February 07, 2009

Walks inside old Madras Jail

This was a Jail House Rock of a different kind.
The Elvis Presley hit of the late 1950s is evergreen.
This Jail House was not one any more and so we, who lead these city-based heritage walks organised a few walks inside this campus recently.
Police officer Nataraj who is DGP in charge of the Prisons Department did not even wink to grant us permission.
But organise them before the demolition squads arrive, he suggested.
Which meant that we had to host two walks one after the other and back to back - one in Mylapore and the other inside the Madras Jail.
Crowded in by the overbridges, flyovers, viaducts and abandoned some years ago, the Jail campus was worse than the two graveyards it has as its neighbours.
Luckily, we got a man who brought it alive.
Warder Bala who now lives in Tambaram volunteered to be our guide.
Having joined service in 1967, Bala has worked at different jails across the state and has had a couple of stints at the Madras Jail so he had a fund of stories to share.
Of Sri Lankan terrorists and North Indian cheats who wore shoes that cost three thousand rupees. Of thieves who painted the walls of their cells and Auto Shankar and his gang who broke out of the jail . . .
The tour ended at the abandoned gallows located outside the walls of the Madras Jail and on the perimeter of its campus. Bala had served here when two men were taken to the gallows. So his demo was good enough for the walkers to click away.
Bala improved on his act on Day Two so much so that some people on the walk suggested that he should write a book. 'Tell it all', said one woman who has even jotted his address and phone number while we wondered if she wanted to be Bala's ghost writer!
Bala is a story teller we enjoyed having on this tour.
There are many story tellers in our midst. Seniors who have had a fascinating life.
But who is willing to give them a chair and gather local people around them?
Every time we publish in our newspapers the obituary of such wonderful people, I rue the opportunity gone by to record their histories.
If I had a few volunteers I would love to embark on this venture.
Interested? Mail me at adyartimes@gmail.com or at mylaporetimes@vsnl.com.
If you are keen on heritage walks, mail us at madraswalks@gmail.com


Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

I think it is a wonderful idea. It would be great if elders tell us thier stories. Let their experiences not be limited to the ears thier grandchildren. Because they have stories to tell...and they deserve a much bigger platform. But how are you going to bring it about? On the internet? I was once reading this book in which an elderly woman describes her life. It's called "Soul Scrolls". Woulnd't it be wonderful if there was a "Soul Scrolls" online, where volunteers could put up stories, and share the stories of thier grandfathers, their aunts, uncles and discuss history in general? Nice thoughts.

Vincent D' Souza said...

Nice comment.

Try and set up a once a month Sunday evening session of story telling in your area - in the compound of a bungalow.

Am sure this will grow.