maybe it was both and something more that we could not yet analyse.

But this is not what I wish to write about. My desire is to portray through my words my impressions of prison life gathered during the years spent there.

Other prisoners with greater experience and higher intellectual ability have recorded their thoughts on prison life. Their account marked by scathing criticism as well as mellow humour have been enriched by their flowing literary style. These traits will be absent in my work, yet I hope it will not be altogether in vain.

I had come across these words somewhere,"In the history of mankind what could have been, what is possible, is more important than what has actually happened. The urge for the unrealized possibility drives mankind ever forward beyond the limits of the present." Maybe the same desire lies hidden in my effort .If people in free India working for prison reforms, find some help from my work, and bring about changes to alleviate the miserable lot of prisoners, then I shall consider my effort well-rewarded. Poet Rabindranath had commented, "The diabolic conception of everlasting hell has inspired civilized men to create the horror of prison. There one finds only the cruelty of punishment , but no desire for benign change and improvement. Prison regulations in most countries of the world adhere to these heartless norms, and jail authorities, even if some are sympathetic, find themselves helpless to lighten the suffering of the inmates." To us it seemed that the jail regulations were just a part of the rules that governed the country. Deshabandhu Chittaranjan had described chained and dominated India as one vast prison, where all were prisoners. Heartless rules and regulations are like iron walls that keep out all the light and fresh air of freedom...

The thought that first came to my mind as I entered prison was, " Humanity has never been so humiliated and outraged as it is in prison." Here every moment man is being degraded and insulted. The worst criminal must be reminded that he is a human being; and only respecting his humanity can do that. Then only is there hope for redemption. In our country jails are there for human torture, where thousands of prisoners are being sacrificed everyday... We hear of numerous prisoners killing themselves to escape from the inhuman treatment meted out to them in prisons. From the pages of "An Exile's Autobiography" we learn how prisoners in the cells Andaman prison welcomed death to save themselves from the barbarous surroundings. But we know how deep is man's desire for life. From bomb-stricken Burma men walked thousands of miles to safety, footsore and exhausted, leaving dead bodies of their wives and children on the wayside.

During the famine in Bengal, we have seen how villagers left everything behind and rushed to the city driven by hunger, in search of some sustenance that would keep them alive. As the poet sang, "Death is not for me; I do not wish to die in this beautiful world," so do all mankind. But in desperation we find him tying the noose of death round his neck. When we try to save him, he cries out," Why don't you let me die? I do not wish to live."

Inside prison we found abysmal darkness and penury all around. Not the slightest smile on anyone's face, as if spring had never touched their souls. Only deathlike dreariness all around... Nature in all her glory of blossoming flowers and moonlit nights pass them by as prisoners continue to live under the burdensome shroud of misery. They know neither laughter nor tears. Nor do they have the power to raise their voice in a storm of protest to shake the walls of prison. The prisoner is deaf dumb and blind. The prisoners reminded us,

"Their dumb wan faces bear the painful tales of time,
As they toil under the burdensome weight, with there last living

"mlaan mukhey lekha sudhu shato shatabdir bedanar karoon kahini,
skandhe jato chaapey bhaar bohi chaley mondo goti
jatokhon thakey praan taar"