2 Mar : Once a symbol of colonial rule, the erstwhile Bangalore central jail, today stands as a loud proclamation for freedom, thanks to a magnificient make-over that has transformed this 22-acres of prison premise into a multi-use urban green land called the Freedom Park.
Developed with a budget of Rs 17.35 crore by the city corporation, the erstwhile jail which otherwise was covered with overgrown wild foliage and displayed chipped paint and spittooned walls, soot-covered kitchens, uneven gravelled pathway, has now been virtually transformed into a park that has a story to tell.
The architects of the park–Soumitro Ghosh and Nisha Mathew Ghosh–have ensured that the story is told in a manner that engages its visitors–through areas reserved for museum where vignettes from history can be gleaned, through photographs that speak about the days gone by and a walk-through the solitary cells for that bite of reality.
Like a scene out of film, a visitor can now walk through those famous gates of a central prison, but only that this is no reel life but real life experience as the low barred gates open and close allowing a visitor in, if he bends low enough.
The park has history and modernity suitably juxtaposed. The solitary cells with broken hard cement beds and an open toilet stands strongly juxtaposed to the open space and the manicured lawns and the waters gushing out in the fountain.
The bricked barrack, (housing 100 prisoners the name plate put up reads), still stands testimony to the no-luxury-no-comfort life that the inmates witnessed.
The long rectangular walls with barred windows and cold stoned floors provides a real feel of an imprisoned life.
Time appears frozen in history as the old watch tower still continues to dominate the modern landscape. Narrow spiral staircase leads the visitors to the watch tower where prison guards kept vigil, scanning the horizon for danger.
Today the watchtower with its wooden beam ceiling, the old turret, provide a visitor a bird’s eye view of the transformed landscape, the layered gardens, barrack-turned-flower beds,the jail musuem, children’s park carved out of a barrack.
Breaking the time warp abruptly is the modern 250 seated amphitheatre that holds a promise of a cultural event under the canopy of starlit sky while the 60-seated theatre offers a different experience indoors.
The information corridor and the pavilion block has interesting pieces of historical documents gleaned from the archives and individual possesion. A document announcing the emblem of the state to be introduced after Karnataka became a state, makes interesting reading for history buffs.
So also does old government documents, yellowed pages culled from archives like announcement of some order.Also up on display is a handwritten letter of Gandhi.
Those curious in the history of the prison are offered interesting details like way back in 1867 the number of prisoners released for the year was 1034, while four of them were executed, 63 died and six were released due to good conduct.Twenty nine women were housed in the jail during that year.
For photograph buffs, the office annexe has photographs of a more recent time.
However, it is the photographs of late Raghav Sreyas, displayed on the parallel walls (an innovative concept that transform prison walls into an art gallery) have a chilling story to tell of turbulence and stillness in confinement.
Photographs capturing a montage of posters of filmstars like Rajnikanth, elaborate stencil inscriptions, murals done by prisoners living in the cell, an odd advertisement for a fairness cream plastered on a wall, tell a story of a more recent era before the jail premises shifted.
Designed on the lines of the Hyde park in London, the park has dedicated spaces for holding protest and rallies.
Transformed as it were in the lap of modernity, but with its history untouched, the Freedom park is now all set to set free people not only from shackle of political injustice but also from the monotony of concrete landscape, polluting environment and a stereotype museum architecture.
It attempts to tell an old story in a modern frame with the only overlapping point of commonality being the serenity.