A letter from Andaman Cellular Jail

I have never had a guest blogger here at RTDM. But as of today, I am going to make an exception. I present (fanfare)—-my mother. A little context: My father, a professor at IIM Calcutta is going to retire in February. So on his last LTC, Baba and Ma went to Andaman Islands—both for some peace and quiet (they deserve it for having brought me up) as well as to visit Andaman Cellular Jail—-the place where my grandfather (my father’s father) , Jyotirmoy Ray [his picture in the Cellular Jail museum on the left] spent 4 years of his life [his sentence was for 7 years commutted to 4 as part of an amnesty program] as a political prisoner (He was part of the revolutionary movement in Bengal and transported arms to the revolutionaries). He died in 1991.This post is based on a mail my mother wrote to me after coming back from Andamans—-I have added some things to it based on phone conversations I had with her since then. In all, it’s a joint effort between mother and son—in some places the feelings are Ma’s (as conveyed through the telephone) and the words are mine and in some places both of them are Ma’s (being part of her original letter).

With January 26 here, I thought of sharing it with you.

Dear Phuchiburo (that’s me) and Mago (my wife),

Our first stop of the day was the Cellular Jail. The weather in Calcutta was cold but Andaman was hot although it was also officially winter there.

There is a museum Jail1inside in the jail where the pictures of freedom fighters who were detained here are kept. We did not know that Dadu’s picture features prominently there. So when I saw Dadu’s photo on the wall with “Armed Action Case” written on the top of it and his name below, I froze– literally and emotionally. You don’t expect to see your own kin as an exhibit in a museum and that too someone who has been around you physically.

All these times we have gone to so many museums and seen so many people’s pictures and their personal effects but I never ever felt any sort of emotional twitch anywhere in my otherwise very emotional mind because all of them were just “people”– mere statistics to me . Yes they were heroes–noble people whom I respect but who are ultimately strangers—the kind that stare back at you from history books and from the walls of museums. You stop, look at them, feel respect and then move on to the next picture.

But this was different. The man in the picture was someone I knew–in flesh and blood. I called him Baba, I touched his feet, I loved him and I got mad at him for certain things that he did or didn’t do. This was Jyotirmoy Ray, my father-in-law, revolutionary, member of a dangerous anti-British secret society and one of the prisoners of Andaman Cellular Jail.

The same man who also lovingly called me khukuma.

After my son’s marriage, I really came to know what emotional value that simple word “ma” conveys because I call my daughter in law “maago” and nobody knows better than me how much I love her. Same relationship, same love, same hate, same agreements, same disgust, same happy moments. The only difference is that I can’t talk to him now but my daughter in law can talk to me and that is a gigantic difference.

I realized that tears were now flowing down my cheeks. I felt terribly breathless — the impact of controlling my emotions in a public place. Now I know what celebrities in the public domain feel like; not that I am a celebrity but my father-in-law is. I shuddered to look at your father because I knew what was going through his mind.

If this is how I felt, then God knows how he was coping . After all he is his youngest son and the most favorite and pampered of all the three brothers. I really did not want to look at him but my impulse took over. God, he was a mess. I wanted to hold his hand but could not bring myself to because instead of being a source of strength to him, I myself would break down and make a fool of myself in a public place.

Plus he seemed to be lost in a world of his own as he looked at the picture—lost in the memories of his father and his own childhood. So intensely personal to your father was this moment of sadness, remembrance and pride that I did not want to impinge on its tear-soaked purity.

So I just pretended to look at other pictures of freedom fighters who are heroes but definitely not my kin —in order to get a grip on myself and attain the demeanor of an objective museum-visitor. Your father did the same thing for the same reason. We did not look at each other on purpose lest the emotions come flooding back again.
Anyway, we took some pictures and moved on to the next section. This is where the exhibits are. I came to learn that the British authorities made Indians torture fellow Indians. According to them if any prisoner needed any punishment, which was pretty often, then they were to be whipped by Indians—the white man did not want to get his hands dirty with the blood and the sweat. The whipping was done while the prisoner was strapped to a frame by hand and feet so that there was no running around or change of position to lighten the torture. Prisoners’ non-cooperation or hunger strike or failing to fulfill the work quota called for various degrees of punishment as Britishers consider themselves to be fair minded!

The Cellular jaijail3l was built by convicts. It had seven wings spread in the form of seven spokes of a wheel, though unequal in length. There were 696 cells specially built for solitary confinement of the prisoners. A three storied central tower was built at the centre of the convergence of the seven wings. A single guard could supervise all the seven wings from this vantage position. Another unique feature was the total absence of communication between the prisoners in the different wings, since the front of one row of cells with verandah running all along, faced the back of the other wing.

Each cell measuring 12ft by 7 ft had an iron grill door. A 3 ft by 1 ft ventilation 9 ft above provided some light and air. A verandah about 4 ft ran all along the front of the row of cells from one end to the other end of the wing. Each cell grill was well secured with sturdy iron bolt and lock which ran through a rectangular channel on the outside of the cell wall a few feet away from the entrance door. This way the prisoners could not even touch the lock for tampering. Each wing had a courtyard in front with a workshop where the prisoners toiled during the day. There was only one jail4kitchen for the prisoners of the whole jail. The prisoners ate in their cells. The food was passed through a trap door.

There was a pot (similar to the one in which they ate) which was to be used for urine and stool within the cell that were to be cleaned by the prisoners when they were let outside in the morning for toiling. They ate, slept, wept and plotted for the freedom of their land in those dingy dark rooms with the stench of excreta, blood, tears and sweat and the screams of pain emanating through the walls as their only companions.

In the jail, work in the oil grinding mill was all the more terrible and caused several deaths. The quantity of work they were made to do was not humanly possible. Thus almost every day was a punishment day. The punishment varied from whipping to hand cuffs for a week to bar fetters to solitary confinement. With hand cuffs the prisoners had to eat and drink like an animals. Bar fetters were long iron rods joined from hand cuffs going down to the ankle cuffs. This way the prisoners could not bend any way. If they decided to lie down, they would have to throw themselves on to the ground and thus get hurt in the process. Some of them were fed boiled wild grass and their drinking water was collected rain water with worms in them.

A majority of the prisoners went through these unimaginable indignities and punishments but did not give in. Some committed suicide. Some lost their mind. For some, their body gave way but not their spirit and they went onto a more peaceful place.

Going through all these made me feel absolutely drenched out. Honestly I could hardly move. I did not ask your father about how he was feeling because I knew the answer.

Just like any Indian, I have read about freedom fighters and the freedom struggle. But I never really realized the actual depth of the zeal that drove them even though I knew that it involved my father in law. The incidents were just dates and events you had to memorize and analyze for examinations though it gave you a warm fuzzy feeling to read about the sacrifices of so many. But somehow such emotions only scratched the surface—-it made us feel “patriotic” in the way an Indian victory in a cricket match makes us feel.

However this Andaman visit and the associated experience and emotions touched a chord that ran much deeper. Is this the reason why psychologists refer to the experience of going back to your “roots” as so important a part in the process of self-realization?

If this is the reason they do, then I fully agree with them. Of course I must also add that had it not been for my own association with a freedom fighter whom I loved, I would surely not have this depth of emotion and understanding in spite of my first hand experience.

We went to the ground floor cells. Barring Savarkar’s cells, all cells were unmarked because the prisoners were quite often shifted from cell to cell. This means my father in law was anywhere and everywhere over here.

By this time my brain cells were asking me to stop due to the physical discomfort from the knee problem. (my mother has a debilitating knee condition which has severely hampered her mobility) But my heart was on autopilot—and somehow in this place the consciousness of your own physical discomfort pales in comparison to the realization of what the people here had to endure for years.

I decided to climb up the two floors above. Your father knows my knees’ endurance level so he was surprised at my decision. I told him “I want to show my respect to my father in law in my own way”.

We went two flighjail5ts up looking at those empty dingy cells as if searching for the man who directly and indirectly gave me all I have. The cells were, in a way, frightening—despite the apparent peace and tranquility that reigns today, there is still a brooding sense of pain, suffering and death that hovers over the place like a cloud—invisible yet palpable.

But no there was something else which is even more powerful—a light ethereal wondrous presence that dispels the darkness of suffering.

Hope. The hope that sustained these men (your grandfather among them) despite floggings, torture and subhuman treatment. The hope that one day things would be different, the hope that their sons and daughters would grow up in a land free from foreign oppression. And as your father stared into the dark abyss of a cell reaching out for a part of your grandfather forever lost in these walls, I could not help thinking that somehow your father’s presence here, as a free man and as a professor of a premier institute of higher education of a proud resurgent India, is a vindication of the sacrifices your grandfather and his fellow prisoners made.

It was getting late. We moved away—leaving behind the shadows of your grandfather and his fellow patriots. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness , great pride and a deep sense of understanding of what a hero my father-in-law really is. In a way, it seemed as if I was knowing him all over again—so many years after he passed way.

As we went out of the gates, a bird, catching the last rays of the sun, spread its wings and vanished into the sky. Looking up, I silently thanked your grandfather for everything and I am sure that he heard me all right.

Do visit this place if an opportunity arises. You owe it to him.

