A compilation of poems by Tihar’s women inmates gives an insight into their life and feelings

“Every third woman of this world suffers violence of one kind or another, and that is a matter of concern for everyone,” says Vartika Nanda, a journalist-turned-teacher, who has recently edited (with Vimlaa Mehra) a collection of poetry “Tinka Tinka Tihar” written by some women prisoners of Tihar. Even though society at large wants to maintain distance from prisoners, there are some who think about their life, aspirations and future.In an interview, Vartika tells us about the inmates, and the process by which the book came to be. Excerpts:

It is a new kind of experiment to collect those emotions from prison and give them a shape. So how did you get the idea?

I got to see Tihar for the first time in 1993 when I was writing for The Tribune as a student. In 1999 I joined NDTV and again got opportunities to visit Tihar many times. But it did not give me satisfaction as most of the programmes were organised. I wanted to do something different. So when Vimlaa Mehra took over as the chief of the jail, I requested her to grant permission to visit the jail again. In my first extensive visit to Tihar Jail No. 6, I wanted to know how the inmates spent their time, what are their emotions, and thus I encouraged them to write down their feelings.

When you first approached Tihar inmates, what was their reaction?

From the first day they were ready to cooperate with me. They were confident that I will not harm them. Most of them were highly educated. I just told them to write their thoughts and they did it. Earlier they were not ready to reveal their identity. But after compilation of book, I again approached them. And this time they were willing to publish their names even with their photographs.

Was it written originally in English?

No, originally it was written in Hindi. I have translated it into English.

You have selected the poetry of only four inmates, so what were the criteria you used?

Frankly speaking, I had asked almost everyone to write their thoughts and offered them necessary things like pencil, paper etc. But few of them could write their feelings. Actually I was expecting even more poems because most of them were highly educated. But still many inmates penned their thoughts out of which the selection was madeI found them touching and thought they should be shared with the rest of the world, let the world know the feelings and aspirations of the women inmates of Tihar.

How have you edited these poems? As you say they are only “the thought of those inmates”?

Right, as far as editing is concerned, I have compiled it. They wrote without any intention of publication. I collected, compiled and showed them at the end. They were happy to see it, and then I told them about the publication. As it was in Hindi, I translated them into English. In some places the grammar was corrected but the soul is untouched.

You have been in active journalism covering crime for many years. Did that impact this collection?

To some extent yes, because as a journalist we always come across such situations in our daily life which touches our heart. So it was in my heart to do something for those who have been cut off from mainstream of our society. And as a human being also, we have some moral responsibility. So I decided to make the whole world listen to the voice from Tihar.