A 90% physically disabled, wheelchair-user convict wrote a book from solitary confinement inside jail about his hope for freedom, his love for teaching and writing letters.
Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba, 53, was born in a backwater village that consisted of wide fields and there were less than 20 huts in Amalapuram, a small town in Andhra Pradesh. He got polio at the age of five but got the first position in the district in Class X. Until 2008, he did not have a wheelchair and used to move by covering his palms with chappals and crawl. He completed his Master’s in Arts from Hyderabad and joined the Central Institute of English and Foreign Language to pursue Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching English in 1991. He was arrested on May 9, 2014, when he was working as a permanent faculty in the Department of English, Ram Lal Anand College, affiliated to Delhi University, and his services were terminated in 2021.
In one of the letters, Prof. Saibaba has written, “I still constantly dream that I’m teaching... I cannot imagine my life without the classroom, blackboard and students.”
The book Why Do You Fear My Way So Much? Poems and Letters from Prison was published only after a strict scrutiny by the Nagpur Central Jail officials. The book has reproduced many letters Prof. Saibaba wrote to his wife Vasantha Kumari and the one she wrote to him but could not send due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The book explains the pain and punishment they both feel as they are not allowed to talk or even write letters in their mother tongue Telugu.
In the book, Ms. Kumari recollects the humiliation and ache in the letter when Prof. Saibaba was arrested. “They picked you up from the wheelchair and threw you in that big vehicle as if you were a sandbag; they did not let you urinate for more than seventy-two hours and did not provide essential BP medicines... More than that, the nerves in your left hand got hurt and bruised when they tossed you. I’m sure this was a ploy to weaken your willpower...”
He contracted COVID-19 twice inside the anda cell and needs help to go to the toilet to take bath and to lie down.
The 214-page book has letters written by Prof. Saibaba to his friends, Telugu poet Varavara Rao and citations of poet Kabir and Rabindranath Tagore. In Ode to a Prison Guard, he writes, “He demands no tips/or favours/ for his untiring services/He calls the unattending doctor/repeatedly on his wireless set/patiently/when I am sick and unconscious. The cursed souls come and go, but he is a permanent prisoner.”
His left hand is on the verge of failure and there is acute pain spreading in both his hands. He is plagued by several health issues.