INTERVIEW

I saw the best of humanity in the worst of circumstances

47-james-tooley James Tooley

How has life changed for you after prison?

Life has changed a lot. Now I divide it into ‘before prison’ and ‘after prison’. At a very mundane level, I realised how privileged I am after seeing the dark underbelly of the country. Secondly, I saw the best of humanity in the worst of circumstances. When I was in prison, the prisoners gave me a blanket and other things, and looked after me. We read so much about the brutality of prisoners, but it is all one-sided. Most ordinary Indians are not aware of how undertrials live inside prisons. I also witnessed the corruption in society, and realised that the spontaneous order that emerges is not because of the police. It is in spite of the justice system. On a personal level, I realised how one can survive and find strength [despite one’s circumstances].

How was the experience of writing the book? What prompted you to do so?

My friend [author] Gurcharan Das encouraged me to write it. Writing it was pure catharsis; I was able to get it out of my system. It was like fighting on the page. Writing it was also a kind of spiritual quest. The helplessness I experienced while watching the jailers beat up the prisoners gave me a jolt. I saw a range of evil and goodness that makes me want to explore further the origin of human nature.

What are you up to now? Has your prison experience ruined your love for India?

I’m back in the UK. I’m still working on educating the poor and how one can liberate education from government intervention. My experience hasn’t made me love India any less. Maybe I was scared to return here for the first six months. But I’ve realised that most people in India are much better than the system. I love the music, the beauty of the landscape, and the warmth of the people here. I also want to explore more the religions and the spiritual side of the nation.