Born in England, Barindra Kumar Ghose was to become a legend among Indian revolutionaries in the early decades of the last century. All the four sons of Dr. Krishna Dhan Ghose became achievers in their own chosen realms. For Barindra it was revolutionary nationalism. Barindra and his fellow-revolutionaries showed the way to others like Bhayankarachari who wrote his reminiscences in Craik's Paradise (1937). For the Penal Settlement was to inflict horrendous tribulations upon groups and generations of political prisoners. In Barindra's book we also bow in deep admiration to the heroes of the Gadr Party like Pandit Ramraksha.
In the Alipur Bomb Case, on the same day in 1909 when his elder brother Sri Aurobindo was acquitted, Barindra was sentenced to be hanged. However, on appeal, the death sentence was commuted to deportation for life. These “pioneer Andaman-goers of the pioneer Bomb case” included Ullaskar Datta and Hem Chandra Das. Like Sri Aurobindo's reminiscences of his Alipur days as a prisoner in Kara Kahini, The Tale of My Exile bristles with black humour. Indeed, without this armour, no one could survive the ordeal.
Hunger and pain
Helped by Sachidananda Mohanty's detailed introduction, we go through 12 years when hunger and pain became constant companions to these prisoners. Even when sailing in the wide seas, the prisoners remained shackled and cooped up in their dark cells. One could jump up and take a look through the port-hole set with thick glass, but this could only be momentary. Yet they jumped now and then for saving their sanity: “So a moment's vision of the boundless limpid blue enthralled our soul, like a beautiful face half-hidden behind the veil.” Barindra was a fine writer and would become an author and editor in future. The present work in Nolini Kanta Gupta's English also swings us in the waves of hope and despair, obedience and rebellion.
Look at the King Yama of the Prison, Mr. Barry, “with his huge pot belly, flat nose, blood-red face” dispensing orders nonchalantly: six-months separate confinement, two pounds jute-teasing, one-year lock up, oil-grinding. Why Cellular Jail? For here there are no barracks for prisoners. Only cells, 690 of them. The less said of their plates and cans, the better. But joy and sorrow, taste and non-taste are a matter of comparison and contrast. A “small tin-canfull of rice, a bit of arahar dal and two rotis” could mean a princely feast to a deprived stomach!
So the prisoners passed their days under the terrifying regime of Khoyedad, Gulam Rasul and Mr. Barry. It is not surprising that some died and some went mad. But all these details are incidental. What is significant about the narrative for us is how the idealistic young Barindra turned easily to the expanses of spirituality. As Sachidananda Mohanty rightly says, The Tale of My Exile actually records “the aspiration of a seeker to discover the true meaning of life.”
THE TALE OF MY EXILE — Twelve Years in the Andamans: Barindra Kumar Ghose, Introduced and Edited by Sachidananda Mohanty; Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry-605002. Rs. 95.