God Bless you


174 thoughts on “A letter from Andaman Cellular Jail

  1. Thanks Arnab for such an wonderful post !! This is the first time I came across ur blog, and the very first one was a great one .. now going through the others too ….

  2. I came here to laugh a little on a gloomy day and you have made me cry. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. goosebumps a million times over… especially on your blog. I’d have to say, this is by far the best post ever on your blog… I know ‘coz I’ve spent the last 3-4 months wading through your archives and a lot of it is fresh in memory. I check your blog 3-4 times a week and have never left disappointed.

  4. In the future I see my children or grandchildren reading this blogpost in a history / english textbook. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for sharing that letter. As Arun said, goosebumps a million times.

  6. What a nice post. Wait..what’s this strange thing rolling down my cheeks at work…..

  7. I agree with all the readers (Supratim, dreamweaver,Arun Swami, sd) till now, that this is one of your best post I read. I just cried. Thank you and your mother for sharing your thoughts with us. It is very true that we read about these heroes but never really realize the actual depth unless one is directly involved. The timing of the post is also very appropriate. You must be proud of your grandfather. Is this the reason why in your last post, you talked about your DNA? You sure have a good DNA and sure have enough reason to be proud of your DNA.

  8. A great post and wonderful experience. I cannot help but feel the depth of melancholy in the post and in the place. Well written and very emotional.

  9. Came here expecting to laugh and you’ve stunned me into silence instead. Wonderful written. Absolutely brilliant.

    Also, a huge thank you to your mother and you, for sharing her and your private thoughts and feelings with us. We are privileged and grateful. Thanks once again.

  10. Both moving and interesting at the same time. If you don’t mind sharing this information, I am curious when your grandfather was born and what years he spent in the Cellular Jail. The inhuman jail conditions remind me of Henri Charriere’s Papillon. Although that book is the story of a petty criminal and cannot be compared to your Grandfather’s, there is no doubt that any person needs exceptional mental strength to come out alive and sane after years of such confinement.

    While it may evoke feelings of patriotism, I personally feel those sentiments are unproductive in today’s world..

  11. Absolutely amazing post Arnab. Thanks again to you and your mother for writing it and for posting it for us.

    When I was in school I’d read this book called ‘Nirbashiter Atmakatha’ which were the memoirs of someone who had spent time in Cellular jail. I don’t know if you’ve read that – it was a very good book.

    Thank you for a great post!

  12. I have lurked on this blog before but this is the first time i’m commenting…

    I’ve been to Andaman too – was quite some time back but the horror and disgust that hits you at the Cellular Jail doesnt leave you. I still cannot forget it, the sound and light show at the end made an all together deeper impression.

    without much drama, i want to say – never forget.

  13. In case I didn’t make myself clear in my earlier comment, I think this post should be mandatory reading for every Indian.

  14. Nice post Arnab.I had come actually to amuse myself through your literary prowess, but could not help myself from crying. I too had visited cellular jail a few years back and trust me I had cried then when I heard of those attrocities which were commited. It´s a kind of a deja vu.

  15. Arnab
    I was at IIM Joka for a couple of months (before heading off elsewhere to pursue graduate studies in economics) and attended your father’s lectures. Dont know why I am mentioning this, but I suppose I am trying to establish a connection here (we have corresponded once before, thanks to Joy, if you recall). Anyway, I am a long-time reader of your blog, but have not commented before (or have I? I dont remember) and I was deeply moved by this post. Just wanted to pipe up and offer my gratitude to you for sharing this.

  16. I dont usually thank people for making me cry but this was wonderful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  17. Cant really express my feeling in words so would just say – Thanks!.

  18. … I could not help thinking that somehow your father’s presence here, as a free man and as a professor of a premier institute of higher education of a proud resurgent India, is a vindication of the sacrifices your grandfather and his fellow prisoners made.

    And what about you ? How would he feel about you ? That very father’s son ? After all you chose to leave India. Aren’t you a vindication that the sacrifices were not justified ?

  19. Dear Arnab

    Pardon me if my comment is too long! Some years ago my friend and I organized a Charlie Chaplin series. Everyday we would watch a Chaplin movie. On the last day, he called me up and said, he had hired ‘Limelight’. I had no previous idea about the movie. I was expecting same fun but I ended the movie in tears.

    Today after an exhaustive Research methods class, I wanted to read your blog. Actually, I discovered your blog only two days ago. But I really enjoy your humurous style of writing. And what do I find. No, I am not crying actually – but i don’t remember that in recent past, when was I so thoughtful and lost in memories, after reading something! Probably I am also cherishing my roots. My grand father was a social servant and lived a life dedicated to people. Your blog reminded me, how much do I owe him. You don’t know how grateful I am, to you and your Ma.

    One more thing. I am also a student of PhD in Management. It’s a pleasant surprise to know that you are Dr.Alok Ray’s son. I have always admired him a lot. Sorry to say, your talents don’t surprise me anymore. 🙂

    Once again, thanks!

  20. I bow in deep respect to your grand father and all those who suffred like him.We woe so much to them. Thank you and your mother for sharing your feelings with us. It is an unforgetable penetrating experience.

    Dilip KH

  21. God bless your grandfather. There are very few people like him in India today. And most of them are in the Indian Army.

  22. @Supratim, Dreamweaver,Arun Swami, Gawker, SD, Megha, Debashish, yourfan, Ashishg,Urmea, Aditya, Nikhil, Ventilatorblues, Amrtia, Vik, Kandarp, Dilip KH, Raj

    Thank you. It was an intensely moving experience for my parents and we (as a family) wanted to make all of you a part of what we felt. And Gawker, yes I understood what you said in your first comment and I am humbled by your appreciation. And thanks Megha for putting this post as a highlight on your blog.

    Debashish, I confirmed by calling my father—my grandad was imprisoned in 1932, served 4 years of his 7 year sentence (released as part of a political bargain). He was born in 1908. He was awarded the Tamrapatra for his contributions to the freedom struggle.

    Bengali Guy,

    It’s indeed sad that you decided to pick on me over here where this post is about something much nobler and higher than me or you.

    But to reply to what you said there is a factual error. I am merely an H1 visa holder for now–hence not a permanent resident of US. As to whether working in US makes me less of an Indian than someone who works for say TCS in India is open to debate. However this is one place/time I do not want to engage in a war of words—if you think that my working in US somehow does not vindicate the struggle of my grandfather’s generation then so be it.

    A factoid: My dad, like me, got his PhD in US, worked here, got tenure at Cornell Univ, quit and went off to India where he first taught at Delhi University and then joined IIMC as a professor a few years after it first started. And my grandfather was always very very proud of him.

  23. Arnab ,

    I am a regular reader of your blog , but never commented till today. I have noticed that you get a lot of hate mail – people who are critical of you for no good reason. I think its better for you not to dignify their rants by responding to them. Hit the ‘ignore’ key.

  24. Heart-wrenching. GB is the undisputed word-master in the Indian blogosphere. And now he is being ably supported by his mother. I had to sniff away the tears while reading this–Its a pity that we always get to hear about the sacrifices of the big-and-the-famous the Gandhis and the Nehrus but never enough of the footsoldiers of freedom.

  25. Your grandfather was there!? that, I cannot imagine..

    I’ve been to that place. Goosebumps is not the right way of describing it. There is no right way of describing the experience. The whole place is still alive, in a dead sort of way. You wont believe, until you get there, that you’d actually gone there as a tourist – with snacks, cameras etc.. Everything stops making sense. It still doesnt make any sense to me.

    The tour guide, who you’d been attentively listening to till then, suddenly gets zoned out. His voice is barely audible. On the outside it looks like any other building of historical interest, they keep painting all the walls… but something just doesnt leave the place. It sticks. And you can feel it. Same goes for Ross Island(but not as much as the prison)..an island where the officers stayed, but also reserved a prominent place to hang prisoners.

    Sometimes I wondered if I was the only guy to have felt that way. But there is truly no justified description for the experience.I cant thank my father enough for taking me there. You must simply visit this place to see for yourself.

    Although, I must add that its very disturbing. Your name, your family, your future plans, your thoughts, worries..all go right out of the window. All you’ll know is that you’re feeling whatever you’re feeling only because you are Indian. Nothing more, nothing less.

  26. Thank you very very very much for the post. My grandfather too spent a year in the Cellular jail following the Quit India movement (He was accused of treason and sedition 🙂 ). After a year there, he was transferred to the Bangalore jail where he spent the next 2 years.

    Although I never had a chance to know him well (he passed away when I was 5), I always felt his presence. I still have the letters he wrote during his time in prison, hopefully some day I will translate them and get them published.

    I am not one of those who wear patriotism on their sleeves but whenever I remember him I understand that there are some things in life which are worth fighting for, things which mean more than wealth, family, religion or god.

    I had almost forgotten his face; your posts rekindled his memories. Sure, I will visit the cellular jail this time when I am in India.

    Again, thank you very much.

  27. @ Bengali Guy: You wrote: “Aren’t you a vindication that the sacrifices were not justified?” I am really sorry to say that you are not only pathetic but also ill informed. The sacrifices that the freedom fighters like GB’s grandfather made culminated in free, thriving India which is now globally competitive. And in this day of globalization, it hardly matters where the person is working. The freedom fighters’ passion was for freedom – freedom from any restrictions, prejudice – freedom to choose, freedom of thoughts, knowledge, movements. If somebody chooses to stay somewhere who are we to belittle his sincerity or genuineness and thus say that the sacrifices have gone in vain?

