Book Reviews

Imprisonment as Creative Art

Imprisonment as Creative Art: A Critical Study of Prison Writings
Ed. P.V.Laxmiprasad, Authors press, New Delhi, 2021, ISBN: 978-93- 90588 - 90-9 Pp 117.

The book under review is entitled Imprisonment as Creative Art: A Critical Study of Prison Writings was brilliantly edited by Dr. P.V. Laxmiprasad and published by Authors Press, New Delhi in 2021. The book is dedicated to Nelson Mandela who was put in jail for 40 years in South Africa. It is followed by an excellent Preface about Prison Literature and Writings. P.V. Laxmiprasad, the Editor of this critical book, included eleven research papers on Prison Writings. Prison literature is an interdisciplinary genre now studied as part of literature. Many Prison writers produced brilliant classics while they were put in prison. In fact, this genre reflects world level writings by Prison writers.

The first paper “Nawal El Saadawai’s Memoirs from the Women’s Prison: A Critical Study into the Indomitable Mind of an Erudite Scribe” by Anju S Nair. She observes that Memoirs from the Women’s Prison offer both first-hand witnesses to women’s resistance to state violence and fascinating insights into the formation of women’s community. Saadawi describes how political prisoners, both secular intellectuals and Islamic revivalists, forged alliances to demand better conditions and maintain their sanity in the confines of their cramped cell. Saadawi’s haunting prose makes Memoirs an important work of twentieth-century literature. Recognized as a classic of prison writing, it touches all who are concerned with political oppression, intellectual freedom, and personal dignity. The second paper “Holocaust – The Nightmares of the Innocent Prisoners in Elie Wiesel’s Night” by Rajani Priya S The Holocaust annihilation is a disgrace to humanity on the whole. It shows the worst degradation that mankind could be capable of. The stories of the survivors who are innocent victims portray that man’s beastly instincts could be at its worst. The sadistic pleasure of the perpetrators of such heinous crimes is appalling and disconcerting. The narratives are the far cries of prisoners of destiny. They are held captives, tortured heartlessly and murdered for no fault of theirs. They do not have any charges against them but their lineage. Innocent women and children are massacred for their Jewish affiliations. The cruelest part of all is that they lost all humaneness in the turmoil. Their hunger and fight for survival had reduced them to insensitive beings. In the third paper by Sumathi Siva Kumar, Veil Unveiled: Anticipating Feminism in Emily Bronte’s The Prisoner – A Dhwani Perspective” one would observe that how this theory would work out well in the end. The poet envisages, thorough the dreams of her captive woman, a time when she can hope to walk free and live life in her own terms, where the very freedom is the Heaven that she creates for herself. It serves as a reflection on Victorian women which cannot be disregarded or ignored completely as her intended meaning. Despite the absence of empirical evidence, the suggestiveness of Emily Bronte’s poem, its significance will remain an enchanting obscurity for critics to unveil. Dhwani theory allows us that freedom to draw certain conclusions with respect to our interpretations, a fact that marks the poem a true work of art.

In the next paper by N. Asharuddeen, Henry David Thoreau’s Imprisonment: Civil Disobedience Thoreau emphasizes the right of revolt against any injustice which affects society, all men who recognize it should expose rebellion, and the origins of which he finds ethically forceful is fewer than the issues at hand.” Discipline, Force and Impact: Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis” by Anuranj Ck dwells at length the exercise of power at different spheres of society differs in its own enactment. Prison is such a space. The coercion of power by the state and immediate responses of prison inmates through distinct gestures are their way of surviving. The act of writing is one among such responses or resistances. Oscar Wilde chose this method, the method of writing as survival and writing as resistance against the exercise of state power. He was denied everything by the system, even writing except letter writing. Using euphemism and other literary techniques, he did show the method of wring creatively. It is not just an act of writing. It is beyond that; it might have led him to death if he did not use this way of writing. To hide from the surveillance of the state power, the individual, the renowned writer Oscar Wilde, used the productive ‘power’ of creativity as Foucault said to make his experience less painful. “Truthful Insights into Mahatma Gandhi’s Thoughts: A Perspective on My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography” by S. Malathy examines how Gandhi’s prison life had its own role and impact on Gandhi’s life. The great leader, the “Father of the Nation”, Mahatma Gandhi has crossed so many milestones in the history of Indian Nationalism. He marched ahead successfully with his supporters and followers towards a mass struggle and protest and gained Independence using his finest yardstick, his supreme principle of life-Truth and Ahimsa (Non- violence)

“Role of Nature, Books and Human History in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Letters from a Father to His Daughter” by Janardhan Reddy K have established the fact these letters display passion for teaching and remarkable friendliness to his daughter.   M. Sandra Caramel Sophia “Thirst and Quest for Egalitarian Principles Behind Prison Bars: An Analytical Study of Martin Luther King’s Speech I Have a Dream” proves the universal truth from her reading of the text. His intention was to transform people’s minds to a common understanding that all are equal. People paid attention to his message of equality, justice and freedom and this brought Luther King the great fame as a master orator and a brilliant wordsmith. So in the person of the King, an exemplary icon of peace and justice, one can witness the heir of Gandhi and the Precursor of Nelson Mandela.

