Prison Days

By Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

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12th August 1942

I woke up with a start and switched on the light. Binda was standing at the foot of my bed. He told me the police had arrived and wished to see me. It was 2 a.m. My mind was a confused jumble of the events of the preceding twenty-four hours. The shots fired on the students’ procession were still ringing in my ears and before my eyes I could only see the faces of those young men whom I had helped to pick up and remove to hospital. I was utterly weary in mind and body and more than a little dazed.

The girls were asleep on the veranda and I did not wish to disturb them. Both Lekha and Tara had gone to bed exhausted after what they had been through the day before. They had seen sights which would not easily be effaced from their memory and were bewildered and unhappy.

I went out to the porch. The City Magistrate, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, and half a dozen armed policemen were standing waiting for me in the darkness. I switched on the light and was amazed to find the grounds full of plain-clothes men some of whom had actually come up on to the veranda. This annoyed me and very curtly I ordered them off into the garden before speaking to the City Magistrate. He was ill at ease and said he had a warrant for my arrest. ‘Why is it necessary for so many armed men to come to arrest one unarmed woman at this amazing hour?’ I asked. A search was also to take place, I was informed. I told them to go ahead with the search while I got ready for prison.

15th August 1942

Food is an overrated subject. One realizes this most forcibly in jail. It is all right if one is in pleasant surroundings with the right people and the food is well cooked and well served. It is certainly possible to enjoy a meal in such a setting. But when one has to cook in the most primitive fashion and the heat is making one ill and the rations are mildewed, it is really a doubtful pleasure. I have decided to give it up and shall try to confine myself to bread and tea.
Prison tea has to be seen to be believed! My experience of tea is fairly varied, ranging from the exquisitely perfumed and delicate varieties that Madam Chiang sends me to the nondescript syrupy stuff one is obliged to swallow during election campaigns—but never have I seen or tasted anything like jail tea. I am convinced it is some special and very deadly variety of leaf grown for the poor unfortunates who are in prison. Not having any tea of my own I took this decoction once and nearly passed out. It would give me a tremendous thrill if I could make all jail officials live for one week on jail rations.

18 August 1942: “There is a new rule for political prisoners. We will not be permitted newspapers, letters, interviews or any article from home. Jail clothes will be provided. Our allowance will be reduced from twelve annas to nine annas per day.”

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