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English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 21  No: 01


04 August 1974

Tilak in the Mandalay Jail

Dr. S. R. Sehgal

Incarcerated in Mandalay jail for six long years, this great son of India showered his love on books and a lowly cook making him blessed.
After his historic trial, Tilak was sentenced to transportation for six years. The alien Government wanted to crush the spirit of India agitating for the Independence of the country. In Tilak the Government found a leader indomitable and steel willed. In Mandalay he created a vision of beauty around his solitary confinement.
Away from the maddening crowd of the political life Tilak’s philosophic mind helped him to sublimate his self. He got a Maratha cook, Kulkarni, who lived with him for two years. He has recorded re-reminiscences of Tilak’s inner life which are thrilling to the core. Like a Yogi, Tilak started his daily work early in the morning and after morning ablutions recited some hymns in Sanskrit. Then he meditated for more than an hour. This was followed by tea. He took his seat and resumed his literary work which was his great passion. He came down for bath at nine a.m. His dhoti was kept ready properly folded. One portion of the kitchen was earmarked for his bath which required plenty of clean water. He shaved once a week. At first a prisoner shaved him. The instruments used were rough and the prisoner was worse than the razor. At Tilak’s complaint a regular barber was allowed whose payment was made by him. Once he remarked “Kulkarni, even the State-princes do not spend so much for a shave. But what can I do? I suffer from diabetes and if I economise I might have some serious trouble.” During summer he daily bathed twice. A Burmese prisoner washed his clothes. After bathing he put a pinch of ash on his forehead as a symbol of austerity. He performed his daily rites to his requirement. Once he said to Kulkarni “Here I have ample time. There is no hurry as in Poona where I could not get enough leisure even for my meals. Moreover we are Brahmans; so we shall not take food without offerings and the chanting of Gayatri mantra.”
After his morning meals he walked in the room for sometime. Then he set himself to his studies. He was mostly absorbed in his musings and this programme continued till 1.30 p.m. Mandalay was very hot and he took lemon syrup every day. If hungry, he sometimes took milk or fruits. At this time he often talked to his cook for three quarters of an hour He spoke on various topics like stories of Tukaram, Dyanoba, Eknath, Swami Ramdas, Srikrishna, Ramchandra, Shivaji, Kauravas and Pandavas. Sometimes Tilak told him funny stories of Peshwas and of the English.
At 5 p.m. he had his supper and exactly at 6 p.m. his cell was locked as per the jail rules. He spent his 12 hours in that small cell. He slept soundly.

After two years of stay in the prison the Lokmanya developed diabetes and had an acute attack. In spite of the medicine there was no improvement and his weakness increased.
He turned to hard restrictions in diet and informed the jail superintendent accordingly. He introduced barley in his diet. The jail authorities permitted wheat, pulses, barley, milk and ghee in place of rice. Sugar was reduced considerably in the diet. With this conquest over his tongue he improved his health. Sometimes he took ‘Puries’ made of barley flour. He ate it with curd. He liked thick and sour curd and said ‘I am a native of Konkan, I like sour things.’ He was very fond of plantain-bhaji.
Since Mandalay was very hot Lokamanya had blisters on his body. He submitted his petition to the Bombay Government saying that he should be sent to Andamans and allowed to move freely after giving bail. The request was turned down. At this verdict he calmly observed “All right, it appears to be God’s wish that I should die in prison.”
Tilak was allowed to have an interview with outsiders once in three months. His nephew Babasaheb Vidwans came frequently. The interview always took place in the presence of the jail superintendent. He was also permitted to write a letter to the members of his family at Poona and he could receive one private letter. Once he wrote a long letter but the superintendent suspected one word and asked him to write the letter afresh. Tilak was angry and said: “Servility hurts in a hundred ways.”
Once there was an epidemic of cholera in Mandalay jail. He was removed to Mictilla jail. From Mandalay jail to the station there were armed guards on both sides but when the car reached the station a huge crowd assembled shouting: “Tilak Maharaj ki Jai.” He was secretly taken in a special carriage to Mictilla where again hundreds of people shouted: ‘Tilak Maharaj Ki Jai’. When Tilak reached the jail the jailer asked him, “What country do you rule”? Tilak answered promptly: “I am not the master of this body of mine. How can I have a kingdom?”
His cook was released earlier and he went to Poona to apprise all members of his family about Tilak’s welfare in Mandalay. After Tilak’s release the same cook took the privilege to greet him in Poona. Tilak pressed him to stay with him and he accepted the offer as did Hanuman with Shri Ramachandra in Ayodhya. He felt proud to observe, “Conviction was a blot on my character but luckily it was washed in the holy Ganges of a saint’s company. My life has achieved its noblest end.”

Bhavan's Journal

04 August 1974


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Language: English
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