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The best of Bhavan's Journal: 1954 - 2003
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Tilak in the Mandalay Jail
Dr. S. R. Sehgal
(Published in 1974 Annual Number)
Incarcerated in Mandalay jail for six long years, this great son of India showered his love on books and a lowly cook making him blessed. After his historic trial, Tilak was sentenced to transportation for six years. The alien Government wanted to crush the spirit of India agitating for the Independence of the country. In Tilak the Government found a leader indomitable and steel willed. In Mandalay he created a vision of beauty around his solitary confinement.
Away from the maddening crowd of the political life Tilak’s philosophic mind helped him to sublimate his self. He got a Maratha cook, Kulkarni, who lived with him for two years. He has recorded re-reminiscences of Tilak’s inner life which are thrilling to the core. Like a Yogi, Tilak started his daily work early in the morning and after morning ablutions recited some hymns in Sanskrit. Then he meditated for more than an hour. This was followed by tea. He took his seat and resumed his literary work which was his great passion. He came down for bath at nine a.m. His dhoti was kept ready properly folded. One portion of the kitchen was earmarked for his bath which required plenty of clean water. He shaved once a week. At first a prisoner shaved him. The instruments used were rough and the prisoner was worse than the razor. At Tilak’s complaint a regular barber was allowed whose payment was made by him. Once he remarked “Kulkarni, even the State-princes do not spend so much for a shave. But what can I do? I suffer from diabetes and if I economise I might have some serious trouble.” During summer he daily bathed twice. A Burmese prisoner washed his clothes. After bathing he put a pinch of ash on his forehead as a symbol of austerity. He performed his daily rites to his requirement. Once he said to Kulkarni “Here I have ample time. There is no hurry as in Poona where I could not get enough leisure even for my meals. Moreover we are Brahmans; so we shall not take food without offerings and the chanting of Gayatri mantra.”
After his morning meals he walked in the room for sometime. Then he set himself to his studies. He was mostly absorbed in his musings and this programme continued till 1.30 p.m. Mandalay was very hot and he took lemon syrup every day. If hungry, he sometimes took milk or fruits. At this time he often talked to his cook for three quarters of an hour He spoke on various topics like stories of Tukaram, Dyanoba, Eknath, Swami Ramdas, Srikrishna, Ramchandra, Shivaji, Kauravas and Pandavas. Sometimes Tilak told him funny stories of Peshwas and of the English.
At 5 p.m. he had his supper and exactly at 6 p.m. his cell was locked as per the jail rules. He spent his 12 hours in that small cell. He slept soundly.


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