RAO’S book is the English translation of his thirteen letters that he wrote in Telegu during one of his jail terms, the product of what is referred to in the title as Captive Imagination. But, as Ngugi wa Thiongo’ observes in his Foreword: “imagination has the capacity to break free from temporal and spatial confinement. Imagination breaks free from captivity and roams in time and space.” Because of this, Rao’s reflections in the letters are freewheeling and embrace large areas of human experience. Rao says that “In prisons waiting is a habit turning slowly into addiction.” In this he imagines himself in the company of all the oppressed people in different countries of the world. Though he lives in the midst of flowers and trees, he cannot get over the sadness that is pervasive over there. To live in confinement is to suffer, and suffering induces reflection. The letters dwell on how the state becomes a source of oppression and its regulations instruments of “institutionalised cruelty,” which are meant to throttle freedom. People are subjected to draconian laws, including the dreaded TADA, and have to wait for years for a proper trial. Many go missing or are finished off in encounters. As a committed Marxist, who has his own vision of societal change, he comments acidly on the cosmetic changes advocated by the state from time to time. Reading and writing are Rao’s only source of solace and hope. Reading connects him with writers from all parts of the world and writing sharpens his purpose and invigorates his soul. “Poetry,” he writes “is a tool that can turn every circumstance to advantage, filling it with meaning, change and novelty.” That is why it is interwoven into the texture of all his letters. It exudes passion and vigour, and is quite moving. Rao’s book is eminently readable and compels reflection, for it raises several troublesome questions.
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