Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A parikrama around the Jarawa Reserve' - An extract from The Last Wave

"A parikrama around the Jarawa Tribal Reserve'
An extract from 'The Last Wave'
Pgs 236-237

(Illustration by Madhuvanti Anantharajan)

He now knew a little more about the islands, of the Jarawas, the settlers, about David, Uncle and Seema and, most important of all, himself. He had been on a parikrama both of the islands and of himself. If his emotions had betrayed him, they had also brought him a measure of acceptance – of his faults and his failures. Very importantly, however, he had a sense now of the direction his compass was pointing.
The fate of the Jarawa, as far as he could see, had been sealed and he wondered if there was anything he could do about it. All he had learnt of the Jarawa was only from the fringes of their lives, society and land – from the people occupying these fringes and the changing landscape around their forests. This fringe was now threatening to overwhelm the core, the original people were on their way to becoming the had-beens.
‘Something has to be done about this,’ he thought, ‘something can be done.’
He didn’t know what the Jarawa wanted, but did it matter? There was a fundamental reality to be acknowledged: that the Jarawa could not be asked, at least not for now. There was no language for that yet.
The world around the Jarawa, that of the settlers, the outsiders, was itself changing so rapidly that it too was bewildered. It had been trying in its own way to deal and engage with the Jarawa, with their much smaller, more intimate and ancient world, one that was mysterious and unwilling to yield with ease. Two worlds existed alongside each other, but they inhabited time zones and realities so distinct, they could have been on different planets. There was little, if anything at all, in common. When one did not know even how to communicate with the other, where was the question of a fair negotiation?

‘How would the Jarawa negotiate with this world?’ Harish had asked Seema on the bus journey back. This, he now realized, was not about the Jarawa anymore. It had perhaps never been about them – it was about him and the world that he came from. How could this world negotiate fairly with the Jarawa? That was the question and therein lay the challenge. Did it have the inclination? Did it even have the capacity and the understanding – the world that he belonged to, the world of Uncle Pame, Felix of Ranchi Basti, Pintu the boatman, Shiva the other boatman, Chandrashekhar Kumar the policeman, Michael Ross the British photographer, the balding middle-aged Jarawa tourist from a respectable middle-class Indian family, Basu the politician, Seema, David, Justice Singh . . .

This world knew, but it was refusing to see. The other original islanders, the Onge and the Great Andamanese, who had cohabited these forests with the Jarawas, had all but gone. The Jarawa were now being dragged down the same path. There was the evidence and the weight of history – the Jarawa would be pushed down the road to annihilation – that was the word David had used in their first meeting. What do the annihilated feel? That was not the question Harish wanted to ask. What does the annihilator feel? How would he, himself, feel when the Jarawa were no more? Not because he wanted them to be vanquished, but because he could do nothing about their slide into oblivion. The world he belonged to did not want to annihilate the Jarawa, but it did not seem to know better. That was the tragedy and Harish felt he had some idea of what could be done, at least what he wanted to do, of where he could perhaps start.

Order a copy on

Communication link restored at Campbell Bay, Car Nicobar; Jan 1, 2005; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004 on

