From my bookshelf
Letters from prison-Captive Imaginations-Varavara Rao
Page number 12:
Wait for me,, and I’ll come back,
Wait and I’ll come.
Wait through autumn’s yellow rains
And its tedium
Steel your heart and do not grieve,
Wait through winter’s haze,
Wait through wind and the raging strom,
Wait through summer’s blaze.
Wait when other’s wait no more,
When my letter stop,
Wait with hope that never wanes,
Wait and don’t give up.
Wait for me and I’ll come back;
Patience, dear one, learn.
Turn away from those who say
That I’ll not return.
Let my son and mother weep
Tears of sorrow,
Let friends insist that it’s time,
That you must forget.
Do not listen to their kind
Words of sympathy,
Do not join them if they drink
To my memory.
Wait for me! Let those who don’t-
Once I’m back with you-
Let them say that it was luck
That had seen us through.
You and I alone will know
That I safely came
Spitting every kind of death,
Through that lethal flame,
Just because you learned to wait
And like no one else on earth,
Waited,love, for me.
Page number 20:
When children play for long under trees, one often hears mothers affectionately reprimanding them: ‘what treasure have you buried under the tree? Often, it is said out of irritation if the girls are not helping with household chores. In the case of boys, it is because they are not on time for their meals. As for me, call it a fond illusion, but I seem to sense my mother’s living presence in the trees outside my window, watching me from the open sky, the mango trees, her outstretched arms.
Providing new tastes again and again
My mother’s hands are like honey.
Tiding me her story time and again
My mother’s voice is a melody.
Drawing me close
Those hands turn into the vision of spring-
The koel’s song
The rasa’s taste
The cool shade
Page number 21:
In the years of 1986 and ’87 in summer, I used to read mostly under the shade of those trees. The mango tree outside my windows fell during the gale of 21 February 1988. Then I truly felt as if mother earth had lost one of her arms. Such a big tree uprooted so easily! As the hailstones pelted down, as the strong wind blew and the rain fell, the slender jamun plant bound to a bamboo moved restlessly, but the string did not snap. The guava tree rocked back and forth wildly, as if possessed. Only the stalk was left of the rose bud that would have bloomed in a few days. The petals fell scattered around the plant.
As I said, not all the trees in this courtyard were planted by human beings. Some of them were planted by birds. What was strange was, that beside each tree that grew thus because of birds, another kind of tree grew alongside. In jasmine bed there was an almond growing, in another, a sopanut tree, a kaumaga, not to speak of the rela. And in the rubbish heap in one corner, there grew a neem, a jasmine, a tamarind and a rela.
Page number 22:
During three summers that blazed down on us, tending the trees we had planted was like caring for infants. With joy, I watched the green tip of the jackfruit grow inch by inch, picked off the worm eaten leaves of the jamun, and looked at the days of my imprisonment against them. Watering the plants on summer evenings, talking to the birds that fearlessly join me and gracefully drink the water I pour, a thought flashes through my mind brining a feeling of shyness in its train: this love of plants I have learnt so late is one I must cherish privately. A love which must never be shown in public except as the proverbial three flowers that bear six fruits.
Page number 24:
One morning a rose bush puts forth a bud. Remember when you planted that cutting, wiping desire for a new life to take root? And whenever a heart is wounded and stitched together again, a new dawn seems to be twittering to life.
As I write of that experience it is if the pollen of those wounds bursts forth from my fingertips. Whether in humiliation, or amidst felicitations, in suffering of in joy, the spirit of these trees as I have understood it in these last three years has infused my tastes and values.
Page number 26:
From bare stalks haunted by
Memories of fallen flowers
Fresh shoots appear.
Hidden in the leaves of the present
The invisible future
Koel-like, ours forth
The pain-drenched sweetness
Off the past.
Page number 29:
Surely it can’t be pleasant thing for birds, as symbols of freedom, to be in jail? And yet how can I claim that they are not cheerful and contended? Whenever I see pigeons inside the jail I wonder. .. And the sight of the these pigeons reminds me , not of the people forgotten, but of bonds that must be forgotten; not of past lives but of the past trapped in the present.