  28. All I expected to see when I’d been to Kalapani was the great structure that used to serve as an isolated prison on the pictureseque island. But, what I saw was a microcosm of the courage and the perseverance of my fellow Indians for freedom and the shame and torture that they went through to achieve it. The noose in the middle of the courtyard, the huge bell to be rung each time a prisoner is executed, and the sentry posts where gun-totting sentries were ready to shoot anyone trying to escape, all cried out to us the prisoners’ constant reminder of death.
    I can’t describe my feeling when I saw the beautifully built prison. How can one glorify the idea of depraving another man’s freedom… A utilitarian building wouldn’t have caused so much pain. Kalapani reflects such apathy towards human suffering that words can’t describe. The elegant and artistic architecture built my hatred towards the rats that chewed away on my beautiful nation…

    I was there on this day four years ago… on our republic day. The sound and light show in the jail, in the evening, brought tears to all of us. The images of our struggle to claim what’s rightfully ours, depicted by Om Puri’s commentary went deep down inside my heart to stir the patriotic spirit in my shameless soul. Shameless as all I had in my mind was to go swimming in the sea instead of being in a jail for a couple of hours…

  29. @Raj Mehta: I wish I could hit the “ignore key” after reading Bengali Guy’s comment. I just couldn’t – that is why I had to write to him.

    @GB: You wrote: “And my grandfather was always very very proud of him” – here you were talking about your father. I am positive your granddad would be proud of you for what you are and certainly for the way you write.

  30. Now now, I can see your ma deeply anguished that you think she has a demented mind too.

  31. I know you banned me from posting here, but here i am, saying hi.

    Hi 🙂

    Hello, yourfan.

    nice post. Honestly. Now are you gonna be friends with me or not?


  32. Beautifully-written and evokes poignant imagery. I could literally sense being at the Cellular Jail and having your granfather as a captive there for four years must have made it intensely personal for your parents. Thanks for sharing.

  33. @Raj: It’s ok—comes with the territory.

    @Tamal: Yes we have little in our school books about the “foot-soldiers”–of course that’s the problem with history all over the world.

    @//pukercense//: Thanks for sharing your experience.

    @Anil: Thank you too for talking about your grandfather—I am sure that going to Andamans will be a similarly moving experience to you too.

    @yourfan: Thank you for expressing what I wanted to say in such a succinct fashion.

    @jackmeister: And thank you too for your Andaman experience—it’s a pity (perhaps because of its isolation) that more people do not visit the place.

    @Anon1: The Demented Mind here only applies to me —maybe I should have made it clear as a disclaimer.

    @Comic Project: Thank you..

    @4WD: I never banished you from my blog—never deleted your comments did I? There was certain things about a certain comment I didnt like and I expressed the fact that I shall not respond to such comments in the future. You are free to comment here always and I shall certainly reply to them even if they are critical. As you can see even this post hasnt avoided criticism.

    @Patrix: Thank you.

  34. HI Arnab,

    I will tend to agree with the sentiment expressed by many others here that this is probably the best post I have come across your blog. Your grandfather was a great man, I salute him and thousands others who endured great physical and emotional anguish in their struggle for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

  35. Honestly, I am yet to see a freedom fighter who, 40 yrs on, is happy that they fought for India’s freedom. I know a few, and they are all some very misrable men and women who think they wasted their lives for a lost cause. Its funny that we, the outsiders think so highly of them and their deeds, when they, on the contrary, are very disappointed. Maybe one or two of them become politicians and they have some good things to say. Dont know about your dad, and dont know what you will do, but most US/PhD-returned-to-India-became-profs I know off are extremely unhappy folks. In general they buy plane tickets to US for their kids as soon as they can. I feel, there is nothing wrong with that. Just saying as I see it.

    Didn’t intend to pick on you. It was a very open question, and one that was begging to be asked. Someone had to ask it. I’m not sorry that I asked. It was a very relevant question.

  36. what is meant by phuchiburo?
    and mago?

    kindly translate.

    – Robin

  37. Absolutely Brilliant!

    This is by far the best post I have read on your blog in all the few weeks that I have followed your blog. For one thing, it really stunned me and made me think.

    Those jails were horrific for sure, and frankly I admire the people of those years too had the zeal and patriotism to do something for the country – they had a dream, at least, and many of them lived through it too. For some the dream turned sour, for many it didnt.

    …Something, we of today’s generation sadly dont possess is the capacity of those freedom fighters. At best, we keep cribbing about India, Indianness and Patriotism, often mixing it up with videshi-swadeshi pseudo patriotic sentiments, and we do it without the slightest understanding of what everything really means.

    What a post to read and reflect on this republic day – hats off to you greatbong!


  38. I’ve been there – and been bewildered how human beings can treat each other that way. Thanks for sharing and remembering.

    ps: amar dadur naam o Jyotirmoy Roy cchilo.

  39. Thanks for the wonderful post Arnab…I identified with it, my grandfather was also a freedom fighter…stories of his exploits are told and retold still by many people who knew him. Some of the extreme ones involved blowing up an entire railway station in rural Karnataka and robbing a train carrying supplies to a British regiment.
    It seems difficult to live up to such a legacy, but I strive to do all I can, in my own way.

  40. Great post…made me a bit misty-eyed. Quite apt for Republic Day too, even if I sit here in Melbourne (where it’s Australia Day).

    Anyway…I’d be proud to have had a grandfather like that. In any case, I’m proud of him as a fellow Indian and needless to say, utterly grateful.

  41. This was an inspiring and moving post. Thanks for sharing this.

    The history of British oppression, both economic and political, is quite understated in our textbooks. As a result of that, in our collective consciousness, the British rule often appears more benign than it actually was.

    World GDP Share: India’s fall and UK’s rise

    It took more than a few hunger strikes and round-table-conferences to get rid of them. My deepest respect to your grandfather and his fellow prison inmates.

  42. Hats off to your Grandpa…

    Friends: This Republic Day, watch the malayalam film Kaalapaani to get to know the suffering/sacrifices made by our forefathers for the freedom that we enjoy now.

    Jai Hind

  43. Aah! That was such a poignant post. Please convey our regards and appreciation to your mom for such an honest and heartfelt recounting of her experience. That solves the mystery behind your writing skills. All the bloggers who envied you for your brilliant writing can now just take heart that it was after all in your genes. 🙂

    The post brought back memories of an Amar Chitra Katha book on Veer Savarkar I had read when I was a kid. The pictures of British soldiers whipping Savarkar mercilessly while he was grinding the oil on the mill were etched in my memory.

    And special thanks for the last paragraph. It was a reminder, at least for me, of what I owe and how much I take for granted the sacrifices of those valiant men and women who fought for the freedom I enjoy today.

  44. Been there as a child- it was haunting.
    As was the prison in Ho Chi Minh city where dissenters were tortured in horrific ways.
    And as would so many other prisons be all over the world I suppose.
    Even the high tech supermax prisons won’t sterilise a conscience years from now.

    You must be proud that your grandfather shared the pain.

  45. Have run out of superlatives now to describe your writing…a very vivid and poignant read as someone pointed out. My grandfather was a freedom fighter too, this has made me want to ‘discover my roots’ as you put it. Thanks.

  46. Whew! First up, please pass on my thanks to your Ma. Maaji, thanks a lot for writing this wonderful mail. Greatbong, thanks for posting the mail. As a lot of others have already said, a really poignant post.
    Bengali guy made a good point in what I think is a wrong way. There is nothing wrong at all in your going to US for studies and job, but it is true that we have not treated our freedom fighters as much as we could have. We figure we have done enough by not indulging in blatant corruption, and staying away from politics, while squarely putting all the blame for the current state of afairs on them. Sadly, we- who call ourselves patriotic and honest and who could actually make a difference- lack the drive/determination/just plain old guts, to do what it takes, very much including yours truly; instead congratulating ourselves on a bad-job-not-done. Wish we could be more like your grandfather, more of a doer. Great post o the one with the demented mind.

  47. Thanks Arnab,
    It was by far the best post of yours in this weblog and I know it’s no news to you as I’m not the first person to say it. Today is Republic Day and it’s supposed to be a holiday for me but I had to come to office for some urgent work and the moment I entered your weblog in search for some refreshment to enjoy a few minutes out from this boredom, I saw this. I always expect something new when I enter your weblog but this was really really really really really surprising, it set me thinking, it made me shed tears but it was a pleasant experience going through this. I’ve never been to Andaman but I always wanted to visit the place. Now this has become a “must go, must see” for me.I’ll surely be there very soon and mail you my experience and photographs if you don’t mind.

    Thanks again, for the brilliant post.

  48. Thank you some much for that wonderful heartfelt, honest post. It unknowingly led me to a sincere soul searching and I realised how far away I had come from being the girl who got a lump in her throat every time she saw the national flag unflurl. We all get so lost in our own worlds that all these subtle feelings are unknowingly forgotten. While in college I had felt a similar surge of emotions when I visited the hostel room that Savarkar occupied in our college premises (Fergusson College). It is difficult to explain how it felt. An immense sense of pride was definately what I still carry in my heart, pride at being a part of that college where men like Savarkar, Tilak walked.
    Thank you once again for this wonderful post!