Jan 1, 2005
Ministry of Communications & Information Technology

Jan. 1, 2005
15:46 IST
The Minister of Communications & Information Technology, Shri Dayanidhi Maran, reviewed the progress made in restoring of communication facilities in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, here today at a high level meeting. The Minister of State for Communications & Information Technology, Dr. Shakeel Ahmad, who reached Port Blair yesterday afternoon to over see the relief and restoration work, visited the affected areas and directed the officials to make all out efforts to restore the telephone exchanges and satellite communications in the Tsunami affected areas of the Island.
Meanwhile, Satellite Telephones have been commissioned at Campbell Bay and Car Nicobar with the installation of INMARSAT terminals by the team of engineers deputed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The Satellite phones are now available to public for making calls. In addition to this a new telephone exchange of 256 lines (CDOT 256 Port) at Campbell Bay has been commissioned and is working with the telephone network of Andaman & Nicobar.
One MCPC (Multiple Channel Per Carrier) equipment shipped to Car Nicobar yesterday is under installation. One VSAT has been airlifted today to Car Nicobar Island with engineers.
Three teams with 7 INMARSAT terminals have already left for Kamrota, Katchal, Terassa and Champin islands. Another separate team with INMARSAT terminals has left for Hutbay Island. They will commission additional satellite phone services by tomorrow.
Efforts are on to provide PCOs in Bambooflat using Port Blair WLL systems' coverage. It may be recalled that Bambooflat telephone exchange was completely washed out by the tidal waves.
In order to reduce congestion at Port Blair exchange, more than 200 additional circuits have been commissioned from Port Blair to Chennai and Kolkata. Four numbers of power plants (25A), six engine alternators and 10 battery sets are being air-lifted to Port Blair in addition to 8 numbers of power plants (25A) already sent to Port Blair yesterday. Seven numbers of CDOT 256 port switches, two numbers of power plants and five numbers of INMARSAT terminals have been airlifted to Port Blair. In addition, three more 256 port exchanges with MDF (Main Distribution Frame) and 14 numbers of optimux (optical fibre equipment) are being airlifted to Port Blair for installation in the affected areas.   The entire operation of restoration of communication facilities in Andaman & Nicobar Islands is being supervised by a team of two senior officers of Department of Telecom, specially sent from Delhi.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dec 31, 2004: a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 31, 2004

Dear Friends,
This is the mail that Dr. Milind Bokil had sent yesterday, but did not come


Dr. Milind Bokil Dr. Neelam Gorhe
OCAA – DST , Pune (India) Stree Aadhar Kendra, Pune (India)

Practical Gender Needs

Human beings have certain bodily needs but women have specific body cycles, which affect their physiological response. During the rescue and relief phases when the physical and biological spheres are affected the bodily phenomena need to be taken into consideration. The practical gender needs have close bearings on these physiological aspects.

- During the rescue phase, women and children are given precedence over men. Their rescue and protection is given highest priority. This is a welcome civil feature. However, the same attitude is not maintained afterwards.
- During the relief phase, which lasts for about two to four weeks many women undergo menstrual cycles. The homeless women are extremely handicapped in this regard. The necessary sanitary clothing is not made available, as this need is not recognised as a part of relief items. It is found that most of the relief gatherers and providers are men and they do not understand this need. As this topic is a taboo in Indian society, it is
not expressed openly and remedial action is not attempted. The lack of sanitary clothing can pose serious health hazards.
- In the same phase, women face grave problems due to lack of toilets and bathing facilities. Although most of the Indian villages are without latrines and people are habituated to use open spaces, this need becomes acute during disasters as the conventional order and arrangements are broken. The sites of disasters are thronged by relief providers and spectators as a result of whom the necessary privacy is lost. In urban areas this is the predominant difficulty. Relief operations seldom start with construction of toilets and bathrooms. In most cases they are constructed last, as appendages to shelters.
- Relief items do not reflect the priorities and preferences of women. The usual relief items include blankets, plastic sheets, tarpaulins, buckets, metal and plastic cans, water containers and so on. However, the specific cooking equipment like stoves, small pots and vessels, spoons, plates, katoris, fry pans, etc. do not necessarily form the list of supplies. Stoves without kerosene are useless. Fuel wood is seldom supplied.
- Similarly, women’s needs and priorities are not attended to while providing clothing. Sarees are provided but not petticoats and readymade blouses. Sarees are of no use without these ancillaries. The need is also for under-garments, which are often not provided. The most notable deficiency is that the donors do not think about the cultural acceptability of clothing. Problems arise when supplies come from overseas. Similarly, the needs of young girls are not specifically catered to. Young girls need readymade dresses like salwar and kameez but they come in short supply.
- Relief operations also do not consider the needs of pregnant and newly delivered women as well as the post-operative cases. These women are most vulnerable to physical and psychological shocks, and hence, need to be cared for. They need special diet, medical care and hygienic environment which is difficult to obtain even in normal times.
- The medicines sent out to the disaster areas are not sorted and classified. As a result, a good deal of energy is wasted in identifying a correct medicine. Many times, irrelevant medicines are sent which compound the problem rather than solving it. Similarly time-barred and obsolete medicines are received. Medication on hypertension and diabetes is often wanting. These two ailments pose a big health hazard in any post-disaster situation. As these medicines need to be taken punctually, their absence can cause physiological and surgical emergency. Women, due to  their emotional nature, are prone to hysterics. Psychological counselling is required but at the same time anti-depressant, anti-hysteric drugs and sedatives need to be administered which are often in short supply. These drugs need to receive priority over tonics and vitamin tablets.
- Spectacles are the first items lost or broken during any disaster. Though it is difficult to provide customised lenses, most of the people above of forty require reading glasses, which can be provided on large scale. Here again, gender biases play a role as women are not encouraged to check up their eye-sights regularly or wear spectacles. Many of them have impaired vision and night blindness. The latter is the direct outcome of nutritional deficiency.
 - Another need that is urgent but goes unnoticed is footwear, which is the first casualty in any disaster. Relief supplies seldom contain footwear, as traditionally anything that is connected with leather is considered inauspicious. Although rubber and synthetic materials have long replaced leather, this stigma has not vanished. There are also differences in men and women’s types of footwear. Even when such supplies arrive (mostly from overseas) they are ill suited to local conditions. Leather boots, sports shoes or high heeled footwear are not useful. Slippers or sandals are most suitable and it is also possible to supply them in bulk. This is unisex footwear and does not cause any discrimination.
After the first phase of relief and before the onset of rehabilitation
phase, there ensues an interim phase which also entails certain gender
needs. These are as follows.

