Oddities, Eccentricities, Etc.


The place: Tihar Jail.
The date: 3 May, 1995.

n the jail’s sprawling mud compound, bare except for a few tall trees, the 600 inmates from the 12 wards, each in his striped jail uniform, waited patiently for the new Inspector General (I.G.) to appear and address them. They all expected to see a tall, burly, rough-tongued officer, baton under his arm, in full uniform, medals all in place.

Instead, they saw on the podium a small, slim woman, her hair cut boyishly short, wearing a full-sleeved pathan suit topped by a waist-length Nehru jacket, and flat walking shoes. She wasn’t even wearing the I.G. uniform. They stared blankly, murmuring their surprise to each other. They noticed the wardens all around them, waving their sticks threateningly, no doubt to show concern for the I.G.’s security. But, surprise of surprises, the petite woman signalled to the wardens to stop doing this. Her voice, though soft, was commanding.

More surprises awaited these ragged, thick-skinned, rude-mannered prisoners, hardened by the rough treatment meted out to them. For even as they waited for her to speak, she broke the silence by asking them a strange question in Hindi: "Do you pray?"

Pray? They looked at one another, utterly confused, not knowing how to reply, when in the same soft voice, the woman repeated: "I’m asking you, do you pray? Please tell me."

The prisoners, through force of habit, looked towards the wardens as if to ask them whether they were permitted to speak. Sensing their bewilderment, the woman moved closer to them and directed the same question to the prisoner nearest to her. He answered, looking down: “Yes, sometimes,?and nodded his head. The woman then directed the same question to another prisoner who, hesitantly, glancing in fear at the wardens, said: “Yes, I also do. I recite the Path (the holy prayers). Most of us pray at our own timings.?br>
Then the woman asked them: “Wouldn’t it be better if we all pray together? Would you like it??One of them raised his hand, saying yes. And the others too nodded their heads, wanting to be part of the prayer.

The prayer she chose for them was from a popular film: ?i>Aye Malik, tere bande hum, aise hon hamare karam, neki par chalen…” (“Oh, Lord! We are your creation, may our actions be worthy...?

They sang with gusto. The wardens seemed not to understand what was happening. They didn’t know how to react, unsure whether they too should join in. It was the first time such a thing had happened in Tihar Jail. And then they knew, and so did the prisoners, that this was an unusual I.G., and a most unusual woman ?Kiran Bedi.

Let the lady speak for herself, as she does most movingly and informatively in her provocatively titled book, It’s Always Possible: “The posting at Tihar Jail was an opportunity for me to focus on the kind of work closest to my heart ?reaching out to people in dire need, understanding their needs, addressing them; providing the environment which initiates introspection, when they choose to look within, without being told to do so.?br>
She believes in performing ?and her performance almost resulted in a miracle. A cesspool of drug abuse, gang wars, corruption and extortion by both guards and inmates was transformed, slow step by slow step, into a place where, today, thousands of inmates gather in clean, tree-sheltered courtyards for prayer and meditation. For the first time in 35 years, visiting groups are allowed into Tihar Jail to provide counselling, meditation classes, vocational training, and so on, to make the prisoners?lives worthier.

Among the means Kiran Bedi employed to make this transformation possible was a “Petition Box? Its daily distribution enabled inmates to air, under condition of anonymity, grievances, to name wardens extorting bribes and others who inflicted beatings upon them.

What about the women prisoners? Kiran Bedi didn’t forget them. The Women’s Ward was a total contrast to that of the men. The women promptly gathered around her, wanting to interact with her and hear what she had to say. It was obvious they were putting up a cheerful appearance for her sake, for she sensed each one of them needed a hand on her shoulder, to help her cry out her grief and achieve relief. She asked them: “Do you read and write here??br>
“No.?br> “Would you like to??br> “Yes.?br>
So Kiran Bedi promised them that they would begin lessons right away and, before they left, they would be literate.

A wooden system was gradually transformed into a responsive and sensitive administration. Small wonder, Tihar Jail came to be known as Tihar Ashram.

Courtesy: It’s Always Possible, by Kiran Bedi, published by Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. An uplifting book, worth reading and remembering.

A lady and her baby get on a bus. The bus driver looks at the lady and then at her baby, and exclaims, “Ah! That’s the ugliest child I’ve ever seen in my life!?/i>

The lady, totally disgusted, marches up to the back of the bus to sit down.

As she sits there absolutely furious, a man asks, “Are you okay, dear??/i>

The lady replies, “I’m so angry, that bus driver just insulted me.?/i>

The man says, “You go back up there and give that bus driver a piece of your mind, and I’ll watch your monkey.?/i>

Via e-mail