Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

A STUDY OF LIFE

KALYANI BHATTACHARJEE

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

One month in Presidency Jail during Congress Session of 1933

On the wall of my room a prisoner had scripted the following line, "I do not pray to be saved from danger,/ My prayer is for courage to face it." I had heard these lines so many times , but it had never touched my heart as it did when I read them on the prison wall. It seemed the poet had written these lines for us .Only the weak and the cowardly pray to be saved from danger.
 

"I have been shamed as I asked for comfort from thee ,
"Now I wish to be armed for the battle field ,
"Ready for newer dangers , I shall stand like a rock,
"While your drums of victory beat on my pain ridden heart.
"I shall give my all to hear your clarion call."

After a few days at the police station we were taken to Presidency jail Again to that jail, that epitome of Hell! Jyotikana, revolutionary Ullaskar's niece and Bonolata were already there before us.

Bonolata was kept in solitary confinement. For more than a month she was not permitted to speak with anyone. At the police station she was made to sit on a stool for three days and three nights continuously, and not allowed to sleep. A police standing by her side would shout at her whenever she seemed to be falling asleep This was supposed to weaken a person's mental strength and also affect one's brain.

A S.B. officer had commented that Bonolata had such mental strength that even lifelong imprisonment will not make her divulge any secret.. During the police search of Diocesan College boarding, some revolvers were found under Jyotikana's pillow. Bonolata was her special friend. She was adept at cycling and driving; she was also learning how to fly a plane. She would certainly know how the revolvers came under her friend's pillow. She was being forced to confess that she had procured the revolvers from Kalyanidi and asked Jyoti just to keep them. If she complied then both Jyoti and Bonolata would be released.

In her solitary cell Bonolata was passing her time reciting poems from Rabindranath , "From peak to peak I'll rush,/ From dale to vale I'll run,/ Laughing and singing and dancing / All the way ." Again she would be reciting the speeches of Antony or Brutus from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". Just for ten minutes in the afternoon she was brought down to the courtyard, and during that time I was locked up in my cell. The officers were afraid that I would try to communicate with her and give her secret messages.

Day long I would sit and talk with Jyoti. She was a simple girl without any knowledge of the evils of this world. She had complete trust in human nature.She often spoke of her uncle He had lost his sanity while in the cells of Andaman prison. He would rush around crying for cotton wool to plug his ears for he thought his brains were running out I remembered , "He was relentless in the face of danger; even the greatest pain could not wipe out the smile from his face--- but today he is insane." From "The Exile's Diary"

From my room in jail I used to observe other prisoners and studied their manner of spending their time . They had named the jail "a house of sorrow". Truly , it was a house of sorrow for them. It was like a workshop where every went according to a dull routine . They woke up very early every morning while it was still dark. When the doors were opened they started by washing and scrubbing the courtyard and rooms.. Then they sat down to their daily grind of breaking lentils. Again, after a short break for lunch ,they continued with the same back-breaking work. In the evening , after a quick meal , they were locked up again like cattle in a pen . As I watched them , I felt suffocated and my mind was weighed down by depression.

One day I heard that Bonolata had complained to the superintendent about the sad state of the convicts in prison. I had also spoken to him, "There's a rule in the jail code that prisoners should have one hour's rest after their mid-day meal. Why is this rule not observed here ? " He told me he would ask the jailor to make enquiries. The matron had heard this order ,and she allowed the prisoners rest for two hours , instead of the scheduled one hour . During the jailor's visit the prisoners were all found to be resting. But she had brought a larger quantity of lentils for the prisoners' grinding wheel. They had to do more work in a shorter period of time, and consequently no one could finish the work by evening. The matron finding the work unfinished went around caning the prisoners. It was a miserable sight. As a further punishment their evening meal was reduced in quantity. So instead of improving their lot we had brought down extra punishment on their heads. We realized it was impossible to bring about reforms in this manner. The rot had entered too deep into the tree , and only by uprooting it could it be cured. We felt guilty when we faced the prisoners, for we had worsened their lot. Those who usually greeted us with a smile , turned their faces to-day. We learned from one of them that the jamadarnis had spread the misinformation that the 'swadeshi didis' had asked the jail authorities to increase the work load of the prisoners . Matron seeing the girl talking to me rushed at her and kicked her down on the ground. Later at Hijli jail we came to know that she had delivered a still-born child and was ailing ever since.