Page number 30:
But then, I don’t quite understand how these surroundings have grown so congenial ovr the last two and a half years and why there are pigeons everywhere now. In the trees, in courtyard in front of my cell, on the barrack ventilators, before the staff kitchen, near the water, above the ledges of the barracks behind my cell- they are everywhere, like blue-grey clouds that have come down from the sky. The sounds- their rustling against the tin windows shades, pecking at each other, the fluttering of wings-from a background to the silence of my solitary existence. They have grown so familiar that I have stopped going to the back of my cell fearing that I may disturb them when I walk briskly in the evening. Sometimes I go there stepping softly, barefoot, to watch them. Even at night, as I place inside my cell, I do so in perfect silence, for fear of disturbing the pair of pigeons nesting in the ventilator.
My days and night slip by, spent in these lovely pigeonholes, and as I drift into sleep.
Page number 33:
In a culture of inequality, the value called love is always the first casualty. You don’t change the system merely by shedding tears of sympathy. Nor do you change it by patronizing, reacting or commenting. Isn’t that why Marx said that you cannot change society unless you become part of the change?
Page number 36:
I have no great fondness for cats, nor do I dislike them. But, as the curds in our mess grew continuously less, I suspected that it must be because someone was adding more water to the milk, or a smaller amount of milk was being set aside for curds, or someone was drinking it up. We could not discover the exact cause and carried out all kinds of inquiries. At last we discovered that one of the detainees, out of sheer love for his adopted child, was keeping the cupboard unbolted and allowing the cat to have its fill of curds. The man himself was not particularly used to eating curds.
Page number 44:
Everything that I read is absorbed instantly like water by dry earth. Throughout the day I read newspapers and journals-front to back, without missing a single link. But then, there is no one with whom I can share my opinions or discuss what I have read. A full three years have passed since I have glanced through any magazine of revolutionary nature. Magazines with such writing must have blossomed in hundreds. What is the use of having eyes if one is not able to read them?
In the newspapers I read, I find nothing about class struggle, or struggles for democratic rights or civil liberties; nothing about tribal revolts, dalit and women’s liberation movements or environmental movements. There is no word in these newspapers of revolutionary organizations, their journals, and how these organizations are reacting to caste and communal clashes, and a host of other issues. Not a single ray of light penetrates the pervasive gloom.
Page number 57:
Censorship of letters is not an inconvenience that is associated only with jails. I have lived with it for the last 23 years. The heated debates about the postal bill and the tapping of telephones, and the mutual recriminations between the Congress and other parties, are amusing to a communist who has been used to this from the very birth of his party. This discussion of an open secret seems to me like Brahminical sophistry.
The difference between letters being censored while in jail and while outside is that, out there, you cannot claim they are being censored although you know the truth. Besides, outside jail, we seal our letters and then post them. They are delivered sealed (unless the one who reads then is too lazy to seal them again). In jail, the letters are handed over without the pretence of sealing them. Letters that arrive are torn open, censored, stamped with the jail seal and signed by the concerned official, before being delivered to the addressee.
Our loves, friendships, bonds, tenderness, ideas, innermost feelings, passions, dreams, truths – the most private and secret chambers of our hearts are laid mercilessly open by the surgeon’s knife. The gaze of strangers and aliens falls on them and they are returned to us, unstitched. What stubborn hearts these, that even in such conditions they continue to throb with feeling!
When I was first arrested in 1973, the mere thought that someone would read my letter would paralyse my pen.
Page number 62:
The people to whom I write and who write back to me are all immersed either in public service or in literary and cultural movements. I tend to forget what a bad correspondent I used to be when I was outside, similarly preoccupied. Now that I sit ready with my pen poised on paper, I am quick to fall victim to impatience, misunderstanding or anxieties because those whom I write to don’t write back. Even those whom I write to don’t write back. Even those who are not busy expect letters from me, don’t reply. When they try to write, their hearts but do not reply. When they try to write, their hearts weigh heavily on their pens! And so they expect me to continue to write without hoping for a reply!
Page number 63:
Although in my political activity I never compromised or bowed before anyone, for these letters, from the minute I expect them to arrive, I seem to turn into beggar-hands stretched.