Alipore Museum is a Sombre Reminder of the Freedom Struggle

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Alipore museum kolkata
The Alipore Central Jail is now Alipore Museum.

The first thing that takes you by the gut at Alipore Museum is the sombre and gloomy backdrop. As you walk in you can almost hear the screams of ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, provided you banish all thoughts of Instagram from your mind! 

For those who are not yet aware, the Alipore Central Jail ceased to be operational as a prison in February 2019. The heritage jail building has been developed as an Independence Museum by the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) as a tribute to the martyrs of the Indian Independence Movement.

Independence museum kolkata
The museum is spread over 15.2 acres.

Walking into its premises is like walking into an era of extreme suffering faced by fellow countrymen and more importantly, freedom fighters. Only ‘suffering’ wasn’t what they called it. They took great pride in serving jail terms, carried it like a feather on their caps and boasted of it while comparing terms with other inmates. To those martyrs, a jail term here and there on the road to freedom meant adding a much required skill to their vocation. Never mind if the vocation was an almost impossible dream to an impoverished nation like ours, it still meant something!

 

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Cut to 2022. Youngsters walking into the cells are so busy taking photographs and making reels, it actually makes one wonder whether there was ever a life before social media came into the picture. It takes herculean effort and deftness to stay out of frames, lest you run the risk of photobombing millennials. As men, women and children run around screaming and gleefully posing, one wonders what happened to the manners of an entire generation! A family outing at a place like this is supposed to be more like an educational tour! One should also be wary of couples always on the lookout for that one corner in a cell to steal a moment of intimacy with each other! 

Nehru cell at Kolkata
The building where Jawaharlal Nehru remained for 80 days.

However, there are several places of interest to see inside. The gallows, permanent exhibition at hospital building, Netaji ward, Jawaharlal Nehru ward, Bidhan Chandra Roy cell, Chittaranjan Das cell, Jatindra Mohan Sengupta cell, watch tower and others. The light and sound show in the evenings are a must-watch. Several interesting photographs from the pre-independence era line the walls with enough literature to explain them as you walk along. 

In fact, the gallows can actually give you a jolt. Thoughts of thousands of people who walked up to the gallows, never to walk down again could engulf you as you step into the compound. The stairs, the moveable boards at the bottom, the medical room where state doctors examined prisoners to make sure they were indeed dead, can be a spine-chilling experience! The gallows are a stark reminder that just like life, death can be daunting too. Death is not just a passing over of life, as we are often told. In this compound it is more about instilling a sense of the hopelessness of existence for those still living, unless of course you find a purpose in life to keep your mind engaged throughout!

gallows inside Alipore Central Jail
The gallows inside Alipore Museum.

An outlet of the Indian Coffee House has also been set up, though the food quality could literally be every food writer’s nightmare. Not only are the prices too high, the pricing fails to live up to the quality of food served. The administrative staff near the entrance of the museum don’t really care much about the public and are quite rude to most people! In fact one wonders whether this could be the fall out of holding a job, where accountability is too much to ask for! A sort of babu culture is not just prevalent, but quite appreciated as well! 

Central Jail Kolkata
Alipore Museum remains closed on Mondays.

The icing on the cake is ofcourse the light and sound show. Apart from Prosenjit Chatterjee’s highly inappropriate voice as narrator in the voice-over act, the rest of the show is quite nicely done. Instances of Netaji and Chittaranjan Das’s friendly banter at the compound, their jokes about Das treating the entire neighbourhood to tea and snacks when news of his imminent arrest broke out will make you wonder, how delightfully fearless and irreverent these men were! 

Albert Einstein once said, “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Every artefact on display at the museum will reiterate these exact words! Over and over again!

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All you need to know

Museum timings:

Tuesday to Sunday: 11:00 am – 5:30 pm
Monday: Closed
Ticket counter closing time: 5:00 pm

Light and Sound Show:

First show: 6:00 pm
Second show: 7:00 pm
Ticket counter closes 10 minutes before the shows start. 

Tickets:

Entry Fee: Rs 30 (Full ticket above three years)
Light and Sound show: Rs 100 (Full ticket above three years)

Images courtesy: Alipore Museum

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