“Tinka Tinka Dasna” begins with a quote by the Beatles, “When the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me.”
The book embodies this very light, a ray that pierces the darkness in an otherwise desolate landscape. The book is a poignant portrait of life inside prisons. It delivers a first hand account of not just jails and their inmates, but also the loss of love and hope in their lives. Through poignant prose interspersed with poetry, Dr. Vartika Nanda paints a vivid picture of how imprisonment is not just confinement of the body, but also of the mind and spirit.
“There is a railway crossing. The railway track runs across. Those who travel by train must surely have seen it but how could they possibly know what lies beyond. What world exists, whose world is it? A few feet ahead there is an enormous, towering gate, with a logo printed above it and the word Dasna written beside it. Four police personnel in their khaki uniforms and red turbans man the gate. Just one look suffices to convince anyone that this huge and sturdy gate, detines the border between the two realities of mind and perception. One has seen such gates only in photographs and films. The light of the wofid outside fails to pierce through the gate, the moment stops in the milieu inside. I wish to build a bridge which would connect the two vastly contrasting realities in spite of the obvious constraints. This is my resolve.”
Through poetic paragraphs like the one above, prison reformer and founder of Tinka Tinka, Dr. Vartika Nanda draws attention to the social isolation and lack of development of inmates, and the callous attitude of the outside world towards those behind bars. She initiates a call for action to help in emotional and mental stability of those imprisoned. In her detailed description of Dasna Jail, Ghaziabad, she creates an image of inmates and imprisonment far removed from the popular perceptions usually propagated in media. Her work attempts to humanise the prisoners, whose existence society often overlooks.
In a certain section, she gives detailed accounts of five detainees, exploring their stories and struggles. Included in this are people like Dr. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, who were under trial for the murder of their daughter Aarushi, and Surender Koli, convicted for the infamous Nithari killings. Enclosed with their accounts is never before seen poetry, reflecting the myriad emotions of life behind prison walls.
“Sentenced for the murder of his five children: A case of Ravinder Kumar Poverty, scarcity, deprivation, unemployment and then murders Ravinder Kumar tells the story of his life through the poignant words of his poem,gam ka safar jari hai, gam ko andhere se dar lagta hai. Desolation continues on its path, desolation is scared of the dark). He is accused of having killed his own five children in 2009. It is alleged that he also tried to kill his wife and then himself in an attempt to escape the clutches of poverty and depression. His wife survived and he had failed to kill himself. But those five lives were gone forever, never to come back. He did not get a chance to perform the last rites of his children. When the last rites were being carried out back at his village in Bihar, he was already in jail. He is resolute about being innocent and has no idea who killed his children. In 2013, he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death. In 2014, the High Court overturned the judgment and his sentence was reduced to 14 years in jail. This, no doubt has given him tremendous relief but the painful memories refuse to fade away.”
Also documented are the backgrounds and special skills of several inmates and how they can contribute to the creation of a better society. She also elaborates on several efforts to improve their lives, many of which have had a significant impact in making their lives better. Many endeavours like the Tinka Tinka anthem, awards, art, music, poetry and prose have played a vital role in reminding us and the prisoners of their innate humanity, which is oft neglected by an indifferent society.
The main choir comprises of nine inmates. Most of them have been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. A harmonium, a tabla, a dholak and a manjeera, confederate with them. The members of this choir have a fixed routine. Each morning as soon as they meet, there ensues between them a discussion and analysis of their respective cases. Though they know very well that the circumstances in which they find themselves have not changed overnight.
They still live in hope for that lucky break with each break of the dawn, which they believe will come sooner than later. Whenever new prisoners join their group, their first introduction is unfailingly the same. When, where and how did it happen? Which case? Under which section of the IPC is it? They have no formal understanding of musical notes nor have they studied the concepts of journalism, yet they use the fundamental principles of journalism – ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Who’ ‘What’ and ‘How’, day in and day out. They never indulge in vilifying each other, giving unnecessary advice or being judgmental towards one another. Once this discussion is over, the music begins. The lyrics and beat change with the mood of the moment. Between the stillness and the sorrowful silence of the jail, this choir tries to compose a melody.
By means of this book, Dr. Vartika Nanda elucidates a telling tale of a very neglected portion of our society and how their lives can be enriched and their contribution to society maximized. She also highlights the commendable efforts of several officials whose proactive participation has made prison life much more bearable for the inmates. The book ultimately serves as a call for action and a reminder to society of a forgotten strata.
Through a humane and compassionate approach, the book shows another side oft ignored in media. Dr. Nanda paints a vivid picture of prisons as places where the shackles of caste, color, religion fall away and unique bonds are formed. The book serves as a fitting testament to the indomitable fortitude of the human spirit and the fact that no matter how dark the night, dawn always follows.