Jail diary

Piyush Manush

(Piyush Manush recently spent 12 days in Vellore jail. He is a " Farmer, Green Entrepreneur & Activist "  living in Salem, Tamilnadu. Piyush has continuously confronted authorities on environmental and political matters. He was released on 9 March.)

Sub-collector Dinakaran and his driver were put in cell no 5, H S Block, Vellore prison two cells away from mine. Both of them were arrested after receiving bribe of Rs.50000 and subsequent raids yielded 0.75 crore from the house of the sub collector. He was also found to be drunk when arrested and bottles seized from his official Jeep.

I was hostile to the sub collector (I hope all will understand why) from the beginning unlike the other prisoners who showed the usual empathy for fellow prisoners. I used to constantly scold him for not washing his tea glass and snub him around for his boorish behaviour.

He was trying to sneak in a cell phone by bribing the warders of the jail department. This was reported by the prison guards to the Superintendent of prisons who sent in the quick reaction team.

The Jailor of Vellore prison on his usual morning visit rebuked him severely one morning. His antics had put other prisoners in trouble and we all severely warned him on his continued foolish acts.

The sub collector worked under the present Salem collector Mr. Raman while he was in Vellore as the district collector and shared on how corruption operates smoothly from top to bottom and bottom to top.

The most interesting part was that the driver and the sub collector have been working together for 15 years.

This fall from grace for a high-ranking official has enthused me to work more on the rot affecting the system.

Thanks to Salem police for the most rewarding experience extracted thanks to a false case foisted on me.

A strong built prisoner just arrived from out station court and stared at me as he was taken to his cell. His stare sent shivers down my spine. It was around 1.00 am. I had just woken up. It was my first night in HS Block.

In jail, I slept in slots of two hours or max three. Locked up inside the cell from 6 pm to 6 am, the 12 hours needed to be carefully planned. Reading, exercise and sleep all in slots. Eating avoided during this period compulsorily for seven hours of sleep to be clocked.

Come 6 am and the cell gates were opened. I hopped out immediately to find all the prisoners not very keen on coming out of their cells. They were taking it cool. The prisoner from the night walked out first. Tattoos on his body had guns and first letters of his dead friends and gang members name etched all over his strong arms.

I walked up to him and shook his hands. He smiled and I was relieved.
Manimaran, he introduced himself and went his way starting his brisk walk.

He turned out to be the confidante of Dinesh who is presently engaged in a gang war with Tanika over grabbing Sridhars territory. Sridhar committed suicide in Cambodia triggering a huge turf war amongst his gang members.

Almost 10 lives have already been lost in this gang war. Sridhar was the most dreaded gangster north Tamilnadu has seen and the richest in the criminal history of Tamilnadu. Recently ED had sealed properties worth 1000 crore that belonged to Sridhar.

Coming back to Manoharan, he adopted a mango tree opposite our block and used to water at least 10 pots every day. He warned me to not to shake the tree lest the flowers are disturbed. For assisting him in watering the tree he offered me raw mango from the tree.

His deep knowledge on fishing was very refreshing. He explained to me in detail when to release fishes, when to harvest etc etc. Characteristics of Rohu, Katla, Potla, Mirgal, Mulkanda, Virral and many other fishes.

His associate Pochi Vijay was another character altogether. All of five feet and with a lanky frame he used to hunt Squirrels in the prison.

A strong stand on my part and Pochi Vijay and Manimaran assured me no hunting while I was around.

Arrival of Tamarind Chutney sauted with Curry leaves, Red chillies, Coriander leaves served with Hot Rice Porridge at 7am was most awaited. In my twelve days of stay in Vellore jail the wonderful serving arrived only four times. Out of the twelve odd inmates of HS Block, I was the only taker of the serving.

Tea was served too but for everyone, I was the only non-taker of tea so cannot dwell on that much.

We also used to get pongal served with thick coconut chutney (right out of the grinder without the water). Unlike the Rice Porridge this was kept in a container and not consumed immediately. The unlimited serving of coconut chutney was very very useful.

Around 9.30 breakfast from the prison canteen used to arrive. Orders for the same were collected a day earlier during lockup time. Idli, Dosa, Poori, Tomato Rice were served according to the days. Idli or dosa came only with sambar. So the stocked chutney served well as a addition. I love Poori/ potato Curry with chutney. So breakfast was fulfilling.

The best part apart from the taste of the delicacy was sitting in unison and sharing food and words too.

Between breakfast and lunch fruits and snacks received from visitors would make the round. Orange is a friend's fruit unlike apple or banana. It can be shared and eaten.

A bite off the apple and none would even expect that the other person should share it. But as soon as one started peeling a orange, eyes will scan the other persons hands as to which direction they are going to go. The orange fruit consists of at least 10 carpels. The owner of the fruit usually could get four for himself and the rest six or eight was supposed to be distributed to others. Prison manners!!

Lunch from the prison kitchen usually arrived around 12.30 pm. Monday it would be Tamarind rice along with another helping of Rice with sambar. On Wednesday- coconut rice/ Friday- curd rice along with the same combination. This was also stocked by us until the Kuzhambu (curry) parcel arrived from prison canteen.

Prison kitchen is different from prison canteen. Canteen is from where one pays and buys. Kitchen is for the supply of govt stipulated menu for all prisoners.

Kuzhambu parcel used to be a surprise. It could be a Keerai - Greens/Brinjal/ Tomato/ mix Vegetable dal kuzhambu but for sure everytime it was tasty. Curd was made available on doctors prescription who used to oblige to the request. A few sugar patients got wheat chappatis too.

One day I refused to take carrot poriyal and got severely rebuked by fellow inmates. They questioned me on how I could refuse to eat organically grown vegetables. Vellore prison kitchen got their supplies mostly from their own huge farm mantained by convict prisoners. Another rebuke came for me when I complained about canteen not serving enough sambar along with idlis. Manimaran growled and said 'pasanji sapta eppadi pathoom' .. saying this he served me two spoons from his share of sambar.

I used to eat around 4 pm unlike others & after a week two fellow inmates took to my routine. Two bananas by 6 pm and it was the end of food intake for the day for me.

Hot water was most sought after to make tulsi tea/ black coffee/ sukku coffee/ lemon tea etc.

My block had a tulsi/ aloe patch. Early morning munching on tender Tulsi/ neem leaves, aloe gel ensured the gut got cleaned quick fire.
Ranakirai (kidney stone remover) a plant whose leaves were to be consumed raw kept good company. Tastes sour in the morning and bitter in the evening the plants occupied loads of conversation with jail personnel who were surprised with this special plant in their campus.
A beautiful medicinal plant garden has been raised in the campus opposite to our block where juveniles were housed. More on that later.
Great encounters with the food, health part in the jail time spent in Vellore. The only complaint was that Kesari served for vegetarians every Sunday was not sweet.

[The diary entries were earlier posted on facebook. He can be reached at ]

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Mar 18, 2020

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