So what does a millionaire CEO learn in jail? Maybe, it’s about the lessons of simplicity, of enjoying the basics; in the midst of despair, finding someone to talk to and being appreciated. Sometimes Peter Mukerjea comes across as chatty and full of anecdotes, at others he says, ‘What happens in Rio, stays in Rio’. Speaking of his ‘fellow-travellers’, Peter says: ‘We share experiences, laugh and try and make the most of the learnings, each of us have had. I’ve made some useful contacts and they’re mostly people I’d never have had the opportunity to meet, had I not been a guest of the “Govt of India” so I’m glad for that and it will make me a more circumspect person as a result. Some are incredibly rich and some incredibly poor and if I can, I will try and help those worse off than me. Everyone here has a common goal – to get out and not have to come back – so staying on the right side of the law is very important for most people I’ve met. The jail experience isn’t pleasant, it’s tough and not many want to ever repeat it. How long these new acquaintances last is something for the future, although it’s true to say that being in jail gives you a good understanding and realization of who your real friends are and who were never really your friends. It’s only a very few of them who you would call friends – once you’re out of jail. That becomes quite clear.’
On another day, Peter writes in a more sombre tone: ‘There’s not a lot of laughing that goes on here – just in case the authorities think we’re having a good time and make life harder still for us. We share experiences and it’s amazing to learn how many people are in jails even though they are innocent and the CEO in jail 157 should not be in here. One day things will get set right.’
Stuck in a murder case himself, the only thing Peter could help the others with were the facilities of language. It seems the aspiration to learn English extends to prison too. So the Briton, when not reading and writing himself, spends time teaching. ‘I set them reading goals, followed by writing passages from newspapers and getting them to improve their vocabulary by learning 10 new words every day – of which they only ever retain five but that’s 30 words a week, which is really good and tough to maintain.’
If there’s one thing any jail teaches a white collar man, it’s how to make do on an impossible budget. It’s one of the first things that Peter says he learnt. ‘The economy within the jail is unique given there’s no cash – but a really effective barter system seems to work. Home-cooked food is a rarity and is therefore a prized possession for those that have it. There are all kinds of services available from a savvy barber, a masseuse, a yoga class that’s fully functional, a laundry service, a darzee (tailor) and lots more. Necessity being the mother of… is a well trodden path here and adaptability and innovation is phenomenal. I get a monthly spending allowance of a princely sum of 2500 rupees, which I get each month from home by money order and which is credited to my ‘tuck-shop’ account and I get to buy goodies with that – biscuits, nuts, mineral water and such like, but making that last the month is an incredible challenge. So when I get out, I’m going to look forward to existing on a pocket money of 2500 per month and make do just fine.’
As a year closes in on him, Peter seems less sure as he was before of getting out of jail soon. While his defence team keeps stating the same arguments about his innocence, it’s only the prosecution side where the case is progressing, new dates, new witnesses, and so that’s where the media turns to 158 BEHIND BARS for new leads to the Sheena Bora murder story. The press is only interested in new developments and Peter’s position seems yesterday’s story.
‘I’m getting to write, which I’d forgotten to do, almost, and as there’s precious little TV, I’m glad I don’t get to see the madness that exists on the news channels, every night, particularly the one-man band who plays the same time each night.’
In his last note, he says: ‘Suffice to say – I wasn’t there, I didn’t know, I wasn’t involved in any way, I didn’t hate Sheena nor was I against their relationship and I did not lie to my son when I told him that Sheena had left him. But thanks to Arnab and his decibel levels, he’s put me in here – which is the price I’m paying – but over time I’m sure it will get resolved and I’ll then come on his show and take him on, happily. Maybe you’ll see my point of view.’
Excerpted with permission from ‘Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous’ by Sunetra Choudhury, published by Roli Books. Head here to buy it.