Saturday, November 29, 2014

A journey on the Andaman Trunk Road - The Last Wave

A Journey on the Andaman Trunk Road
An extract from 'The Last Wave - An Island Novel'
pg 228-230

...The bus groaned up a steep incline and then picked up speed as the road levelled out. They had been moving for about ten minutes when Seema noticed some movement among the trees just ahead. A young Jarawa woman with red cloth tied around her head and waist emerged from the roadside forest and started to run with the bus at its very front. The bus slowed down and the girl was now running alongside the driver. Seema pushed her head out through the railings of the window to see what was happening. Harish did the same and just about managed to catch the action. The Jarawa girl had stretched out her right hand towards the driver. A hand appeared from the bus and handed her a small packet. She transferred it to her left hand and stretched out her right hand once again. Another packet was passed on to her. Her hands dropped to her side and she moved away from the edge of the road, gazing intently at the shiny packets in her hand. It was a quick and efficient operation. The bus picked up speed again and left the Jarawa woman behind. It was evident from their shape, size and appearance that these were packets of paan masala and tobacco.
‘You saw that?’ Harish asked Seema, as they pulled their heads in.
‘Yes. This is crazy. The boards, the convoy, it’s all meaningless. Paan masala and tobacco to the Jarawas? It will ruin them.’
In a while, the entire convoy again did what it had been clearly instructed not to. It crossed a bridge over a gurgling stream of water and stopped as they negotiated a gentle bend. To be fair, they were forced to stop. They had finally caught up with the two tourist vehicles that had slipped ahead a short while ago. There was a big group of Jarawa here; the prime reason these visitors had undertaken this journey in the first place. The Jarawas had set up camp here only recently, attracted by a good combination of proximity to the road and access to a source of fresh water – the stream that the convoy had just crossed. This was the same group that Pintu had referred to and Justice Singh had also spoken about. All the occupants of the tourists vehicles were now out on the road, feverishly photographing the Jarawa and giving them the bananas and biscuits they had been carrying in the hope of this opportunity.
The look on Seema’s face was one of horror, and one that clearly indicated to Harish that something was about to happen.
‘What the hell is this?’ she fumed under her breath as she fumbled through the luggage-clogged passageway to the exit at the front of the bus. Harish followed. She headed straight for the policeman who sat unconcerned in the vehicle at the very front, chewing a mouthful of paan.

Seema stood glaring at the policeman, gritting her teeth, breathing fire. ‘What do you think you are doing?’ she shouted loud and angry, yanking the policeman out of his stupor. He looked up and down at Seema, stepped out from the vehicle, took a step forward and went ‘Thoo!’ The load in his mouth went flying through the air and created a dark, abstract stain as it hit the road with a splash.
‘Yes?’ he asked unconcerned, as Seema quickly took a small step back.
‘Chan . . . dra . . . shek . . . har Kumar,’ slowly and deliberately she read his name aloud from the badge on his chest. ‘How much money did these guys give you?’ She turned her contemptuous look at the driver of the vehicle. ‘Both of you are finished,’ she said with a bravado that had Harish biting his tongue.
He too was angry, but the absurdity of the situation made him want to laugh – this fuming young woman threatening a rifle- wielding, completely nonplussed policeman and a cowering driver who didn’t know what was hitting him. All the others had also realized that something was going on. They stopped what they were doing and turned towards where the action was now taking place.
‘Madam –’ the policeman began.
‘Shut up,’ she pounced on him furiously. ‘Listen,’ her finger was pointed accusingly at him, ‘I’ve got your name and these vehicle numbers. Just watch now.’
The impact was immediate and all those outside, the tourists, the photographers, even Chandrashekhar Kumar, quickly got back into their seats like little obedient children. Seema, however, was not done yet.
‘So, sir,’ her target now was the middle-aged, balding man who had taken his seat just behind Chandrashekhar Kumar. ‘Got good pictures of naked women?’ This wasn’t a question. ‘Big breasts? You like big breasts? You’ll frame it and put it alongside your wife’s picture, won’t you?’....
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