  49. Arnab,

    Sometimes one wanna say a great deal, but words dont come out..So just would like to say Thanks to you and your mother for making this Republic Day a memorable one. Eternally grateful to your grandfather and scores of others who fought for India’s independence.

    It is just sad that we are pretty much unaware of the supreme sacrifices of the people who fought for our freedom. Someone commented that freedom fighters are sad that they fought for India’s freedom and their effort have gone waste. I simply failed to understand that. My maternal grandfather too was one of the smaller foot soldier in the freedom struggle. He didnt have to go thru the pain or joy(depends upon which way u look at) of being in the jails for a long time but he still played a small part in the political awakening of the masses in his region. And he never expressed sadness on me being able to live in a free India. We, the young generation for whom freedom means coming home late at night or the freedom to go to clubs/discos probably would be at a loss to understand what it is to be in bondage!

    Also, believe that we need more of our independence struggle to be thought to our as well as our future generation. And this should go veyond Gandhi,Nehru,Bose,Bhagat Singh. Bengal played amjor role in India’s freedom struggle and eternally grateful to those great forefathers.

    Sorry for this long comment. But just wanted to write something.

  50. @ Bengali Guy: May be to some extent some of the freedom fighters are bitter but definitely not all of them as you portray. Aren’t we all bitter at something or the other? So what is the issue? I agree that all the time we have not treated them right. All the time, we have not given them their dues, we have not taken good care of them physically and we have not taken care of their thoughts and beliefs. We may have failed in actions but we definitely respect them and their sacrifices a tremendous lot. Just look at all the comments.

    I am again sorry to say that you are ill informed. Where on earth did you get this information: “most US/PhD-returned-to-India-became-profs I know off are extremely unhappy folks”. Are you talking about the profs of all the premier institutes including the IITs, IIMs, scientific research institutes? For your information they are all happy and thriving.

    @ Anonymous who said at 4:19 PM: “Now now, I can see your ma deeply anguished that you think she has a demented mind too”. You are incapable of understanding the writings. If according to you, GB’s writing is a yardstick for demented mind then I am positive that GB’s mother would happily want to have at least a double demented mind.

    @4WD: I have never thought myself to be your enemy just because I disagreed on some points of yours!! I have the capability to appreciate differences of opinion but definitely not personal attack and abusive languages.

  51. It was indeed a pleasure reading this post which took me right there to the prison. You must really feel proud to have had such a grandfather. Thanks for the sharing the post.

    And I agree with gawker that this should be made a mandatory reading for every Indians, and of course what an Apt topic for the republic day.

    I shall of course try to visit the same soon.

  52. We of this generation that takes freedom as a default setting, need to be reminded periodically that this freedom was made possible through sacrifices of countless number of people. Some sacrifices of specific individuals – the icons of the movement, if you will-have been well documented, publicised, even dramatised. But many like your grandfather suffered silently and their exploits remained unsung. The Puchiburo and Khukuma duo have come out with a wonderful piece of writing, which more than a tribute to their grandfather/father-in-law is an ode to all the hitherto unsung freedom fighters of that era!

  53. Great post. My R-Day post is a link to this post. Can’t think of a better way.

  54. Wonderful post on the Republic day. You made my day. I can’t help but just link your article on my blog without adulterating. Thanks for sharing

  55. wonderful post
    am linking you too

  56. @ Bengali Guy: As far as I know none of those involved in the independence struggle expected anything in return from the Government or the people of India. They fought only because they wanted the destiny of India to be decided by Indians and not by a foreign power. And as far as I know we are still in control of our destiny.

    Has free India lived up to their expectations? May be not. But I am still proud of what this country has managed to achieve.

  57. brilliant post, thanks Arnab

  58. 2 things.
    all my respects to your grandfather. most touching account of the freedoom struggle. the post made some history chapters come to life. thanks.

    secondly your ma.her devotion , sincerity to her fatherin law just taught me a lesson or 2. indian traditional and family values still lives on.


  59. Nice post Arnab

    On a tangential note, your dad was Alok Ray??? He taught us Development Economics – great course. The econ faculty was outstanding at IIM C as a result of which most of us were either deeply in love with all of them or wishing desperately that we could major in economics and become econ professors like them.

    You’re one lucky guy!



  60. @Vivek,Supremus,Quizman,Padmini, Rahul,Nand Kishore,Dipanjan,EMC3,Chetan, Inkblot, Tapan, Puranjoy, JAP, Dev, Manasi, HP,Anthony, Raj, Gaurav, Nishit,Hutumpacha, Anil, Nonick,

    Thank you all again. Not just for appreciating this post but also for penning your personal experiences of visiting Andamans, your opinions on patriotism, your thoughts on visiting Tilak’s room at Fergusson, about your own freedom-fighter grandfathers and about grandfathers who had the same name as mine ! I also would want to thank many of you who have linked this post on their blogs—I would like everyone to read this..not because it’s my grandfather but because amidst the pomp of the parade and the pictures of Gandhi-Nehru-Tilak-Sardar we sometimes tend to forget the contributions of the “foot-soldiers” (as someone here said) of freedom.


    Now “Phuchiburo” means nothing–Ma always called me Phuchi and the “buro” which literally means “old” in bengali is a suffix of endearment tagged onto my name (which has not *nothing* to do with me turning 30). Maago is actually Maa-go because my mother addresses my wife as Ma (mother) and the go is just “Oh” as in Maa-go is “Oh mother”.

    I know it’s confusing to understand why my mother calls my wife “Oh Mother” but suffice to say that “Mother” is also a term of endearment used to refer to a girl by someone older to her.

  61. I missed Neela’s comment when replying as it had been posted when I was writing my reply. A few of the other commenters have also mentioned my father…and yes he is Dr. Alok Ray who is a professor (will retire in a few days) of Economics @IIMC. I spent a lot of my childhood days on campus—fiddling with my dad’s computer, diving into the excellent library, eating the fine food at the convocation ceremony and batting for the faculty in the staff vs faculty cricket match.

    I am very happy to see so many students of my dad visiting this blog. Needless to say, I am very proud of him.

  62. This is a heart wrenching read. Wonderfully written. I salute freedom fighters like your grandfathers.
    Thanks for sharing it with us. Also me being a big movie buff this reminded of the movie ‘The shawshunk redemption’.

  63. oh gosh! where do i begin…i have this lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. it was a fitting way to end Republic Day by reading your, or rather your mom’s post. Thank you for sharing this with us. I must also say that your mom should start her own blog…she expresses herself so well.

  64. Arnab,
    Thanks a lot for this wonderful post. How often engrossed in our selfish lives we forget to give a moment’s thought to those fine men and women who were responsible for today’s free India for letting us lead our lives in a free country with honour.

    I salute your grandfather. You and your family are truly blessed.

    It also reminded me of a lovely poetry written by Veer Savarkar when he was serving his sentence in the Andaman jail. The poetry was composed into a lovely song made eternal by the Mangeshkar siblings.

    The song brings tears to ones eyes and makes every strand of hair stand up. It’s in Marathi and I hope I’ll find it soon and put up the translation. For the time being here are a couple of lines

    “Ne Majhsi ne parat matrubhoomila, sagara pran talmala”

    “Take me back to my motherland O ocean, I’m dying here in pain”

  65. To someone who spent a good 17 of the 29 years of his existence in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the post certainly brought back good old memories.

    The Cellular jail most of the time during my stay there was just another landmark which the State Transport Bus passed by on my way home.

    But after a good 12 years of leaving that place, the joint efforts of your mother and you allow me to rewind those days of my life.

    Thank you once again for the post.

  66. Greatbong,

    This is really poignant.
    I wonder if any Pakistanis visit Cellular Jail…I’m sure there were prisoners from that part of the world there as well.

    Interestingly, I came across a blog about your shared history…do many Indians share this view? http://flying-donkey.blogspot.com/2005/11/in-defense-of-pakistan.html

  67. Great Post, Arnab…
    I remember having read your father’s macro-econ articles in BusinessLine/TOI…
    The connection was a pleasant surprise.

  68. extremely moving.

    I don’t know what to write….but am very moved.

  69. This was a very poignant and moving post. Thank you so much for sharing it. I have been to the Andaman Cellular Jail – but my feelings were vastly different. Your mom in fact put it so well – to me they all were “noble people whom I respect but were ultimately strangers… You stop, look at them, feel respect and then move on to the next picture”

  70. touching !
    and to think some one comments on ur workplace, ur moms mind. people do miss the point by a million miles.u have made each one of us maybe redefine patriotism for ourselves and realise that the freedom struggle meant much more than the names like Nehru Gandhi.there were many names which endured as much or more.
    that ur blog is not for comic posts only ,and that u dont appreciate any sort of generalisations is glaringly obvious, so dont even bother to react to these kind of comments.besides making people laugh as against analysing current issues o r presenting interesting experiences onblog is serious buisiness and needs a wee bit more intelligence if not more.[besides u sit thro everything of the likes of ‘mohabbattein’ which ordinary mortals like us start nauseating ]have begun my year going thro ur archives ,relishing every bit . a good note to start the year with !varsha

  71. @Greatbong:
    Before I embark on a futile attempt to brainwash “Bengali Guy”, I have to thank you and your mother for this extremely moving article. I don’t really know what to say, but I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks again.

