Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022

A Window On The Wall

Quit India Prison Diary of a 19-year-old

A Window On The Wall
A Window On The Wall
A Window On The Wall–Quit India Prison Diary Of A 19-Year-Old
By H.Y. Sharada Prasad
Edited By Sugata Srinivasaraju
Navakarnataka, Bangalore 132 Pages/ Rs 190

These extracts from the recently discovered and published 'Quit India' prison diary of H Y Sharada Prasad give an insight into the making of a man, who later as information advisor to three Indian prime ministers came to be known for his erudition, integrity and humility. This precocious diary, which is unsullied by hindsight or retrospective wisdom, is a truthful testimony of the freedom movement in the erstwhile princely state of Mysore. The published volume is an account of his second ten-month term in prison between 20 February 1943 and 9 December 1943. His first term was for four months from August 1942 to December 1942 and no written record of it has been found.  

When Sharada Prasad wrote this diary he was all of nineteen and was a front-ranking student leader doing his BA English Honours at the prestigious Maharaja's College in Mysore city. Even at such a young age, this diary reveals, Sharada Prasad was not swept away by a boisterous tide of emotion but was indeed a discerning patriot. What makes this diary special is the fact that Sharada Prasad never kept a daily record of his long stint in the nation's high office and had also consciously resolved never to write his memoirs. In fact, his book of essays was titled The Book I Won't Be Writing and Other Essays.


Gandhi’s condition is becoming worse. I don’t know how it will end. I feel that this time the British Government will surely do the worst blunder it has yet done, for an empire really cannot end unless it commits the blunder of its life. Gandhi’s life, sacred as it is, august as it is, unique as it is, is not too great a price to be paid for the Independence of our country and for the crumbling down of an empire. The holocaust for the establishment of real democracy will consist of only one life – ‘a poor, humble, frail, diminutive creature with jumbo ears and goo-goo eyes.’1

There is a difference between my previous stay in gaol and this. Last time, I, by nature not given to even a trace of nostalgia, not pining for nor attached to anybody still, now and then thought of my friends of the college, of my calm days and not seldom desired a return of them. Not so this time. I do not think of any persons. I think of events, of concepts.

I climbed up the mango tree. Oh! The reminiscences of it. Will I again after I go out of this prison, after the imprisonment is over get days like this? I wonder, whether in my life I will get leisure.

I played a volleyball match today. It was months since I played the game.

What will father be doing? It will not be a surprise if there is force from the Director on him. Subbanna and Krishnappa recounted their adventures. Adventures and adventures and no achievements at all. Many of them are amusing. But to what purpose? A couple of misguided people, I won’t say bravados.

I got back to my old jail temperament of negligence to what might happen outside.      


It was six months ago today that I first came into this jail. Oh, what was my emotional condition then! The eighteen days preceding my arrest were some of the most hectic in my life. My capacity was all too short to meet a crisis like that and lead other people. But notwithstanding my negligible experience I had to rush forward, for others were almost without experience, as inexperienced and ill-equipped as I.   

This ‘one fortieth’ of my life has been the acme of the tenor of my existence. Never will I again acquire so much experience in such a short period. Crowded six months! To sum up, they have taught me to discriminate between emotion and conviction. All emotion is hollow. This ratiocination has led me to believe in Communism and Marxian dialectics. I am more and more departing from the sloppish sentimentalism, shallowness and hypocrisy that form the bulk of the ‘Congress’ frame of mind.  

The months within the jail - the indiscipline - the fuss - the quarrels - the shallowness; all of them culminating in a lathicharge that broke the ‘invincible conviction’ of those who ‘stick on to their principle till death’ - the Thirthas1 and the Vasudeva Raos.

My two months and a week outside. So varied. My own feeling of estrangement at the beginning – the feeling of a fellow come from Mars – the slanders there - the various organizations - the demonstration - the Independence Day - my Communism growing thicker - the work I did to break the prevalent defeatism - my trips to Banglaore - the students’ organization - my efforts to get a livelihood - how a life of dependence became intolerable - the end of most of my personal relationships - these standout as the main features in the landscape of these nine weeks in the ‘free’ world. But though most of my emotional friendships dwindled away, I got some new friends - gems like Azhar and RGL. I learnt to work, to do even messenger and menial work. I cultivated an affection to my work. The ever-pestering desire to cease being a burden on father economically and politically generated in me a new affection not known to me till now, towards the members of my family. I came to know the value of time.

I have popped in again. Probably I will have to make a good number of these pilgrimages, Congressman Shouri or Communist Shouri. Probably, knowing this, some of the criminals treated me with redoubled endearment.

It is a week since I came to jail. This time I am spending really comfortable days. Could I find a single day bereft of worry last time? These seven days have flown away like anything.

I finished reading Madame Chiang Kai-Shek’s China Shall Rise Again. What a book, especially the last chapter. I shall translate some chapters from it.

