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The grey world of prisons - a diary

This world is stranger than fiction. Kindness! in prison! Gentlemen, in prison! Walled up in a dreary dormitory designed for 20 but populated by 40 under trials.

3 August -
There’s a whole family out here, father, two brothers, mother in the women’s ward. Accused of burning their daughter-in-law over dowry. They look wealthy, sleek, settled in. Very hospitable, cheering me on, cautioning, advising and shielding me from the not so apparent evils in the prison.

5 August –
Ashish is in for the abduction, rape and murder of his one time girlfriend who rejected him - but I have rarely seen a gentler, more thoughtful person. I try to imagine him with his hatchet. I haven’t succeeded.

13 August –
Learnt about Raju from the dowry-death family. Brought up by an uncle, worked in a teashop, studied nights to become an electrician. Uncle robbed and stabbed the rich neighbors and implicated Raju. Raju has been in prison for 5 years as an under trial. His uncle sees to it he stays inside. He’s been beaten up so severely that he’s quite unhinged. An NGO has been representing him in court – but Raju is terrified of being released. Of being free and available for assault.

14 August –
Anjali visited me again, the second time at the meeting ‘cage’. This time it was most painful. I couldn’t say much. I wanted more than anything else to see her but it was too disturbing. I think I’m becoming like Raju.

18 August –
I have to improve my eating. The dowry-death family is making overtures, offering me dietary extras but I should be careful after last night’s gang-war. No grouping up and power games for me. It’s too dangerous with knives and guns around.

23 August –
A uniform grayness layers everything, like a cushion. There is no right or wrong, nobody’s making value judgments, not even the cops though they treat me with deference. Anjali says the cops who escorted me to court took her aside saying “Get a good lawyer - get him released!”. I don’t want to think about it. Better to lobotomize yourself from the real world.

27 August –
Ram has been put in jail by his own father to straighten him up! The case has been cooked up by his dad. But Ram has a long way to go. He slashed an under trial with a blade yesterday in the van to court. He’s good friends with the butcher, the convict who’s the official barber for our ward. Must have stolen the blade from him.

31 August -
Long termers are establishment, short termers like myself exist only on the fringes of jail society. There’s a lot I could do here to improve admin systems. The superintendent liked my analysis and proposals – he’s also from IIT – but there’s been nothing further. I guess they think I’ll get released soon. Don’t know. The last court hearing was vague.

1 September –
One month. I have to remain calm.

2 September –
Anjali must be busy. Dipak came for my signature but I couldn’t query him in the superintendent’s office. He’s a good lawyer. He’ll clinch this ridiculous case.

3 September –
The life termers are something else. Scottish guy who stopped at Delhi on the way to Kathmandu, with cocaine in his bag. Reclusive. Probably abandoned by his country. The suave, immaculate, white turbaned sardar. Dangerous guy, clearly a don. Everyone’s in his clutches, serving and fetching – even the cops?

4 September –
Don’t know what to make of the Sri Lankan Kumar. Says he’s innocent, the cash he had was planted. He doesn’t know a single LTTE. Wants to do business with me - export pineapples and other commodities. He sounds too smooth.

5 September -
Funny, you commit a crime because you’re poor, come to jail, and then become almost as powerful as the jailer! Most of the real work in the jail is done by under trials and convicts. Kitchen, housekeeping, accounts, admin. Rahim has been the ‘monitor’ of the ward and rough with me but his attitude has changed now that my release is imminent.

6 September -
Finally I have Rahim’s story. Son of a guard at a diplomatic mission, he and his friends duplicated keys, robbed, and accidently killed a domestic help. He has been very repentant and has been interacting with the NGO for rehab. Every time he talks about his crime he touches his ears. I must help him when he gets out.

7 September –
Waiting. Rahim has told me all the steps for release. Questions I must answer without hesitating. If I falter, they’ll pass me on. Many mistakes have been made in identity - people with similar names - and the wrong guys have been released. The cops are jittery. So am I. What will it be like outside, to make choices, relearn what’s black and what’s white? To be judged every living moment by a world that wrongly incarcerated me?

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