Old Cellular Gaol, Port Blair – Andaman and Nicobar Islands

In November 2012 I traveled with my 4 year daughter to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A seed of an adventure rooted in a discovery made in Darwin, earlier in the year after visiting the Fanny Bay Gaol.

The Cellular Gaol, also known as Kālā Pāani (Black Water), was a colonial prison situated in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India The prison was used by the British especially to exile political prisoners to the remote archipelago.

The construction of the prison started in 1896 and was completed in 1906. Situated in the Bay of Bengal, the bricks used to build the building were brought from Burma.

The building had seven wings, at the centre of which a tower served as the intersection and was used by guards to keep watch on the inmates. The wings radiated from the tower in straight lines, much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. A large bell was kept in the tower to raise the alarm in any eventuality.

Each of the seven wings had three stories upon completion. There were no dormitories and a total of 693 cells. The name, ‘cellular gaol’, derived from the solitary cells which prevented any prisoner from communicating with any other. Also, the spokes were so designed such that the face of a cell in a spoke saw the back of cells in another spoke. This way, communication between prisoners was impossible. They were all in solitary confinement.

I spent two weeks in the Andaman Islands, with multiple visits to the gaol at different times of the day, to experience the architecture in all its beauty. During this time I undertook further video work, to be incorporated into the upcoming Delhi performance of Confined.

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