    @Bengali Guy:
    I do not see why you attack someone who has to live and work abroad, however briefly, for the sake of his career.

    Does it strike you that yours is perhaps the only dissonant note among the comments posted?

    Don’t be too quick to judge people.

    Don’t be such a frog-in-a-well. These are your interests as listed on your profile?
    Calcutta, Kolkata, Bengali, Bangla, World Affairs, Life, Photography, Business, Insights, Jadavpur, Shibpur, Ballygunge, Tollygunge, Dhakuria, Shyambazar, Gariahat, Dakhineshwar, Kalighat, Rishra, Howrah.

    From your blog, it looks like you are so narrow minded.

    Hey, get out more. Allow me to tell you a little about myself: I was born in Hooghly, grew up in a lower middle class family residing in an old, dilapidated house in a narrow lane in Shyambazar, went to school near Moulali, learnt the game of chess on the pavements of Fariapukur and played cricket with rich kids and kids from the local basti in Deshbandhu Park and in the narrow lanes of Shyambazar, and later went to IIT Kharagpur, where most of my friends were from all over the country, did time at an Ivy League university where I was the only Indian student in my year in my department so I got to know a lot of people from all over the world, before escaping to ISI Calcutta in Bonhugli, and then again moving to another university in another part of our country where there are people from all communities in India. Travelled to various parts of the world (as a result of which I am perpetually out of money), and can speak (apart from Bengali, Hindi and English) German and a smattering of Spanish and Korean, and learnt a few gaalis in Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam from my South Indian friends too. And after all this, I’d again love to come back to Bengal and work there.

    I was not born with a sliver spoon in my mouth either, but I am not complaining.

    And this is nothing compared to what many of my friends have experienced in their lives.

    Do not think I am glorifying all this either.

    So stop nitpicking. I do not think you are the happiest person on earth. Try to solve your own problems before pointing a finger at others. I am telling you this because I was like you at some point of time as well. There is much in your nascent blog that is due to skewed perception.

    Get out more, and enjoy life. Don’t make yourself miserable.

    Hey there, thanks again. Tell your Ma it was a wonderful letter. And I apologize for squabbling on your blog.

  72. Hi Arnab, this is patently unfair of you. I came to your site to read some more humour, maybe some demented review of a demented hindi film, and what do I get? A sublime, beautiful, poignant post by your mother on Cellular jail that knocked the stuffing out of me!

    I come here wanting to be amused or to leave a nasty message to provoke you in response to whatever you wrote; instead I leave here anguished, solemn, with a lump in my throat. Damn you!

    And this has happened with me twice in two successive days. Yesterday I watched a brilliant, touching, funny, sad, provocative movie called ‘Rang De Basanti’ and again I left the theatre with a with my throat choking. I must be getting soft in my old age.

    My humble ‘pranam’ to your grandfather. I wonder if all of us can ever live up to the standards that he and his ilk have set for us.

  73. And then there are some morons who think Savarkar should not be honoured. Whatever.

    I am not a Bong, and I must say Bongland has been a great enigma to me. With people like Vivekananda, Subhas Chandra Bose, and other lesser known people like Greatbong’s grandfather, hailing from Bongland… to me it is a big riddle how come a majority of Bongs worship Karl Marx and Jyoti Basu instead. Never could understand this.

  74. Really really touching. It really is true, that you need to be in that place associated with memories to really feel them to that an intensity..

  75. Hi,

    Enjoy your writing and am a regular visitor to your site. I also had the good fortune to be taught economics by your father at IIMC and it comes as no suprise that the genes have spilled over!

  76. khub bhalo lekha, pore besh valo laglo.

    While I have problems with words like “proud” and “patriotism”, I feel gratitude to all the people who suffered in the cause of freedom. I always remember that I live in such a free society today because so many people, like Jyotirmoy Ray, who gave up their freedom to earn our freedom. The thing is that the struggle is not over yet. Jyotirmoy Ray and others did their bit to earn it. We should do ours to secure it and further it. We should be ready to be jailed by the government or get shot by a terrorist to protect this most precious possession of ours. The reason I have problems with words like “proud” and “patriotism” is because these are the words governments use to limit our freedom in the name of national security. We must be vigilant.

    If it is not personal, can you share a little more about the life and work of Jyotirmoy Ray before and after his imprisonment? A google search got zero hits.

  77. @Anon
    “I am not a Bong, and I must say Bongland has been a great enigma to me. With people like Vivekananda, Subhas Chandra Bose, and other lesser known people like Greatbong’s grandfather, hailing from Bongland… to me it is a big riddle how come a majority of Bongs worship Karl Marx and Jyoti Basu instead. Never could understand this.”

    This is a national myth. A lie propagated by few to bash Bengalis. Grow up man!
    How many Bengalis you’ve met?

    Why dig into pre-Independence history?
    A cursory glance at list of the three Service chiefs or to be recent… a list of gallantry awardees during Kargil conflict (inspite of the fact, Bengalis don’t have an infantry regiment…so all awardees come from officer ranks) will be enlightening for you.

    Arnab! Excellent post, a fitting tribute to the Republic Day.

  78. Sure VonRunstedt, I personally know a Colonel Nundy who has fought in Siachen and other battles. I was referring to the undeniable fact that Bongs have elected the same Commie party again and again for more than 30 years. How do you explain that? Even Kerala at least alternates between Commies and Congress.

    And well, Commies and patriotism don’t go together. Or would you say Bong Commies are different, and are patriotic?

  79. What a timely and poignant post! What fine heritage you possess! Thank you for sharing the letter. I was moved beyond words.

  80. @Anon..”Sure VonRunstedt, I personally know a Colonel Nundy who has fought in Siachen and other battles. I was referring to the undeniable fact that Bongs have elected the same Commie party again and again for more than 30 years. How do you explain that? Even Kerala at least alternates between Commies and Congress.

    And well, Commies and patriotism don’t go together. Or would you say Bong Commies are different, and are patriotic?”

    If you are upto date on news from West Bengal with respect to Assembly election preparation…newspaper (check Indian Express and Pioneer) report shows that as large as 85 lakhs (discovered in southern districts) of voters hold false identity EC ID cards / ration cards.
    So, a state of 5 crores (err…any thumb rule what percentage translates into legal voter numbers? … roughly 2/3 crores maximum) around 18% voters are bogus.

    Do your math buddy, its never difficult for a political outfit to win an election with these many bogus voters.

    Now add to above figure actual commie supporters(placed in state govt. machinery) and a particular community that always votes for them, you’ll come up with comfortable numbers.

    On election day take into account intimidation and violence.

    As a matter of fact commie vote share has been decreasing over the years in spite of “scientific rigging”, please refer to EC website for vote per centage among parties.

    That about your query on elections.

    My personal feeling…no Commies are not patriotic (Bong or otherwise). And WB does contain largest share of commies.

    But the equation Bong==Commie is utter bullshit.

  81. @GB- splendid post. I dont have much time on my hands …so a few quick points:

    1> My salute to your Thakurda.

    2> Notice the people like indian and another indian are conspicous by their absence here in this post’s comments section. I say so cuz one of these fucking morons raised the question of bengali contribution in the indian army in an earlier post. Such fuckers obviosuly dont study history ..havent heard who JN Chaudhuri is and have forgotten who SC Bose was.

    3> which brings me to Bose- read that Advani was the only politician to pay respect on Bose’s birthday. Sighs. Lovely. But on MKG or JLN’s birthday, theres no shortage of showmanship.

    4> Kolkata Boi Mela is now on. I miss it immensely. I am sure that you have great memories of the book fair. If you have time can you make a post on the book fair drawing on some memories of your college or high school days? At least 3 commentators here were bowled over by your writing skills. Im immensely happy to see people acknowledging it as i had mentioned about it earlier when the polls took place.

    5> Finally, Bengal in the ranji Final . Something tells me that we are gonna win it this time.:)))

    @bengali boy- Obviosuly you have some deep seated notions about patriotism – one of them being that leaving one’s country makes one unpatriotic. Lemme ask you a question- who is more patriotic- A libertarian residing in India who spits on India, its government and its social and economic structure 24*7 or a person who stays abroad but loves his country? Remember there are lots of NRI’s; but lots of RNI’s too- Resident non Indians. I respect your question, you are free to raise such points- but it simply doesnt fit in this context.

    @chuck wiggins: Oh a most interesting post that one. 🙂 Very True too.

    @anon- Bongs dont worship Marx or J basu. Suffice it to say that given the socio economic scenario in the 70’s , CPM seemed a better option than asshole Congress party. they came, thew saw and did incredible damage in all these years since 1974. They still win in Bengal in a way the Republican party won the last 2 elections .Again, they sweep the heartland due to the absence of a viable alternative party and due to the weak presence of the BJP. Trust me, most of the elctorate who vote for CPM have never read Marx or Lenin. Most of the current govt.’s policies are exactly Communist.

    Also Bongland is nothing but a part of India, a country which is yours and mine. So the sooner you cease to see Bengal with a jaundiced eye, the quicker you will understand your own country better.

