The prisoner of Nyon

The prisoner of Nyon

A serendipitous graffiti of Lord Shiva on the Chateau's prison walls that piques the interest of Nikhil Moorchung

Ruins of an ancient column in Nyon, Switzerland

Nyon, a beautiful town in Switzerland, about thirty kilometres from Geneva, used to be a fortified Roman town during the time of Julius Caesar. There are still remains of the Roman occupation.

One such structure is an imposing arch which is made up of two pillars with an archway on the top. The ruins of a third pillar stands on the side. The pillars and arches overlook the Lake Genèva, like gaunt sentinels which appear to be guarding the town. Almost ten centuries later, a medieval castle was constructed at Nyon around the year 1017 AD, by a local ruler called Humbert the White-Handed. The present Chateau of Nyon was built in the 13th century by the Cossonay Prangins family and later taken over by the House of Savoy in 1293. The Chateau presently houses the museum and the old prison. The prison continued to function until 1979 when it was finally shut down, after 400 years. The cells are beautifully preserved and most interestingly, the graffiti which was scrawled on the walls by the prisoners is preserved behind glass sheets.

The graffiti on the prison walls
The graffiti on the prison walls

The prison was closed in 1979 and the last set of doodles are the ones which have been preserved for posterity. There was one piece of graffiti which struck my imagination. It was a drawing of ‘Lord Shiva’ playing a flute with the letter ‘Om’ on the side. The Lord has four arms and he is holding the flute in two of them. In one arm, he is seen holding a mace and in the fourth arm, he is holding a candle. There is a drawing of a human face just beneath the picture of the Lord. On one side, there is a date (October 23, 1979) and four words in French, ‘Pour couper la solitude’ which roughly translates as ‘to cope with my solitude’ followed by a slash and ‘Shiva’ in bold letters.

All efforts to trace the artist drew a blank. Was it a man or a woman? Was it an Indian who had gone to Switzerland or was he or she someone who had immigrated to Switzerland? Is he or she still alive, after all, 1979 is not so long ago? I suppose this is what is meant by serendipity. One goes to see something and ends up with seeing something completely different. I wonder if this article will help in tracing the prisoner. That would be serendipity indeed!!