Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Last Wave - Review by Bittu Sahgal

The Last Wave
A Review by Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, October 2014

I have known Pankaj Sekhsaria for well over two decades and have watched his romance with the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago flourish over the years. As can be seen from his images and texts on the previous pages, he is not merely an accomplished photographer and writer, but a sensitive naturalist as well.
I read The Last Wave with great curiosity, and admire Pankaj greatly for his courage. Writing fiction, in my view, is possibly one of the most difficult tasks imaginable for a naturalist-academic, whose life is founded on fact-filled conservation reports, debates based on hard evidence and battles against those seeking to tear arguments apart on the basis of one line, sometimes one word, out of place.
I enjoyed the book. Its flow and its characters smell right. Harish and Seema are credible, and through them we are made quietly aware of the very complex social web that the Jarawa of the Andamans must negotiate now that they have been ‘befriended’ by the administration.
I cannot say I was particularly carried by the love story in the plot, but I did identify with the underlying horror of tourists treating a most sensitive and civilised tribe such as the Jarawa as curiosities whose nakedness was turned into a tourist attraction. Also the crudity inherent in city-dwellers looking upon the Andaman tribes as just a notch above wild species to be pitied, or horror of horrors, ‘tamed’.
The infamous tsunami that took such a terrible toll on life and property in the Andaman on December 26, 2004, the last wave, is a key part of the plot. The symbolism of that wave and the force of its irresistible wall of water is transparently juxtaposed against the irresistible wave of civilisation, diseases, ambitions and sheer numbers, that are overwhelming the Jarawa.
As I said, I did enjoy reading the book, though fiction-non-fiction is not exactly my bag. To really understand Pankaj Sekhsaria, I would recommend you pour over the previous pages.

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