Behind the Scenes: Behind Bars by Sunetra Choudhury
It’s been almost four months now since Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s most Famous was published, and if there’s one question I’ve been asked over and over again, it is ‘What gave you the idea for this book?’ I’ve answered the question repeatedly, but these pictures will give a better idea of what sparked it all off and really got me hooked.
I was prepping for a TV interview with former Tihar inmate Anca Verma, when she sent me some photographs of herself wearing Louis Vuitton peep toes with wedges in real 24k gold leaf work, or the Versace Couture dark glasses as she smiled into the camera from a lock-up van. Even as a reporter with almost two decades of experience, I had never seen anyone wear designer outfits in Tihar Jail.
This wasn’t some hidden camera capturing the secrets of jail; this was the official jail photographer taking pictures in the women’s jail number 6 – on occasions like Christmas, Women’s Day and Independence Day, of inmates in their prison best. Of course, it would have just remained a regular story if it had stayed limited to Anca, but these pictures set off my hunt for the life that the privileged lead behind bars.
That brings me to another question some of you have asked me after reading the book – why didn’t we use photographs in the book? What an amazing spread it would have been if we could actually see Amar Singh sharing a laugh with Karim Morani in jail or A Raja and the Reliance executives doubled up over their stacks of files in their VIP ward! Well, the reason we didn’t is because other than Anca, all other subjects in my book were either too scarred or too busy fighting their legal battles and were unsure how such photographs would impact their case.
When JP, featured in the book, called me after its publication, he said, ‘Do you know Sunetra, I wish I had just surrendered and gone back to America. That way I would have served a few months in prison there and would have been free. Here, the case continues in High Court, while I can’t even earn a decent living or lead a normal life. I’m trapped.’ JP, the NRI who got caught for an Interpol notice in India, didn’t give me any photographs but he did send me a diary he had kept in jail. It very clearly illustrates the concept of time in prison – how to spend it without losing one’s mind. It’s a reminder to all of us that this book may occupy us for a few days, but for the people featured in it, or others still in jail, it’s a reality they have to grapple with every minute of their lives.
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