Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rediscovering Port Blair in 'The Last Wave - An island novel'

THE LAST WAVE - An Island Novel
Chapter 3
Seema's Return 
Pg 32-33
An excerpt...
...Seema’s homecoming was, from the beginning, a mixed bag of discovery and loss: losing Ahmed Mia forever, but just after rediscovering him, and through him, new nooks and recesses, entire hidden passages of a lavishly rich history. 

Delhi had been exciting but it could never be Port Blair. Delhi was a huge sprawl, soot-laden and suffocating, growing amoeba-like into land that extended infinitely on all sides. Port Blair was still small and compact, easily negotiable, eminently manageable, fresh and airy in a way that only small seaside towns can be. It urged you to breathe deeper and harder. 

Seema knew its little paths and corners better than she knew the lines on her palms. The Mountbatten Cinema with its wooden pillars and old world charm; the saw mill at Chatham where she had become addicted to the smells of freshly sawn timber; Foreshore Road from where ships could be seen entering the harbour as if in a 70 mm wide-screen movie; the marine workshops at Phoenix Bay where history could be held in your hands (her most prized find there was a 1931 lantern from a dismantled ship of German origin); the view of Ross Island from atop Cellular Jail; Japanese World War II bunkers that stood all over like forgotten sentinels; Port Blair’s own Marine Drive that went on and on till it reached Corbyn’s Cove at the other end. 
Homecomings allow an experience of change that is denied to those who never leave. Port Blair had changed significantly in the years Seema was away. It was like a little brat of a city now, discovering simultaneously the pains and the pleasures of growing up, forcing similar discoveries on those who cared for and lived with it; particularly for those who returned. It was far more crowded and chaotic than Seema remembered. There was an increasing restlessness – more vehicles, more speed, more movement, more action, more desire and greater ambition. The nights were longer, the shops bigger, the noises louder and the roads narrower. Garbage now accumulated on street corners and on the roads; dogs had multiplied in direct proportion to the spread of the dirt and filth (Port Blair had seen more cases of dog bites in the last three years than in the preceding thirty); previously unknown entities called beggars and pickpockets had begun plying their trade in the bazaar; street urchins now openly defecated in the overflowing British-era drains and traffic jams were a regular feature in Aberdeen Bazaar. Traffic snarls in Port Blair? Yes, all this and more in just a few years. 

Old wooden Mountbatten Cinema was about to go and a steel and glass structure of a shopping mall was to come up in its place. The old wooden State Secretariat had gone too; everything was being replaced by monsters of the modern age, concrete replacing timber with a rapidity that would soon send termites out of business...

 Cellular Jail, Port Blair

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