Jail house tales

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Shortly after Vasant married Bharti he took up a position as the chief medical officer of a maximum security prison in a small town. The market town nestles on the shores of a large lake, overlooked by a dormant volcano; nearby are the crags and gorges of Hell’s Gate, the setting for Mufasa and Simba’s story. They were given lodging near the prison: a spacious single-storey house by the jail, approximately two miles out of town and surrounded by the blue-grey hills typical of the region. The bungalow was one of four or five, the others occupied by prison officers. Bharti kept house, practising her cookery skills and tending the small garden where the couple grew their favourite roses; the tiny town school had no vacancies for teachers at the time. Alternate weekends involved coffee at the members club at the lake, badminton and a visit to the Sunday farmers’ market, returning home laden with locally grown produce. Idyllic, it certainly was, but not uneventful.

During lunch one day, a shot was heard, followed by an enormous thud. On the ground, a short distance away from their back door, Vasant and Bharti saw a chimpanzee, lying prone. The monkeys and chimpanzees came from the trees at the base of the hills behind the bungalows, their feet making merry music on the roofs of the houses. The percussion orchestra was not popular, and very occasionally, occupants took it into their own hands to stop the noise.

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The tranquil surroundings belied the potential threat from the prison: Bharti remembers hanging out the washing in clear view of prisoners tending the land- part of their rehabilitation- twenty strong and flanked only by a couple of guards. One day that sense of safety vanished. Vasant was called to attend a prisoner, and when close enough, he was swiftly taken hostage. Held at gunpoint by a man found guilty of major crime (how did a weapon get past checks at a maximum security prison?), he waited for the helpless officers to act. It was, thankfully, a diversion whilst elsewhere in the prison an escape bid had begun. One man escaped before the sirens rang out across the prison grounds-heard by Bharti in the bungalow- and guards overpowered the other criminals before they, too, could abscond. After Vasant arrived home, shaken but safe, he told of the morning’s events and begged Bharti not to leave the safety of the house without him, even to hang out the washing.

It was several months later that, at the end of Vasant’s term of residency, the couple moved onto new adventures- leaving in a coach, together with their suitcases and the ten rose bushes that they had planted at the beginning of their married life.

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