Book Review: Colours of the Cage


It has been sometime since an Indian author has enthralled me with his writing.

Arun Ferreira’s Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir is a book that grabs hold of your attention from the word go and does not let go.

In May 2007, Arun Ferreira, a human rights activist, was arrested by Maharashtra police on charges of being a naxalite (ultimately proven false). The book takes one breezily through the nearly five years of imprisonment and implication in false case after case that Ferreira went through. Initially intended solely as a book of cartoons he drew for his family and his infant son from prison, the book is an honest, quiet yet screaming, funny yet poignant memoir that lays bare India’s broken judicial, police and penitentiary network.

While India’s prisons have been the centre of attention of Bollywood movies for some time, this is the first time that someone has written an honest, no holds barred book about them. Ferreira documents the minute details of prison life – the tortures, the squalid crowded conditions, the lack of edible food which leads prisoners to hunt and feast on bandicoots/ squirrels/ rats, the slimy prison guards & prison officials and most interestingly, the very common cycle of false arrests and the somewhat funny practice of re-arresting released and acquitted political prisoners post their release, simply to drum up Naxal arrest numbers.

Written in first person from start to finish, one gets to live Ferreira’s prison life with him. Though subjected to the worst kind of tortures possible, ranging from physical tortures inflicted by an inventive police force (tortures are invented so as they do not show physical damage on the outside but rather inflict severe pain internally) to the mental depression caused by the isolation enforced upon political prisoners (to the extent that Ferreira was often housed in the very isolated Phaansi yard), Ferreira is remarkably stoic and Gandhian in his fight against the system. He even goes to the extent of not revealing the real names of any of the police or judicial officers involved in his tortures/ abductions/ arrests/ re-arrests, considering them to be a by-product of a severally broken prison system that has failed to evolve from the British Raj.

This is an important book, one that deserves to be read by each and every Indian. Consider the lakhs of people languishing in our prisons; consider the criminals that our prison system creates instead of rehabilitating.

Ditch all half books, written by IIT/ IIM products and go for Colours of the Cage instead. You will not regret it.

A Jeffrey Archer-ish documentary of India’s prison system. Severally interesting and immensely readable.

Title: Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir
Author: Arun Ferreira
Publisher/ Imprint:
Aleph Book Company
Genre/ Sub-Genre:
Non Fiction/ Memoir
5.00 of 5
Reviewed for:

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