Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Last Wave - An Island Novel

I am delighted to announce the publication of my first novel, a story based entirely in the Andaman Islands. It is titled  'The Last Wave - An Island Novel' and has been published by Harper Collins India. The book is deeply an ecological story but also centrally about the history, geography and the people of these islands - you'll get a sense of it from the blurb appears at the back of the book (see below)
The book should be stores across India in a couple of weeks and it's just gone up on Flipkart and is available at a special pre-publication price. Click here to order

Do certainly check it out. It will shortly be available on amazon too and a ebook version will be out soon as well. I am also trying different ways to make the book available in the islands as well and if anyone has suggestions on how than can/should be done, please surely let me know. I'm also going to keep my facebook page, twitter account and blog busy and occupied with things, discussions, pics etc. related to the book, so do follow. 

Here is the blurb from the back of the book:

The Last Wave - An Island Novel

Ever the aimless drifter, Harish finds the anchor his life needs in a chance encounter with members of the ancient and threatened - Jarawa community-the 'original people' of the Andaman Islands and its tropical rain forests. As he observes the slow but sure destruction of everything the Jarawa require for their survival, Harish is moved by a need to understand, to do something. His unlikely friend and partner on this quest is uncle Pame, a seventy-year-old Karen boatman whose father was brought to the islands from Burma by the British in the 1920s.

The islands also bring him to Seema, a 'local born'-a descendant of the convicts who were lodged in the infamous cellular jail of port Blair. Seema has seen the world, but unlike most educated islanders of her generation, she has decided to return home. Harishs earnestness, his fascination and growing love for the islands, their shared attempt to understand the Jarawa and the loss of her own first love, all draw Seema closer to Harish.

As many things seem to fall in place and parallel journeys converge, an unknown contender appears-the giant tsunami of December 2004. The last wave is a story of lost loves, but also of a culture, a community, an ecology poised on the sharp edge of time and history.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A falcon and an elephant

(An unpublished piece written in December 2013)

The months of October and November 2013 saw what was, arguably, one of the most intense conservation campaigns in recent times – NGOs, the media, the Nagaland government and local communities came together in a high decibel, high visibility effort to protect the migratory Amur Falcons as they transit through Nagaland on their journey from south eastern Siberia and northern China across to the continent of Africa. The campaign that was a combination of enforcement and awareness, was fuelled by reports from previous years that 1000s of these birds are hunted during their stay in Nagaland. And if available information is anything to go by, it has been considerably successful with the hunting threat having been successfully mitigated this year.

            Then on November 6, in what was a fitting culmination to the campaign as also the short stay of these millions of birds in Nagaland, three falcons were fitted with satellite transmitters to help track their monumental onward journey. At the time of writing, about two weeks after the fitting of the transmitters, the birds are very much in the middle of their spectacular journey. From Nagaland they travelled south to somewhere along the east coast, then turned west, flying across the Indian subcontinent, past the west coast of India (birders in Goa reported seeing a few Amur falcons around November 9) and across the oceans to Africa (Amur falcons, satellite-tagged in Nagaland, tracked over Arabian Sea, Susanta Talukdar, The Hindu, 15/11/13). On November 20 the three birds with the satellite transmitters had all reached the African coast – two of them were on the Somalia-Kenya border, while the third was on the Somalian coast. It’s a voyage that has enthralled bird lovers in India and across the world. It’s helped keep alive the magic of nature’s wonder and a sense of achievement in an otherwise beleaguered conservation scenario (see for migration maps and more on the project)   

            The respite, however, was only momentary. Just a week after the falcons were fitted with the transmitters, and about the time they were probably flying the skies over the Wankhede stadium where Sachin Tendulkar was playing the last test of cricket career, came the tragic news of another train accident in North Bengal involving an entire herd of elephants. In what is by far one of the most ghastly such accidents ever, the Guwahati bound Kabiguru Express running at nearly 80 kmph rammed into a herd of nearly 40 elephants as they were crossing the tracks in the Chapramari forests. Seven animals including a pregnant female were killed and several others were injured. Nearly 50 elephants have been killed in the last decade on this killer track in North Bengal that connects Alipurduar and Siliguri; 17 of them in 2013 alone.
            There really are no words to describe what happened and the criminal callousness with which these accidents continue to occur. Perfunctory noises are being made as always – charges are being traded, an FIR has been filed, the FD has said that watchtowers will be put up to keep a watch and there have been reports of some technological solutions being put in place to avoid another such disaster. We have to wait and watch to see what will finally happen and how these solutions will finally work, but if history is anything to go by, we can only continue to expect the worst.
            A falcon soaring high above the Arabian sea; an elephant dangling lifeless from a railway bridge (the photo can be used with the article) – one, we can only imagine, the other brings us back hard and painful to solid reality. Moments of hope continue to be drowned out in oceans of despair as we seem to continue with a death wish we’ve made out for the other denizens who came to this planet much before we did.
It is ironic that the elephant is the India’s National Heritage animal and Bholu, the elephant with a cap and a green light in his hand, the mascot of the Indian Railways. It is tragic then to realize that the one wild animal that trains of the Indian Railways have killed the most is the endangered Asian Elephant. We are surely capable of much better than this!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sansar Chand – The end of an era?

(Editorial - April 2014 issue of the Protected Area Update)

Sansar Chand, known as the most notorious wildlife poacher and smuggler in the country, died recently in Jaipur due to lung cancer and related ailments. He had been taken to Alwar from Delhi in connection with a case related to the killing of tigers in Sariska TR and was shifted to Jaipur when he developed some health complications.
He was, perhaps, the most hated and despised man in India’s wildlife and conservation community and understandably, there is a collective feeling of relief and even jubilation. It’s been very visible, for instance, in the world of social media. While the strong emotion might be understandable it is a moot point whether we fully understood Sansar Chand’s larger connections and contexts. While there may be no doubt that he operated with unmatched audacity and impunity, little is known or understood of the larger eco-system that he worked within.
It is obvious that he could not have operated if he did not have support from multiple sources – a network of people in the communities in and around forests; those in positions of authority and power who were willing to co-operate (perhaps for money) and a legal system that is slow and inefficient. But this is not all – there are also issues of the history and cultures of communities that continue hunting in the wild; issues of society, politics and attitudes in relation to many of these communities that are branded criminal communities; issues related to the overall socio-economic agendas of the country and its policies; the criminal justice system and the unabated demand for wildlife goods in national and international markets.
These, obviously, are much easier to write about, than to actually deal with in the field and that is precisely the point. Any individual will have to take responsibility and be accountable for the choices he or she makes but we cannot stop just there. Unless we get a better handle on the larger dynamics, our focus will remain on the individuals who are the tips of the iceberg - the symptoms and not the cause of the issues that we seek to address. An efficient legal system could have kept Sansar Chand in jail for longer or he might have been felled, much earlier, by a forester’s (or a policeman’s) bullet. He was eventually taken away by cancer because like any other individual, he was mortal. He had to go - this way or that.
The same, however, cannot be said of the challenges that Sansar Chand came to epitomize – these are more than evident to anyone who cares about wildlife conservation in this country. They are all around us and these are certainly not the creation of one single Sansar Chand.