Father, Mohan and Azhar had come today. They were refused permission to see me. However I could catch glimpses of them and throw out some words through the window in the gate. Staying a full hour father went away disappointed and cast down. Azhar had come all the way from Banglore to see this insignificant me. It is one of my greatest gains that he and I have become such close friends – nay, brothers - in so short a time. I am supposed to be a sort of unlucky guy.  Yet I can proudly point out to Azhar as one of my acquisitions. He waited a full hour. The superintendent refused an interview. He applied for an interview with Seetharamaiya. Even that was not granted. Reluctantly with a heavy heart he went away and I too was plunged in a pool of melancholy. I could swim out only after many long hours. This gloom gradually turned into an imaginative indolence. Here is a product of that:

They snatched me away from the vortex of things 
From the whirlwind, the maelstrom
And gave me a forced rest 
I spent it as I could best 
Reading poetry 
In the mango tree. 
They beat us for our convictions 
Belaboured for determination 
Sealed up in a lightless hell 
Our breath was each a groan 
And each groan brought a slap.

Krishnappa had been to the court…  


Gandhiji broke his fast today after the twenty-one day ordeal. It may be that many of us radicals might disapprove of making use of fast as a political weapon, but tell me what else anyone could have done? Look at the electric effect it has had. It has brought so many parties together even on the political plane. More than anything else it has cleared one great accusation. It has conclusively proved that the Congress is above board regarding sabotage. How many people did not believe the 14-point programme! But the relief has been greater outside than in jail. For the jailbirds - most of them yet believe in sabotage.  

In the early days of the fast our everything was in an indescribable tense condition. Our alarm reached the crisis with Gandhiji’s condition, on the day I was brought in. We imagined umpteen calamities that might befall this unfortunate land of ours. Most of us even had the philosophical consolation that Gandhi’s life was not too great a price to be paid for the realization of freedom. Somehow or other the danger has been averted but we have gone back and stay where we are. ‘But nothing happened.’  

O! the uncertainty that is the typical product of Gandhism that we went through during the first two weeks of the fast. Suppose Gandhi had died, who knew what would happen? We dreaded the consequences and did not know what to do in such an emergency.  

Probably Gandhiji might yet indulge in another such demonstration, but what avail is it? Either he should die and get us Swaraj, (in that wise does his life stand between India and Freedom) or he now should entirely adopt the conciliatory or mediatory method. We would not allow him to do that unless he should obtain satisfactory condition. Another ‘Gandhi-Irwin’ pact should be prevented, resisted.  

There was a flag salutation, directed by T S Subbanna. It was almost a mockery. Nobody explained the significance of Gandhiji’s fast or the termination of it. Misdirection. 
My knowledge of the vice of man was till now largely derived from books. Consequently, considering the truth that literature though it aims at being a mirror of life, by necessity, omits the commonplace and the perfunctory and treats only of special cases, I much underrated how base men were, how rampant vice is even among the supposed picked of the land, and to what low depths of grovelling debauchery men can descend. I have two of the purest persons and the most flawless from the morality point of view for my parents. And cases of badness are very rare in the circle of relatives we are intimate with. And my upright father has cultivated the habit - it is in his blood - of ever mixing with gentlemen, according to the true description of the word. It has made him too commit the same mistake as I have - if innocence and faith in the goodness of one’s fellowmen can become a mistake, but which in the world that has been full of ironies and paradoxes have become mistakes - of regarding every man he meets a good, moral, forthright gentleman until such a person is conclusively proved to be a knave and a rascal. But what are termed worldly wisdom and commonsense prescribe that if you wish to succeed in life, regard every person as a self conscious impostor and a rogue and move with him with that estimate ever borne in the back of your brain, until that man is proved to be pure and good and selfless. It is little wonder that in an artificial world of sophistication and vapidity, virtue and innocence come to be looked upon as failings, shortcomings and vices.   

And it is by coming to prison that I found out how great a bundle of vices almost each one of my countrymen is. Foul language I had heard before, and fortunately, because of the way in which I was brought up, I never used it myself to chastise others or to vent my spleen against them. But I did not know, never had I imagined that the use of foul language was so widespread and deep-rooted and so much taken as a matter of course - whenever I heard anyone deliver dirt from his divine mouth I was ashamed of him and of myself. I had heard men committed adultery; I did not know it was so common a practice among men; to me it had looked always so redundant that I thought that only the irreclaimable and aberrated practice it. But to my astonishment men take it indifferently and do not revolt at the inconceivable horror it entails. So also I never had guessed even that men indulged in gambling and drinking and similar vicious habits to such a degree. I know that weak men were vain - but my conception of vanity came nowhere near the actual. I never know wealth and opulence would pump so much wind into their brittle brains. Prison life has caused man to fall in my estimate of him. The buggery of [name withheld]; the way in which bribery could secure to [name withheld] and Co. cheap, worthless women even when they were in prison; the way in which the so called Congressmen and self sacrificing patriots and freedom battlers mix in the vices of criminals - the supposed scum of the society; the vices to which they are so inseparably addicted disgust me by their nauseating grotesqueness. 


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