  82. exellent post.
    but the sad thing is, the great sacrifices made by these “un-sung heroes” seldom acknowledged. after reading this, i felt immense anger towards the action of Manishankar Aiyyer, who replaced the potrait(or a plaque i dont know exactly) of Savarker(who served 12 or 13 years there) with that of gandhi.

    i dont know when we, the Indians, will stop degrading some persons for the sake of others

  83. I must thank you for sharing this.

  84. Arnab,
    it was a truly touching post from you. To have some one like that in ur family tree is a privilege. I experienced the same when i visited Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. I am a South Indian, and far removed from Punjab, but when i saw the garden, something deep inside me was shaken. I saw the well where so many men,women and children jumped in trying to save their lives. I saw the bullet marks on the walls, and imagined people trying to escape. For a moment i was in stunned silence, as i recalled all those faceless people who died, so that we would be free someday.
    Today i sit in a cubicle, and write lines of code, but when i read these sort of articles, i feel meaningless, very small in front of these people. Arnab,send this letter across to every one in blogosphere,so that people take pride in being an Indian.

  85. Your excellent post is excerpted today, January 27, as one of our two Daily Bloggerback/Best of Blogs posts at Candide’s Notebooks (www.pierretristam.com)

  86. unusually poignant of you arnab…

    “..it made us feel “patriotic” in the way an Indian victory in a cricket match makes us feel.”
    Strangely enough, somehow I can relate to that.

  87. wonderful reminiscence ….
    one has to bow down in respect to people such as your Grandfather, without whom we would still be living meaningless restrictive lives…


    How STAR TV and Siddhatha Basu duped people


  89. Dr. Alok Ray was my professor too. Great Bong you have a great dad and a grandfather to be so proud of.

    Btw, this patriotism vs communism thing – I frankly dont give a damn as long as it is for the common good. Yes Communism is outdated and NOT WORKING but the common man doesnt know that. Yet. So his vote goes to personalities and organisations which will help him in the immediate term.

  90. yourfan2: You said:

    “..who is more patriotic- A libertarian residing in India who spits on India, its government and its social and economic structure 24*7 or a person who..”

    Just for your information, my stand on almost all social, political, economic and legal issues happens to be the libertarian stand (I am as yet undecided on a few issues). Yes, I am not a fan of the concept of patriotism but nevertheless I fail to understand how being a “patriot” entitles you to condescendingly characterize a person like me as someone who “spits on” India.

  91. it was a wonderful post. I stay away from India but I carry our flag wherever I go. I feel a lot for these freedom fighters who gave everything for this country, but look what these politicians are doing, just imagine how bad these patriots will be feeling seeing these politicians making a mockery of freedom,

    A new power will rise, and its the youth like us which will make a big change, it is matter of time.
    Jai Hind

  92. Very moving and poignant post. When history is personal, it is no longer just history.


  93. Arnab wrote about his grandpa and described a jail. He then wrote that the India of today validated his grandpas efforts.

    Arnab left India because India didnot provide the same educational and career opportunities as the US.

    So Arnab doesnt think much of the opportunities that todays India offers. (and from his his other posts, he doesnt think very highly of the rest of India either)

    Yet he claims that his grandpa would be proud of this very same India.

    Either Arnab is insulting his grandpa, or he is just being sarcastic.

    I wanted to clarify this point.

    So I asked a very simple question that occured to me. Thanks for all your answers.

    This will be my last post on this issue. If you have futher comments, here is my email id :
    bengalikolkata _at_yahoo_dot_com

  94. I think it is rather difficult to share such personal incidents and I’d like to thank you for doing so.

    I’ve linked the post from my blog. I think other Indians should know about this.

    Thanks again.

  95. @Bengal Guy: What I really don’t understand is how can you be so closed minded? You are free to have any question/observation in your mind. But when eloquently given logical explanation by Mr
    Pundarikaksha Purakayastha, yourfan2, and others fail to make you understand the point then I have no option but to think that you have a very closed mind.
    Haven’t you heard the word ‘choice in life’? I don’t know GB personally. But the fact that so many people just like him (I am sure you included) have been ABLE TO DECIDE on the ‘choices of life’ (that doe’s not necessarily mean only going abroad – it means a gamut of choices available to us now) is a vindication of the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters like GB’s grandfather. I really liked Mr Pundarikaksha’s mail to you – it seemed it was written from heart. So take his advice and broaden your outlook and stop being judgmental.

  96. @debashis- That was a rhetorical question in response to another rhetorical question. That I happened to use a ranting libertarian as an example is purely coincidental.

    PS. I am a liberal, but I dont hate libertarians.

    @GB- we live in interesting times. I would like to know your response to Moin Khan’s comments here:

    I know people would jump at Moin’s throat now but Id like to attract your attention to this bit somewhat down the article:

    “Dravid contradicted himself by including Sourav for the Lahore Test citing his experience but then picking an inexperienced Yuvraj Singh as the fifth specialist batsmen for Faisalabad.”

    Slowly but surely, the team mgmt and their asslickers ,Cricinfo, are trying to convince the public that Yuvraj Singh is a natural and obvious choice for the Test 11, when in fact he still has lots of question marks against his name. Itd be interesting to see if Saurav plays in Karachi. If not then surely we have seen the last of him in international cricket.

  97. Thank you GB. Had a lump in my throat reading it. Very, very moving and an eye-opener to what heights man can go when he’s charged with the hope of a noble goal. Thanks, esp, to your Ma for bringing out very complex emotions so simply.

    I feel small not ever going to Andamans. I will go there. Some years ago, I had gone to Dakar in Senegal. Dakar, if you see in the map, is the western-most point in Africa. Abutting the city is a tiny island called Goree. On it is a cellular jail, built in the late 19th century. Men and women from all across Africa would be brought here, kept in chains, and then shipped to the new world to serve as slaves. It gave me goose pimples, even though it didn’t connect with my country’s history. Wonder what Andamans will do. Goree is today a World Heritage Monument.

    Another aspect of Goree. It’s full of migratory birds – it’s their last stop before they wing across the ocean. “As we went out of the gates, a bird, catching the last rays of the sun, spread its wings and vanished into the sky,” says your mother. In Goree, too, I thought of the birds taking off on a long, symbolic flight to freedom.

    Thanks again.

  98. You are turning into a very popular
    blogger so keep writing…and hey you’ve got 100 comments!

  99. Arnab
    As that fat bald ugly Englishman said something along the lines of “Never in the history of mankind will so many owe so much to a few men”. Your grandfather was a few good men to who we owe our freedom.

    Though the British were ready to abdicate the Raj but the selflessness and sacrifice of these men was something else. And they wanted nothing in terurn. No cabinet posts, no government contracts and no paramveer chakra or money remunerations. All for the love of a piece of land that they felt obligated towards. I think Ray captured it beautifully in the anguished soul of Victor Banerjees’s character in ‘Ghare Baire’, if I am not mistaken.

    How do u feel or your father feel when you see the likes of Lalu, Thackrey and Mayawati fuck it up so badly? When Sukhrams milk us of crores and their progeny run over foothpath dwellers to get off scot free? When dynasties of the undeserving lord over us for decades?

    Do you feel that Shri. Jyotimoy Roy could have spent those 4 years of his life somewhere better?


  100. yourfan2: “That was a rhetorical question in response to another rhetorical question. That I happened to use a ranting libertarian as an example is purely coincidental.

    That’s the routine and very lame defense we usually see for comments like these. It does not clarify why you needed any label to your “purely coincidental” example in the first place. It’s no more coincidental than the Hindu nationalist stereotyping the “non-patriot” as a “traitorous Muslim”. Only, your example will invite less flak, that’s all.

  101. @Debashis- Tch. Seems I touched a raw nerve. I apologize if I hurt your feelings. But you should take into consideration in what context I made that comment.

    I think you would agree with me that the definition of patriotism goes far beyond what is chalked out by Bengali guy. So say if a person who has left India for higher studies or H1B is asked to prove his patriotism, he may say that if patriotism is defined by the presence of my ass inside the geographical boundaries of my country , then what about people who stay inside my country and are “unpatriotic”. Because surely privatise all, no GOI, etc would be tantamount to “unpatriotic ” within the framework of Bengali Guy’s definition. Even the basic tenets of individual freedom will be put to the shade. Hence the refrence to the proponent of such maxims who live in India.

    Therefore, the comment was more a counterpoint to his rhetorical question rather than a dig at “libertraian patriotism”, as you seem to make it out to be.

    GB’s comment : “As to whether working in US makes me less of an Indian than someone who works for say TCS in India is open to debate.” , I feel is also a very good question.

    are a few links that you may like.You will surely love 3.

    PS. There was no need to draw the religion card here, but here again I can point out to psedo-secularists who consider it fashionable to create a radical when there is none for the sake of minority vote banks. In my book, they are as as bad as the radicals. But hey, why dirty this comments section with our mutual cribs…you can email me at yourfan2@rediffmail.com if you wish.

  102. Dear Arnab,
    I am an avid reader of your posts and as usual this one too leaves me astounded.
    Also pleased to know that you are Dr Alok Ray’s son. He’s one of the most respected professors in IIMC (I am a 2005 alumni of IIMC) . Great going keep it up. My regards to Dr Ray as well.