In another scholarly paper by Devi Datta Das, “Voices behind the Bars: A Study of the Odiya Prison Writings of Gopabandhu Das, Harekrushna Mahtab and Nityananda Mohapatra”, The gamut of prison writing of the freedom fighters belonging to Odisha highlights different emotions and experiences. “Prison, for instance, strikes some as a degrading place; to others, like Binode Kanungo, it was a place of learning. In some narratives, the English appear cruel, unfeeling and heartless; in others, as they do in Godabarish Mishra’s autobiography; they seem perfectly reasonable and full of compassion. Even the police are not always oppressive. They, too, sometimes sympathize with the participants of the freedom struggle and help them surreptitiously when they could under the circumstances.” (Nayak) These prison writings unfold many scenes and sceneries of the bygone eras. Apart from the emotions of the writers, they give a glimpse of the social fabric. In  addition, of the three notable figures discussed above, there were many other significant freedom fighters that were also notable figures of literature. Godavarish Mishra, Nilakantha Dash, Harihar Acharya, Ramadevi Choudhury, Ananpurna Maharana, Malatidevi Choudhury, Nabakrushna Choudhury et al were freedom fighters who wielded their pen to kindle the passion of man and women and also create awareness against the social evils that pervaded the society at that point in time. Prison is a strange place which creates different feelings in different persons. The struggle of the external and internal gives rise to a whole range of incomprehensible emotions and thoughts. The prison writings discussed mainly the societal picture of the pre-Independence era and how the pen proved to be a weapon of social reform.  “Vattikota Alwaru Swamy’s Inside the Prison: Stories of the Subaltern” by Palakurthy Dinakar   explores that Vattikota Alwaru Swamy has made a significant contribution to the amelioration of the lives of the down-trodden and tortured lots. He is undoubtedly a great storyteller and his mastery in story telling is commendable. He is not only a visionary, but also a robust optimist. His literary pieces clearly express his compassion for the downtrodden and subaltern. The present anthology of stories Inside the Prison expresses his genuine concern for innocent prisoners. His experience in prison has prompted him to plead for legal and jail reforms in order to save the prisoners from untold mental torture. He observed the life of the prisoners from the close quarters, which is reflected in the stories. The characters are real and moreover they are larger than life. He clearly describes the condition of the jail administration which was so bad that they proved to be real torture chambers instead of executing their services as correction centers. In the last paper by R. Karthika Devi, “Physical Imprisonment for Spiritual Enlightenment: A Study of Sri Aurobindo’s Tales of Prison Life”, writes that Aurobindo Ghosh states that a number of innocent person were put in prison without any reason. In spite of their hardship in the prison, they only prayed for their family and their fellow beings. Aurobindo compares the Indian convicts with the British. He says that if the British had to encounter the same misfortunes of the Indians, they would move towards hell’s murk with their depressive anger and sorrow. The materialism greediness and the self-centered physical gratification of the British makes them too weak to encounter the extreme challenges of life, while the Indians with their spiritual potentiality find the Divine in both the positive and the negative aspects of life and so endure any hardship and pray for the welfare of other.

Thus, the scholarly edition of this book appears with quality in content and selection of writers who underwent prison life. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are immediate names to reckon with this genre of literature. If innovation is the hallmark, variety is a supplementary addition by P.V. Laxmiprasad whose adroit skill and expertise speak through the volume. Really the book is worth the investment on World Prison Writings and their experiences. All the research papers are of top-class quality. These well-researched papers by eminent critics establish that Laxmiprasad becomes a household name in India and the world. It can be reckoned to be a remarkable contribution. It is meticulously published in the end.


More by :  Meena Mishra

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Comment This book on Prison Writings makes it a uniquely designed one by the Editor. Really a book of variety and innovation. Prison literature is now the main corpus of literature. Congratulations to the reviewer Mrs Meena Mishra for an elaborative review

29-Jul-2023 20:47 PM

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