| Peter Bleach after his release in Calcutta. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta, Feb. 4: What does it take for a man behind bars for eight years and 34 days to “feel free”'
A King Edwards cigar, a Dansberg beer, a call back home to mother and girlfriend, an eye on the news on TV and an occasional stroll in a bar, “just to check how it feels not to be stopped”.
Peter James Gifran Von Kalkstein Bleach walked out of Alipore central jail at 3.30 pm today, five nights after the presidential order remitting the rest of his life sentence in connection with the Purulia armsdrop had arrived at Writers’ Buildings.
“What a relief…. It’s a strange feeling to be free after all these years, but it’s not something I’d trade for anything in my life,” Bleach told The Telegraph, lounging in a room that was neither lock-up nor court for the first time since January 1, 1996.
Impeccably turned out in blue suit and matching tie, the mustachioed 53-year-old (“I decided not to shave it off because this is West Bengal, where I’ve been told you’re not a man unless you have facial hair”) was just looking forward to the “first flight back home” and “getting used to living the life of a free man”.
Eight years is a long time, especially for someone who has lost them. “The Internet was just coming up in the UK then and my cellphone used to weigh a ton. I’ve never Googled or seen those fancy small sets on which I spoke to my mother in Scarborough (she couldn’t say much) and friend Jo Fletcher in London (she couldn’t stop shrieking),” laughed Bleach, at the British deputy high commission club.
It was 3.45 pm when Bleach was driven through the gates of the deputy high commission, around two hours after the office had been asked by the state’s jail authorities to take the Briton from Alipore jail “forthwith”.
The final turn of the key came after home secretary Amit Kiran Deb received a missive from the Union finance ministry late yesterday.
It confirmed that the last stumbling block to Bleach’s release — the criminal case pending against him with Mumbai customs — could be overlooked in view of the President’s remission.
“With no order for his detention in any court of law, the state government this morning directed the jail authorities to arrange for his handover to the British deputy high commission,” said Deb.
Armed with “one suitcase and about a dozen cartons of papers”, Bleach was whisked away in a convoy of six cars from the Alipore jail to the Ho Chi Minh Sarani address that will be his haven till he leaves the city.
There, he read out a statement to the media resembling an Oscar thank-you list — stretching from the President of India to all and sundry — before waving goodbye with a smile, turning on his polished heel and disappearing behind heavy doors that slammed shut on “a special guest”, not a “high-profile prisoner”.