I was very happy. One of my dreams was becoming true- working with a great numbers of jail inmates with a large perspective. It was not a first occasion, where I was organising any program for any jail. After getting a moral boost up from Kiran Bedi, I had started interaction with jail authorities and after completing all required formalities, I had started conducting programs for jail inmates. Before Thane Central Jail, I had conducted couple of programs with women inmates of Byculla jail.
My very first program for the women inmates of Byculla jail was a real experience for me. After completing all relevant procedure by jail authority, I had been given a program for the last week of March, 2003. I had decided earlier that my field of working would be Art, Theatre, Literature, Culture and Education. These are my strength. I wanted to boost up their morale through indirect method of interaction. It was quite difficult to convince jail authorities that what actually I wanted to do? Mental relief? Moral boosting?? Dealing with their inhibitions and capacity through art and theatre???
It was a real difficult phase for me. Initially, I had started feeling that I am unable to explain my theme, my way of interaction, as my dealing with the participants is based on experience, which can be felt, but can’t be expressed in words. It’s something like narrating the quality of food without tasting it. I was determined with one line- “You please give me a chance Sir. Your inmates will speak later on.”
Finally, I was given an opportunity with lots of unwritten instructions, apart from written. I accepted everything. I remember, it was perhaps last week of March, 2003. I wanted to open my program near about 8th March, to denominate International Women’s Day. But no problem! Whatever the date, I was happy.
I was excited. But, at the same time, I was a little apprehensive. What kind of these women would be? Will they listen and act accordingly? It was my first visit, inside the jail. I would be with the inmates. So, I was a little nervous and a little scared also. I wanted some company. (Ha ha ha! You won’t believe, but for my moral support) I asked some of my women friends, as jail authority had clearly told me not to bring any male companion for the program. My friends showed high enthusiasm and at eleventh hour, refused. There were many reasons- Husband, Children and prior appointments. I once again remembered Tagore’s line- “Ekla Cholo Re!”
It was a 2 day Art & Theatre Workshop, I had organized. I was sure about theatre part, as it’s my field. But, Art? I cannot draw a straight line properly even! I asked my daughter. She was doing her BFA from JJ School of Art, Mumbai. She really rescued me. As usual!
I had bought note pads and pens for inmates. I had an idea like my other corporate programs, where everything is highly systematic. I wanted same perfection here also. How fool I was!
The Day, after performing all formalities, I was taken inside by women jail personnel. It was a small ground + first floor building- very old, gloomy with filthy smell. Ground floor was dark and dingy. First floor was a little better. I was taken to a so called hall, which length and breadth was almost like a small room of any house. It was basically kept for Balvadi, where children of women inmates used to play and learn. A sewing machine was also there and capturing much space. I was aghast! In such a small place, how will I conduct my theatre workshop!
Inmates were not interested to come. I was inside the hall. Jail personnel were literally requesting them to participate. Finally, some young women arrived. I started interacting with them through theatrical exercises. After some exercises, they were told to write their names and some other lessons.
“How will we write?”
“Will give you pen and pad.” I opened my bags and started distributing pen and pads……And …..!
Barrack and door of the hall were open. Moment other inmates saw the distribution, they entered in the hall like a storm. Initially, I took everyone inside. I was happy that may be the pen and pads are their motivation to join the workshop. But soon, I came on the harsh reality. After exhausting pen and pads, I was just gheraod by remaining inmates. They all were insisting for pen and pads. Two women from South Africa were furious and in attacking mood. I was promising them subject to allow me to go out and buy for them. But, they were in their mind that if I will go out, I won’t be back and thus they won’t get stationary.
I was in real crisis. I was scared that they will hit me. My inner voice was teasing me, “Enjoy your social activity and efforts to create a bubble within them my Darling!... Better you save yourself first.”
Security was not there. But seeing my condition may be some of the inmates informed security. Lady Constable rushed. They literally pulled and slapped them. But in spite of it, they were not ready to leave me without taking their share for their so called participation in the workshop. I was promising again and again.
Lady Constable fired me- “Who had told you to distribute? Don’t know that this is jail? Here everybody wants everything, whether they need or not. Now, you go home.”
“But, I had promised them. And second thing, I will have to come tomorrow also as my program is for two days. No problem to buy some more sets of stationary. I will go and bring for them.”
They saw me like a fool. Showing emotions and that also for those jail inmates, whom I have not seen before. But, in my opinion, promise is promise. I went to the market, bought sets of stationary and distributed. To my surprise, they just took and went back to their place. I was just alone in the hall.