Saturday, October 25, 2014

Two Intruders in 'The Last Wave'

The ongoing 'Organic Jarawa' documentary making saga has prompted many friends to write in pointing to the uncanny similarity between what's happening now and the episode in 'The Last Wave' involving the British photographer Michael Ross and before that, the French photographer, Henri... 

Here's the entire incident as it appears in the novel from Page 152-154

THE LAST WAVE - an island novel

Chapter 13
Two Intruders

... ‘Who do these guys think they are?’ David started off, once the intruders were gone, ‘This is not the first time it’s happened. Two years ago, there was this French guy, also a photo-journalist, who had come to the Institute. He told me he was interested in wildlife, forests and the tribal people on the islands. He was good,’ David paused, ‘but only as a photographer. He showed me some of his pictures from the Sarawak forests and they were really good. Actually stunning.’
Harish was all ears.

‘He was desperate to get into these forests, to get some Jarawa pictures. I suspect that he made a promise to some publication that he would do it – maybe he’d even taken a big advance. I was categorical, telling him he wouldn’t get permission, that he should not try even. He was unwilling to listen. You know what the guy did? “David,” he told me, “See I need to get those Jarawa pictures – at any cost. I can pay you and the Institute any amount if you help me get in there.”’

‘Really?’ Harish finally spoke.

‘Exactly. I couldn’t believe it myself. Did he think I was a pimp or something? I was really angry, but not as much as I was today,’ David shrugged. ‘I asked him to leave immediately.’

‘And then?’
‘Yes, and then to my shock and horror, three months later, I get this packet in the post from France, from this guy, Henri . . . something or the other – I don’t remember. Inside was a six-page colour pull-out – a centre-spread from some French magazine with fifteen pictures of the Jarawas. This Henri guy was taking his revenge. There was no need for him to send me that feature, but it was good that he did. It got me wild. A disproportionately large number, ten of the fifteen pictures, if I remember right, featured women. It was nauseating – clearly, many of the Jarawa women had been asked to pose. The corniest was a wide-angled picture of a well-proportioned Jarawa woman reclining in the crystal waters of the coast, her head resting on her hand, her breasts thrusting into the camera. He’d obviously got her to do it. Shameless voyeurism, complete vulgarity. I found out later what the caption said. “An innocent creature of mother nature, on the virgin coast of the Andaman Islands.” What was he doing? Trying to create that noble, untainted savage? Can it really get worse? What a bastard!’

‘David!’ Harish didn’t really know what to say.

‘No, Harish, listen. Remind me to show you the feature when we get back and you’ll see what I mean. It’s worse than those pictures of naked Jarawa women that are sold and bought openly in the Port Blair bazaar. There are no pretensions here. At least it is honest. And there’s more – in that set of fifteen pictures, there was one small one that featured the photographer himself. It had obviously been taken by the person who had accompanied him there. There was this white man in the middle with his arms around a Jarawa man on his left and a woman on his right. And you know what? A black band had been deliberately placed across his eyes, blanking out his identity. Such cowardice. Now you tell me . . .’

Harish was quiet. He had nothing to say.

‘And there was a biographical note at the end of that feature,’ David continued, ‘that Henri whatever was an award-winning photo- journalist who had not only risked potential attack by the dangerous Jarawas, but also taken his chances with the Indian law to get these pictures. Do they have such contempt for their own laws as well?’
‘And who was this other person who might have taken this Henri in there?’ Harish asked, intrigued.

‘That is what I wanted to find out and I did. That Michael whom we just met, what was the last name?’

‘Ross,’ Harish prompted.

‘Yes. You know Harish, that Ross – he’s also right and that’s the tragedy. What’s the point of shouting at and fighting his type when those who make it happen are your own people. When the rot is within, why blame the outsider? When I saw that French photo feature – I was so enraged that I went straight to Ranjit. I don’t go to him often, but he’s a good friend.’

‘Ranjit . . .?’

‘S. Ranjit, the intelligence chap. The Intelligence Bureau fellow in Port Blair. I have got to introduce him to you as well. We’ll do it when we are in Port Blair next. It didn’t take too long to find out. It was Shiva who had organized that trip for the Frenchman. Ranjit gave Shiva a good shouting. I was there. He was even threatened with jail if found doing this again. Shiva promised it was the last. Never again, he had said with tears in his eyes. He seemed terrified. Maybe he was, but obviously it’s worn off. I don’t see him stopping. It’s good money – the curse of the white man’s wealth. The bloody exchange rate! You know,’ he said, more thoughtful now, ‘the Japanese, even the Americans, the others with a lot of money don’t seem too interested in stuff like this. Hardly ever seen any of them. It’s largely these Europeans, still carrying their white man’s burden, aren’t they?’

‘David,’ Harish interrupted tentatively, recalling what Ross had said, ‘What about the two nights with the Jarawa women. Is that true? Is that really happening? Where?’

‘I have only heard about it once before,’ David said with resignation. ‘Never thought it was true, but maybe I am wrong. I was told it happens at some points along the road – it’s difficult this side, but you never know.’

‘But why would the Jarawa women agree? What about their community?’ Harish was really troubled. ‘How does one make sense of this?’

‘What can I say, Harish?’ David sounded irritated and angry again, burdened, it seemed, with more than he could deal with. ‘You know what my problem is? I get involved with too many things. Is it my bloody job to keep tabs on Shiva and fight with that Michael Ross?
Am I the only one worried about these forests and the Jarawas? Why can’t I just fucking stick to surveying my crocs and turtles?

Don’t I have enough on my plate already?’ He was now speaking as much to himself as he was to Harish. ‘I think I was too nasty. Do I have the right to be angry like that? I didn’t behave well with that Michael fellow, did I Harish? What do you think?’
David’s questions caught Harish completely by surprise. He had, in fact, drilled to the very bottom of Harish’s own unarticulated discomfort.

‘I don’t know David,’ was all he could offer. ‘What can I say?’.


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