  103. PLEASE STOP!!

    May I request all those who are making such unfortunate comments on begalism, parochialism, pseudo-patriotism and things like that. This is a beautiful post. One of the best I have ever read. One person is sharing a very personal and emotional experience of his family. He is sharing a part of his emotional legacy. And you are all spoiling it. I request you not to spoil beauty of this post anymore!

  104. yourfan2: I wouldn’t have responded at all (not in this post) had you not used the term “spits on”.. besides, the comments section was already very muddied with so many responses to Bengali Guy. Anyway, thanks for the links and maybe Arnab’s forthcoming post on the Welfare State will be relevant to this debate (although I hope that will be a humorous post!).

  105. Arnab u touched my heart and soul with this blog.

  106. Dear Arnab,
    I received info about this letter in your blog from Dr. Santanu Ray, Visva-Bharati who is a close colleague of mine. And I thanked him profusely for directing me to this beautiful post from your mother. Although we know of many great personalities who took part in the freedom for India movements, it is quite another thing to be associated with someone whose one of the closest relatives had been involved in this struggle. I can only remotely try to feel what your fathers emotion was as he stood in this famous jail and thought about his own father himself. In any case, as the time went by we forgot or were in the process of forgetting what it was like for the people like your grandpa at those times. But it was really nice to remember the sacrifices that these people did because of which we now live in independent India.Thanks once again to you for posting this beautiful article at a very appropriate time.

    Dr. Amit Roy

  107. Dear Bukku,
    This is the first time I am visiting your blog and have gone through a wonderful letter “a letter from Andaman Cellular Jail”. It is very very emotional to me as the letter is regarding my most beloved Bhalo Jaytha (good uncle) the great patriot of India and even could not prevent my tears. Not only emotional but also I feel proud of him as he is a member of my family. I want to thank you for posting this letter to your blog by which people all over the globe will know the sacrifice made by patriots like my uncle. I am also very much thankful to my boudi (Sara Ray) for expressing their (dada and boudi)emotions in the letter. Last of all I pay my tributes and pranam to my Bhalo Jaytha – the great son of India and a great human being.
    Best wishes,
    Santanu kaku

  108. I very much appreciated the letter posted regarding the sacrifice of a freedom fighter like Jyotirmoy Roy. I have heard similar stories, although not in the cellular jail from my brother-in-law. He was in Dhaka jail or Presidency jail for several years and was tortured in the traditional method of the then rulers of India. His uncle was the founder of Anushilan Samity, a great revolutionary group in Dhaka and East Pakistan,who was poisoned by the British in the Hijli jail in Kharagpur.
    It is indeed painful to be reminded of the great sacrifices of our predecessors, but it is nonetheless essential to know your heritage. It gives the spirit to survive in India even today.
    Prof Shelley Bhattacharya, Visva Bharati

  109. Since the long-awaited new post from our dear greatbong is yet to arrive, a slightly off-topic comment:

    One final attempt to disabuse certain people of the notion that so many people are intent on leaving this country.

    I myself went to Cornell with the hope of earning a PhD and returning to India after a post-doc or two maybe, because the training abroad is better in many ways than what I can get here, and on returning I can give something back to our country, which heavily subsidised my education – at least a decade ago, fees at IIT were affordable for people from my economic background – you only had to clear the entrance exam.

    I returned disillusioned, my PhD unfinished. And I was not the first one, and will not be the last. I have begun afresh, having lost a few years in the process.

    However, I bear no grudge against those who did not have trouble adjusting to life abroad. I myself have travelled abroad again, though never longer than three weeks, and in the process have made friends from all walks of life, journalists, writers, scientists, other students, street musicians, taxi-drivers, bus-drivers, preachers….

    And I felt surprised first, and then flattered, and perhaps a little overrated too, that some of these people had heard of the IITs and have a high opinion of these institutes, and therefore were impressed with me partly because of the IIT connection.

    No matter where these students end up, they were the product of our own system, and the majority of them are valued the world over.

    And not just the IITs, people from supposedly lesser institutions, to consider just science and engineering, all over the country, are quite good. Not to mention the medical students, or humanities students.

    And when in a place like IIT Kharagpur, you realize it was originally the Hijli detention camp for freedom fighters, it is difficult to be ungrateful to those who made it possible for so many to pursue the career of their dreams today.

    The only freedom fighter I knew was one of my uncles, who died before I could appreciate what he had done.

    So I am grateful to GB for sharing this story with us.

  110. Here I’m sitting at my desk crying unashamedly with people looking strangely at me. Thank you for a beautiful, moving, poignant post.

  111. hello arnab,

    I recalled something said by a character in the movie Amistad after reading your post.

    “I will call into the past, far into the beginning of time, and beg them to help me at the judgment. I will reach back and draw them into me. And they must come. . . for at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all.”

    Thanks for sharing your magos conversations.

    – Sudeep

  112. Hi Arnab, thanks. And Pl thank your mother for sharing this… years ago my dad [who’s your typical no-nonsense defense officer] went to the cellular jail and mentioned he cried. I have never seen him, or heard him mention crying over anything so I was surprised. Now I understand.

  113. Thanks to you and your mother for sharing this sacred piece of memory-

    it hurts to think of those unsung heroes who suffered so much…

    God Bless you…

  114. Your post left a lump in my throat. Born on the Republic Day, I am a die hard patriot at all times and not only when we win matches. Its a fantastic country that we are born into and I would not trade it for anything in the world. The letter that your mother has written to you is what all Indians have to read to make them a little more aware of their roots. It makes me proud.

  115. Arnab, moving message.

  116. Arnab!! It was the best blog I have read so far… your mom description got the whole scene in front of my eyes… Well my Dadu was also a part of this revolution and all I saw in his lifetime was marks in his nails and lots of stories… But today I realise the greatness of ur and my dadu.. their sacrifices… and thank them all for our Happiness

  117. Absolutely fantastic post. Thanks a million.

    I was in Kolkata last month, visiting after two years. I picked up a copy of the book “Shantaram” at the airport. It’s a grisly and fascinating read, and it contains long descriptions of prison brutality — in India as well as Australia. Browsing online after finishing, I came across the book’s website (www.shantaram.com) where Roberts claims that his escape did cause a certain amount of reform:

    “Was the prison system reformed as a result of my escape? Some extra light was splashed onto the bloody floor of the punishment unit by the circumstances of my escape, because it was widely publicised that I had escaped after being savagely beaten by a small clique of sadistic prison guards. When I was extradited and returned to prison in 1991, more than 10 years after I’d escaped, the situation was quite different. The socio-political culture of the prison had undergone a paradigm shift, and beatings by guards were much more the exception, than the rule.”

    It’s ironic how prisons are called “correctional facilities”. The imperialist Brits certainly screwed us Indians over, but who’s to say their heritage isn’t flourishing? Stanley Milgram’s work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment) continues to say so much about us humans.

  118. Very touching. Fantastic style and substance. Wonderful blog.

    Sounds no better than hitler’s concentration camp which indicates the extent of sacrifices.

    I think Andaman was also the place where Veer Savarkar was taken.

    Recently a movie “Deewar” was released with the theme of getting our soldiers back from pakistani jails. It didn’t do well despite Mr Bachchan being in it. Wonder why? I am glad that people are appreciating Rang de Basanti at least.

    You should be proud to have such a freedom fighter in the family.

  119. Very nice post. Also sad to see that Prof Alok Ray is retiring – someone I have learnt a lot from – more reason to visit your blog again

  120. Hi Arnab,

    A very moving post. And I’ve got to appreciate your courage for sharing such an intimate family moment with all of us. Thank you.

    And why do you even bother to reply to some of the Anons’ comments ? They are not even worth your, and anyone’s, attention ….

  121. Hi Arnab
    I recieved this mail from my Sir Dr.Santanu Ray and I am happy to be in touch with such a great human being and National Hero through my Sir.Its nice to remember the sacrifices and struggle of those people who made the independence of India possible and this inspires us very much to work for this earth.As the time went by,people pass away and the only thing that remains in the mind of society is-“CONTRIBUTION”.The contribution of Jyotirmoy Ray is unparallel.Lastly,I pay my tributes to our great hero-Jyotirmoy Ray.
    Thanks for posting such nice article.
    Sudipto Mandal
    Ecological Modelling Lab.

  122. beautiful….

  123. Its heart wrenching…. my grandapa was also a freedom fighter, he was a fearless man and a great human being. Thanks for sharing such an intimate family moment.

  124. Since I myself have visited the Cellular Jail in the Andamans couple of years back, it was quite nostalgic to read ur article! Infact there are many things which entices us and makes us feel proud of the sacrifices made by our forefathers for the freedom struggle of our motherland.

    In the guestbook kept there, I found comments like “Jail all politicians here for a month”, “Rabri and Mayawati must be tortured here for few months”! After they did so much then, we are wasting away the freedom that we got.

    And as oft-repeated above, I am a student of IIMC and have attended lactures by ur dad on Economics. Though I havent interacted much with him, I can vouch for the fact that he has amazing knowledge and grasp on the subject. Hats off to him and also to your mom who respects her father-in-law so much!

