"Comeuppance: My Experiences in an Indian Prison" | ‘What goes around, comes around’

A test of faith and an exhibition of doom, James Tooley, pens a gripping memoir of his journey through the bylanes of fateful corruption, writes Radhika Dutt

Price:   299 |  30 Dec 2017 1:07 PM GMT  |  Radhika Dutt

‘What goes around, comes around’

Comeuppance: the idea of suffering from sins committed at an earlier point of time – parallel to the Hindu idea of karmic justice. A gripping narrative of an endearing journey through the ladders of Indian bureaucracy and legislature with personal accounts of encountering rampant corruption across prisons, James Tooley, tests his perseverance in this memoir that has penned a tragic story of unprecedented twists.

An Indiana Jones with a modern perspective, Tooley has etched his mark upon the international forum of building low-cost schools to cater to the conditioning of children living in rampant poverty. An attempt to service a favour to society as a gift of his privileged conditioning, Tooley sought to revamp the educational system across developing and under-developed nations, where children were scrambling with poverty and meagre resources.

A commendable initiative, his Indian sojourn met unforeseen barriers. On a relaxing holiday to Hyderabad, where most of his work catering to schools in India had unfolded, he had anticipated only sunbathing in the company of his Indian girlfriend Sara and niece Alissa. However, the glory of the sun was quickly dimmed when an innocuous interrogation on the exchange of unaccounted money for his educational trust, resulted in an unfounded arrest without a warrant by CID, Deputy Superintendent Mrs Mantra. Despite Tooley having attended to this issue before and stalling the functioning of his trust to mitigate the exigency, Mrs Mantra had scheduled different plans for the white-skinned man.

After arrest, Tooley accounts in detail, what most are harangued by, or sometimes due to the absence of resources, are even forbidden from experiencing – the harassment by prison officials, an endless list of administrators to greet and please, the duress of spending time behind the bars, the hypocrisy of lawyers, the threats of goons who are intertwined in a carefully knit mesh with officials in uniform utilising their muscle-power to gain benefits, the Indian judicial system that has reached a rock bottom and the apathy that is ingrained in office-bearers, for whom the suffering of convicts without conviction evokes no sympathy. The only bit of sunshine in this entire journey for Tooley was perhaps his interaction with other prisoners, whose intense suffering often numbed his own pain and whose support reinstated the author’s belief in sprinkles of humanity still pervading our civilisation.

There are 250,000 undertrials cramming the prisons of India today. While some have been truly convicted of their alleged crimes, most are behind the bars under mere suspicion or police conspiracy. Their appalling poverty prevents them from approaching lawyers to receive judicial justice. Not that the access to lawyers assures a positive end, as was explicated in Tooley’s story. But, with access to the correct resources, they could at least live with the hope of approaching a Judge who would hear their otherwise silenced voice. This involves money and lawyers charge exorbitant amounts for providing, under most circumstances, sub-standard quality of work. As Tooley managed to survive inside the prison, he met foreigners caught up on cases that were not going to witness the light of the day anytime soon. Even more appalling, were the poor rickshaw pullers and petty labourers who had been arrested in the process of a police conspiracy. There was no evidence that would endure their time behind the bars – parallelly they were not equipped with the resources to even attempt stepping out of the bars.

‘Comeuppance: My Experiences in an Indian Prison’, is an eye-opener that provides critical insight into how our democracy is dwindling under the weight of corruption and inefficiency. The ideas of benefitting the nation are absent, with harassment and money-making formulating the pinnacle of sustenance. Amidst this dark journey, Tooley also carefully highlights his evolution as an individual. Faced with an unfounded arrest and caught in a wretched system of brutal corruption, he sits to introspect rather than crumble.

He gathers that what we receive today is almost always, a result of what we have done yesterday. His access to resources allowed him to jump out of this living hell; yet, there are thousands who will continue to rot behind the bars with light only dimming out of gaze. By divorcing himself from the problem and focussing on the volume of the tragedy itself – Tooley survived a most tenacious phase. An important message in today’s time, even as the worst strikes us, the only way through is to remember that there is somebody else, more innocent than us, who is endearing worse than our forsaken fate.

Share it