Katherine Boo, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Kurt Vonnegut: in a room of the Sada sub-jail in Goa’s Vasco, a prisoner sits surrounded by stacks of books. After 52 days in custody, Tehelka co-founder Tarun Tejpal has virtually turned his cell into a library.
“Half our books are in prison,” says his elder daughter, 26-year-old Tiya. “He hasn’t read this much since he was in college. Most of his time is spent reading and foraging stories of inmates.”
The jail, with its over 300 prisoners, offers him enough scope for study. “To the rest, he is a curiosity as he spends most of his time reading,” says Tiya. “Inmates keep walking past and waving to him.”
Accused of sexually assaulting a junior colleague in Goa last November, Tejpal had been arrested on November 30. Though he initially applied for a separate cell, he withdrew it later. Now, he shares a cell with six others — most of them young men accused of crimes like arson, armed robbery and abduction.
“Being there serves up masses of insight, he told us,” says Tiya. “He has seen the acquittal of seven undertrials who served around four years each… He says it is a shame they had to spend their youth in prison for crimes they did not commit.”
Prison food comprises daal, chapattis, chai, pao. Tejpal has no complaints about the arrangements, and the staff is decent.
“He misses nothing more than Geetan (his wife) and the family,” she says. “The separation is unnatural and unbearable.”
A family visit is allowed once a week, and meanwhile, long letters are exchanged between Tejpal and his wife. “Time is determined from one visit to the next,” Tiya says.
Tejpal’s parents too, have now joined the rest of the family in Goa. Support to his mother undergoing treatment for brain cancer was one of the reasons he had cited in his bail application.
Tejpal’s bail appeal was dismissed by a Panaji court last week, and he has not yet appealed against that order. The Goa police had said it would file the chargesheet by early February.