A few days later the matron warned me that the prisoners were planning to beat me up , so I must be careful and not move around alone . Another sad incident left a tremendous impact on my mind. On a Monday, when the jailor left after inspection, we saw an aged woman convict being dragged on the ground by seven or eight jail staff. She was locked up in a cell near our room , where without any food she was forced to work on the grinding wheel. She was being punished for having tried to complain against the matron.

It was a scorching day in May. In the afternoon we heard her crying for a drink of water . When there was no response from any one , Jyoti and I decided to risk punishment and save her from thirst. We quietly went and placed a bowl of water in front of her cell and came away. without any word of sympathy. We felt safe for we hoped no one had seen us . In the evening the memsahib came and hauled us up for having given her water, and also for speaking to her. Inspite of repeated declaration that she had not asked us for water, they rushed into the cell and beat her mercilessly. Our helplessness on that day still infuriates me. I am reminded of Wordsworth's line , "What man has made of man"-truly man is the greatest enemy of humanity.

Next day before inspection she was brought out of her cell and made to stand in line with us. Matron had put her in the cell without the jailor's knowledge, so on this day she regularized her punishment and put her back in the cell again, with the jailor's permission. So this was jail , called ''the house of sorrow' by prisoners. We had learnt from experience that it was useless to complain , so we refrained from speaking to the jailor "The only benefit of disaster is , that facing it, man learns to recognize himself. We started to do so as we passed through troubled times." From "Autobiography of an Exile".

I was kept in a tiny cell on the ground floor. Even during day time light or air had no entry here. The walls were painted black like those of Lalbazar police station. This was done to create an ambience of fear and depression in the minds of the prisoners. When the doors were locked in the evening I sat near the grilled door. Even a lantern was not permitted for they feared we might try to kill ourselves with fire. Mosquitoes kept us from sleeping. In this total darkness we could not even see ourselves. There was a crazy woman in the cell next to mine. She would sleep through the day ,and keep shouting at night. She was a petty thief ,in the habit of picking up things. She was jailed for stealing clothes from the verandah of a house. She had short prison terms, but after release she would come back again for some other crime. Thus she was passing her days. She was abnormal and I am sure would have improved with better treatment.

After passing sleepless nights in the darkness I started feeling feverish with a sore throat and burning eyes. At that time Shanti was an under trial prisoner in Presidency jail. She was arrested for some case in Rajsahi. We could not see her for she was kept in a ward with ordinary convicts. We just heard of her from others One day hearing convicts fighting with each other we rushed into their ward. There we saw Shanti standing aghast ,staring at one convict biting another in a bloody fight. Shanti was very young and she had never seen such a sight. I still remember her fear-stricken face.

One day at court we learned that Bonolata and I were released for lack of evidence. Jyoti's trial was still going on . But as soon as we came out of court ,we were shown warrants for our arrest without trial. We became political prisoners. My eldest brother had come with a car to take us home . He returned home broken-hearted. His pain was reflected on his face . My father and mother would be sitting on the verandah ,waiting for us to arrive. The day they arrested me from home ,the police inspector had assured my mother that they would bring me home in two hours. When I did not return with my brother ,and she learned that there was no hope of an early return, she fainted in disappointment.

My brothers and sisters and sister-in-law had helped to revive. After some years I did return to my parents. But in Chattagram , Choudhury's mother had turned mad when she learned of her son's arrest . When the prisoner son returned in freedom, she was not sane enough to welcome him home. In another family the mother turned raving mad when two of her sons were taken prisoner , and the disabled father led a crippled life. The young wife of the elder son had taken up the burden of caring ,for this broken family. She worked silently with a smile on her face, until the sons came back and took charge. But the mother continued to live in her own crazy world. No one has recorded the history of such broken families.

Both of us were sent to Hijli jail as detenus. Now there was no barrier between us. "You go and live together as 'teacher and disciple' in jail. ". Said the police inspector. "Only Jyotikana is left here alone to suffer her punishment. You are now political prisoners ; we will see how you ever get released." His threatening words made us shiver in fear. Bonolata's sister , Charu, and Shanti were friends and they had placed their sister in our care.. Only if Bonolata had confessed that she had received the weapons from me . then most probably she would have been released. But she did not freedom at such a price. She was brought up by revolutionaries and she was not afraid of suffering in prison. She would break but never bend.. She would live like a shining star. So why should we fear?

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