After writing my piece entitled ‘Freedom comes and Freedom goes’, I was very restless and found it difficult to sleep. I thought of the days when I worked with the Church and the visits that our group paid to prisoners in our main prisons in Bombay and Thane.
I wonder whether I made these visits as part of the routine that our group considered service to the Church.
I felt very emotional during those visits. It was like visiting a zoo. There was no system, or maybe we were not included in that system where we could have personal contact with the prisoners, especially when they move around totally shackled at the feet and hands, and their expressions saying it all. “We don’t know what happens after your visits.” Someone said to me, although language is the mighty problem. Are any of our grievances solved? Is there any improvement in the jail system in our country? Or are we there to salvage the rottenness in our souls.
I have had three experiences behind bars. In 1942 when we were at the height of the freedom movement, as a school student I joined a group of freedom fighters in setting fire to Amergol Railway Station, a stopover between Karwar and Hubli.
It was a kind of a fun thing and my father came and bailed us out and very promptly the next day sent me to St. Paul’s boarding school in Belgaum, which was as bad as a prison.
After a month I took some advance from my pocket money from the Principal, on the excuse of buying a pen, rushed off to the railway station and took a train back home to Dharwad.
I fell at the feet of my mother, weeping bitterly and told her that I had left my trunk behind at the school and I am not returning.
The second time I was in jail, was as President of the All India Catholic Union. We had a Committee Meeting, if I remember rightly, in Trichy. A group of local Dalits barged into the meeting and dragged me and my members to the Church. “You bloody Brahmins” he said to me. “Pretend to be working to emancipate the Dalits, but you come here for a meeting and don’t even take a walk down our streets.”
They took us to the Parish Church where they pointed out the large wall in the cemetery that divided the high class Parishioners and the Dalits.
In a fit of Christian zeal or maybe youthful anger, I called my committee and started to break the wall. The Bishop who got the news, had us arrested and lodged in the local jail.
Much dialogue took place and the Bishop very voluntarily agreed, that a wall had no place in a Catholic Church cemetery.
Many years later, I headed an Inter-Denominational Committee that wanted the Tyagi Anti-Conversion or (Freedom of Religion) Bill to be withdrawn from Parliament.
Two visits of mine together with Bishop Simon Pimenta, to the Prime Minister in Delhi produced no results. And so our committee decided to paralyse the city of Bombay. I and my committee informed the police, got permission for a morcha and we lead over a hundred and fifty thousand people in a morcha to Azad Maidan, where in the hot sun, the protesting people sat on the ground, listening to speeches in several languages, addressed both by a few priests and some laity leaders.
On the night before the morcha the police visited some of the leaders’ houses and threatened preventive detention, but nothing came out of it.
In Bombay, in those days, the minorities always had a place in the sun. A few days after the morcha, members of our committee were called to Delhi and Morarji Desai assured us that the bill would be withdrawn and so it was through some face saving device.
Finally I asked myself, do we create our own prisons? My mind flashes to the days when I was in the Taunus that embraces Frankfurt, attending a language school called ‘The Bachschule’. The school was supervised by Mr. Richter who lived with his wife and his daughter a lovely 17-year old woman who was studying English in her father’s school, while I a 30-year old, was studying German. Klaudia and I became good friends, the difference in our ages being no deterrent.
During the three months of my stay, in the Taunus, Hoechst had helped me to buy a second hand Volkswagen. Klaudia and I roamed the whole of the beautiful Taunus area, that housed some gourmet restaurants.
In the meanwhile, I wrote poetry as I always do when I travel or when I am experiencing a special tension. Klaudia loved poetry and encouraged me to write much or which was emotional and romantic. Klaudia has kept in touch with me for the last 50 years! having come and stayed with us in our flat in Peddar Road, our house in Gorai beach and this place where I stay in Bandra. She fell totally in love with Tecla which is not difficult to do and I must say all my girlfriends are more Tecla’s friends than mine. Klaudia is still unmarried and Tecla and I have used her spare bedroom in Frankfurt dozens of times and she has attended the Menezes family functions in Europe including Anjali’s wedding.
In those years we used to talk of the Berlin Wall. And when the Berlin Wall was finally brought down, I wrote a poem. Raises another intricate question about Freedom.
I offer it to you with love.
THE BERLIN WALL
The Russians built a wall. And why?
Perhaps to try and show
The progress made by socialistic states
In building walls. But men would die
Upon this wall of hate, this wall of shame,
Crossing the barbed wire and the fire
Of men who did not want to kill.
We have our walls, the walls that we have built
With the barbed wire of own minds,
The walls of self-invented guilt,
The electronic fence of right and wrong;
And the ever winding, never ending, long
Unyielding wall of Age and Time.
We are the walls…we are grown-ups in a children’s game
And yet our walls are worse…. they so separate our souls
That climbing over the muck from which we came
We must destroy ourselves.
Because we lack the guts of common sluts
Our walls unclimbed remain.
-01 Sept. 1966