    And lastly, u write amazingly well…Keep it going

  125. Hey there. Just went thru the post…Absolutely heart wrenching…I had visited andaman quite a few years back, when I was a kid, but i never forgot the cellular jail experience, especially the sound and light show…and that too mostly because of the real vivid imagination powers that I have got.

    well, I have come across Prof. Alok Ray, been taught by him in the recent past. The first thing that struck me about him was his calm and serene face…I thought that he had the kindest face in the world!! I thoroughly enjoyed his lectures (didnt miss a single one. Tomorrow (or is it tomorrow already?) is going to be his last day at work. IIM-C is truly going to miss a great Economist and a great teacher! Well, you must be truly proud to have a father like him!!!

    All the best to him…

  126. man, that was one hell of a post. (this is the best i could do. tried describing for 5 mins and tinker with the statement for 9 mins till now.)

    abs abs abs stunning. was like speechless, and still, for 5 mins. dont know for what.

    and yes, tears did roll down my cheeks.

    well like ‘Anon’ above, i too have been taught by him

  127. First time in my life I have found myself so so so small, insignificant! Dada, I felt genuinely disgusted at me being myself- a man completely groping in material pleasures and entagled in daily chores of life. Breathless is the word that can describe it.
    But the fact that Prof. Alok Ray has taught me at IIMC allowed me to mentally travel and feel the conncetion with the Cellular jail through your father and grandfather. The feeling is not that of textbook/RDB-like patriotism but its self-pity…
    It is asking me when someone so close to me can be SO HUGE in character, then I am so week, feeble, ordinary? I wish this stays with me for rest of my life. For then, you will have done your job. All the best and thank you.

  128. Nice post. Cellular jail was nobody’s idea of a tourist desination a few decades ago. My great grandfather is another of the names on list there. He was a painter, photographer, revolutionary amongst many other things. I wish I had personally known him, his thoughts, and how he survived the primitive coop that Kaalapani was.

  129. Honestly, I came here looking for some Mithun bashing and chanced on this. Last year I was in Andaman. Being the “tourist” i wanted sea and beaches not museums on my itinery. But my friend insisted that we go there and I went there just for curiosity sake. But what it did to me was beyond me. Trust me even to imagine the horrors the prisoners at cellular jail coped with scared me to death. I was awed, angry, emotional, scared all at once. A morbid and errie silence fills the place and in your mind images appear and disappear. you try and put together images created by what you have read and heard. And the thought that your images are not even one millionth of what actually happeed here puts you in a kind of trance which is difficult to explain. It broke me and when a stary dog leaped out from a cell on groundfloor I cried out loud. No the dog didnt scare me but gave me the chance lety my feelings out. I quietly wept, avoiding any eye contact with my friend whose face was also flushed and spirits shaken. Nothing in the world could prepare me to stay for the sound and light show. This time my friend didnt insist. We both lacked the courage to sit there.
    I shudder to think what your mother would have felt.

  130. Anon_Hyderabad May 10, 2006 — 6:33 am

    Thanks Arnab for this touching post.

  131. Testing..

  132. Dear Arnab,

    Just saw your post on Andaman.. Every Indian should be eternally thankful for that post. As someone rightly said, it should be in history book.

    “We must learn the elements of our being, the blood that courses in our veins; we must have faith in that blood and what it did in the past; and out of that faith and consciousness of past greatness, we must build an India yet greater than what she has been.” – Swami Vivekananda

    With our love for pleasure, our lack of faith, our lack of conduct, our imitativeness, a handful of us, the education-excited youth, have not yet been able to drive away from Bharatavarsha the rugged strength of poverty – Tagore

    India certainly needs more freedom fighters of *this* kind. The need for them now is more than ever before. But, I believe that we have a lot of work to do. The past 50 years have not built on the sacrifices done by the generations before. Would you be doing something similar for Aug 15? If so, I will send some material.

    Warmest Regards,

  133. Very inspiring. Thank you and your family for sharing your experiences with us.

  134. I think I should first thank Hiren for his recommendation of this post.My eyes welled up with tears I can imagine how your parents felt.Thanks for sharing.

  135. My heart felt heavy after reading. I had to go and drink a glass of water to prevent myself from crying in front of my computer.
    My highest regards to your parents and kudos to your mother for being a brave lady.
    I also feel prisons are a little overwhelming. I think I will convey my thoughts through a post on my blog.

  136. In the past 3 days,since i’ve read your blog….I must have read around 60-70 of ur posts..but this is by far the best thing u have written…

  137. I had a virtual tour to the cellular jail. still its echoing that we feel it in depth only when some one of ours is involved,

    nice and moving letter.

  138. Awesome! better than reading dry history books. And please convey my sincere regards to your mom – she comes across as a amazingly strong, honest and loving woman!

  139. Thanks for sharing . Your mother’s narrative is extremely moving.

    Salute to all the heroes for giving us a free world despite all the obstacles! God Bless

  140. Hey greatbong, loved ur post as usual. If this indeed adirect translation, then one can see that ur mom is as good a writer as you.

    anyway, to come to what I wanted to say….I have always felt that in the official history of india, we are not taught the full extent of the activities, impact and popularity of such extremist groups which had taken up arms against the British. You will find that almost exclusively it was very young men from such groups who got the hardest of punishments, such as Cellular jail. In fact, Cellular Jail is almost full of such young men who lost the prime years of their lives cut off from the rest of India, and were usually very harshly treated and brutally tortured. In comparison, there was a measure of tolerance when dealing with Congress leaders etc. because of their being non-violent. Whatever it may have been, I feel there is a greater need to appreciate and recognise the validity and courage of these unknowns each of whom gave a lot.

  141. Reading a paragraph in text books about what an unknown/unnamed freedom fighter went through doesn’t give the right picture. Thank you, for sharing this with everyone.

  142. Hi
    I was just now reading the book Freedom and Midnight and was carried away a bit in freedom and movement of it…
    I felt there could be nothing more touching than that… now I see that I was wrong..
    This was a masterpiece..

  143. a humbling and sobering blog, something different from the normal humorous blogs from you. Great anyways liked every word of it.

  144. pls learn to respect the freedom fighters of india who gave their lives for our country. you people must feel shy to enjoy your lifestyles ur living right now cos ur living freely today becos these people gave away their whole lives for us. and these people have forgotten such great humanbeings.these people never lived for themselves but for their motherland and you people nowadays fight within yourselves only to sit in that prestigious chairs which you have got under your ass.

  145. I recently visited Andaman in May and when I visited Cellular I certainly did not go through what your mother did , since none of the pictures were of my kin. But a visit to Cellular, is a humbling experience and a shudder runs down your spine, at the thgought what the place would have been when it was operational. Every Indian must visit the place at least once, to realize the price that we have paid for the free see air that you can breath on top of the central tower.

  146. Amazing! Here’s my tribute for tomorrow… http://dailyworldwatch.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/happy-birthday-my-63-year-old-beauty/ Nowhere near this, though, but just tho’t of letting you know… 🙂

  147. It was a beautiful read Arnab! My grandmother was transferred in Andaman and my Ma and Mama spent their childhood in a house very close to Cellular Jail. My grandparents always had interesting stories about their time in Andaman, this brings back very interesting memories. It’s such a wonderful post….

  148. Hey man, that was don’t know what to say..cant see the pics though now(problem?)

  149. My father had been to Andaman; and he had a chance to visit the cell where Veer Savarkar was jailed. His voice was quivering and he almost had tears in his eyes talking about it; and he was as emotionally tough as a guy as you would have met.

  150. its very nice to read someheart touching,here i want to share something that my grandfather also the prisioner of cellular jail but not as a freedom fighter ,in other crime,came here in 1928 and died on 1993 ,his 4 son and 4 daughter living in andamn and we are really feel great when thinking about him,really its great..

  151. Arnabda,

    This has to be one of the best posts that I have read of yours. I had to re-read it to try understanding the two emotions portrayed here: 1) The ideal that our freedom-fighters held on to through unimaginable suffering, and 2) kakima’s feelings and her respect to your dadu as she went through the premises. Thank you for this.

  152. I wish any future generation make account of british for such atrocities? The Were Aggressors and made brutal conduct……… Is any Indian or else has any urge to take revenge?

  153. I read a novel by manohar malgonkar quite some time back, sometime in the 1990s ………. which did not really talk so poorly about the treatment of prisoners in cellular jail. it then made me wonder whether all that we hear about atrocities is true? dont remember the name of the book though.

  154. I was searching for some real stories from that horror place ,called Cellular Jail.. and accidentally found this letter… While reading it, i found myself all alone in my rushy office. Thanks for sharing this. i actually got the real picture and feel from this writing.

  155. Read the book of Veer Savarkar, then you will come to know the insight of kalapani.You cannot even think of how much atrocities were committed by the britishers on the Indians, and the sacrifice made by the freedom fighters are invaluable.Many unknown acts have happened in cellular jail, and we know only the documented ones.Long Live India.Jai Hind.

  156. a touching story of tortured prisioners

  157. Brought tears to my eyes.

  158. Do visit this place if an opportunity arises. Arnab da, You definitely owe it to him.
    We all owe it to him. And others alike.

    Going through the blog after a long, long time.

  159. Such a beautiful article.

  160. Dear Arnab your post just didn’t convey that the visit to the cellular jail touched the deepest nerves of your ma but I had tears in my eyes too.My heartfelt thanks for sharing this post. God Bless you all n specifically your grandfather because of whose sacrifice we are enjoying this freedom. Jai Hind

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