The Tale of my Exile


Barindra Kumar Ghosh was an influential figure in the Indian struggle for independence from British rule. A journalist and the younger brother of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Barindra was one of the founding members of Jugantar, a Bangle weekly.

Barindra Ghose was born on January 5, 1880, in Croydon, near London. After the failed assassination attempt on Magistrate Kingsford by revolutionaries Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki, the British police arrested Barindra and Aurobindo Ghosh on May 2, 1908, along with several comrades. After a trial in 1908, Barindra was deported to the Cellular Jail in Andaman. He was released in 1920.

The Tale of My Exile, published in 1922, is a personal account of Ghosh's experiences during his 12 years in Andaman’s prisons.

This 188-page document is divided into 12 chapters: The Voyage into the Unknown (Chapter 1); A Survey of the Unknown (Chapter 2); A Survey of the Settlement (Chapter 3); The Beginnings of the Cellular Life (Chapter 4); The Reign of Khoyedad Khan (Chapter 5); The Strike (Chapter 6); The Outcome of the Strike (Chapter 7); Strike again (Chapter 8); Causes of Degeneration among Convicts (Chapter 8); Some Snapshots from Prison Life (Chapter 10); A Summary of Sorrows (Chapter 11); A Personal World (Chapter 12).

In the opening chapter "The Voyage into the Unknown,” Barindra reflects on the societal changes during the 12 years' exile. The narrative begins with his journey to the Andamans. Barindra describes the conditions in jail and mentions being condemned to death initially. However, their sentence was later changed to life imprisonment in the Andamans. In Chapter 2 “A Survey of the Unknown”, Barindra Kumar provides a detailed survey of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The dense forests, stony terrain, and captivating beauty of the land is portrayed.

In Chapter 3, Barindra offers a vivid portrayal of life in the Andaman Islands. Kumar's narrative captures the arrival of convicts, the quarantine process, and the march to the fortress-like prison, noting the intimidating presence of warders.

Kumar provides insights into the organisation of Port Blair, its districts, and stations – “A station means a block of 6 or 7 barracks,” writes Barindra. He describes his arrival at the Andaman Islands, highlighting the scenic beauty and the imposing Cellular Jail. The narrative provides details about the jail's structure, the living conditions inside, and the daily routines of the prisoners. “The convicts of all the barracks are gathered together in this morning review…Now the men-in-charge take their respective groups to the various centres of work,” Barindra writes.

He reflects on the challenges of adapting to prison life, including tasks like rope-making and coir-pounding. The presence of British troops, flag ceremonies, and the dynamics between prisoners and jail officials are also depicted.

Suspected of leaking information to the Calcutta Press, the prisoners endure invasive searches and accusations of conspiracy. Then Barindra writes of the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. “Its repercussions affected even Indian and gave birth to the Lahore Conspiracy,” he writes. This lead to an influx of Gadr Party members and Sikh soldiers to Andaman’s prisons. Tensions escalate due to insufficient rations, sparking strikes and confrontations.

In Chapter 9, Barindra writes, “On an average some 1,200 men are transported every year to the Andamans”. The pervasive diseases, harsh living conditions, and lack of medical care further intensify the prisoners suffering in this memoir. “The political prisoners have to suffer much more than the ordinary prisoners,” he adds. Issues such as forced labour, inadequate medical care, and family separation are discussed in detail.

In Chapter 12 titled "A Personal Word," Barindra shares his personal experiences, capturing the emotions surrounding the threat of execution: "I was in a state of sweet self-intoxication, almost beside myself in a sort of overwhelming beatitude when I was counting my last days, with the halter around my neck and shut up in the 'condemned cell',” he writes. Despite the challenges, the author finds solace in small freedoms and unexpected joys, such as the delight of receiving varied food items: "Another day a veteran convict named Charlie gave me to eat ordinary roti smeared with sugar and fresh coconut oil. I can say quite honestly that even the Mihidana of Burdwan never tasted to me so sweet”.

Focus by Anjali Pant. 


Barindra Kumar Ghose


Arya Office, Pondicherry