Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Counting bars

The last inmate walked out of the door a couple of years ago, towards the end of 2006. Well, he may not have walked out, but would have been taken out in a vehicle, being moved to his new home at Puzhal. Since then, the Central Prison at Park Town had been lying empty, waiting for the wreckers. Until a few days ago, when the DGP (Prisons) decided that the gates would be open for public to visit the prison compound and take a look at the prison blocks. The public, of course, came in their thousands. For the vast majority of these visitors, the only image of a jail was a little room in the movie, where the convict with the heart of gold, when being released would tell the warder, "Aiyya, naan poyittuvaren": to which the official would reply, "'Poyittuvaren'nu sollatheppa, 'poren'nu sollu"*. Reality was ghastly - the less said about it, the better.

Built over a 11-acre space in the middle of the city, the Chennai Central Prison was built in 1837. It replaced an older debtors' jail which was itself close to the 'Blacks Town', and was used for almost a century. The prison blocks reflect the thought of those days, the cells stern and unforgiving, the walls high enough to deter climbers and yet not so high as to cut off all view of the free world outside. Later, with the suburban trains passing just outside the western wall of the prison, inmates would be reminded every now and then of the rush of the world outside. The Chennai Central Prison was not the largest in the state, for it was originally intended as a transit remand camp, where convicts would be housed for a few days on their way to one of the larger jails: pre-Independence, it was a holding point en route to Kala Pani in the Andamans. Later, it became a stopping point by itself.

The new complex at Puzhal, covering Central Prisons I & II, has a capacity of accommodating 2500 prisoners; that's double the capacity that the Chennai Central Prison had. But spread over 212 acres, the Puzhal complex would surely have no sight of freedom for the inmates looking out through its bars!

* Transliterated, the dialogue is "Sir, I will go and come", with the jailor replying "Don't say you'll 'go-and-come', just say you're 'going'".... a line that has become hackneyed over decades of use! See more pictures of the Chennai Central Prison complex here.


LVISS said...

I missed seeing the place.Did u see?

Guru said...

It is a unique experience to see the prison as a visitor! If you had a change to take more photos, Could you please share them. Hope u can add more detail to the blog about the prison.

Shantaram said...

@ Lviss: Hmmmm... the photo is proof enough?

@ Guru: Just realized that I have not hyperlinked the other photos... will do so now.

View360 said...

Hi lviss,

don't worry about it, if you like see the prison virtually
just click the below link and have a thrill,

Chennai central prison - 1837

be patient for loading or just click the link and wait for 15minutes then start walkthrough,
please reply,

Shantaram said...

@ View360: That's a very nice presentation.... thanks!

View360 said...

and thanks for spread the link through
your blog,
and also see

Shantaram said...

@ view360: Looks good... will keep it handy when I get around to my post on the Armenian Church - thanks!