- During the interim phase, the affected families need basic amenities like shelter, sanitary arrangements, drinking water, electricity, transportation, and communication. Some of the amenities like sanitation and drinking water are transformed into specific gender needs. Traditionally, Indian villages are not adequately equipped with sanitary arrangements and, hence, this need is not fulfilled during the interim process. The critical issue is that of drinking water as fetching the water is considered to be a woman’s duty. The unavailability or inadequacy of clean, potable drinking water not only increases the work burden on women but also jeopardises their productive activities. This is also true of fuel. Relief items do not necessarily consist of wood or any other fuel. This need has to be fulfilled immediately if the affected families are to resume their normal life.
- Another practical need is employment. The employment needs in the post-disaster situation are critical as traditional means and sources are
destroyed. Most of the relief and rehabilitation activities, particularly those related to building and construction of infrastructure, are male centred and male-intensive. Women do not receive adequate employment in these activities. At the same time, specific employment generation programs for women are neither undertaken nor conceived.

Gender Constraints
In the rescue phase, when the most important thing is to save one’s life, gender constraints prove a handicap. Although, men and women have certain bodily differences, nature does not differentiate between the sexes as far as human abilities are concerned. The abilities or lack of abilities, to be precise, are a product of culture and, hence, could be appropriately analysed from the gender perspective.
- Although women are given a priority in the rescue process, they face considerable obstacles in rescuing themselves. This is because they are not trained in essential, life saving skills like swimming, tree-climbing, jumping, running, etc. The practice of gender discrimination prevents girls from acquiring these skills and this turns out to be a fatal handicap. The traditional Indian clothing (five-yard saree) also makes things difficult for them.
- The traditional practices of keeping women away from death and funeral related rituals prove a handicap in disaster situations. The tradition not only deprives women from attending the funeral rites but also creates difficulties in identifying the deceased.
- Another handicap is the low level of literacy among women and subsequent lack of exposure to outside world. The women get confounded after the disaster, especially when they are accommodated in relief camps outside their villages or taken to hospitals at far off places. They are at a loss after being discharged from the hospitals, as they cannot easily reach their homes. The lack of exposure to communication and transportation links creates these disadvantages.
- It is noticed that women withstand the disaster better than men due to
better tensile strength and higher levels of endurance. However, their malnourished status and nutritional deficiencies pose a handicap in post-disaster situations, especially in post-operative or convalescent stages and also in the wake of epidemics.
- Although, no discrimination is made in administering professional medical treatment, the injured or convalescing women do not get the mandatory rest or respite from domestic chores. They are not only expected to look after their homes but also care for the injured or hospitalised relatives.
- During the relief and rehabilitation phases, schools are reopened but it is observed that girl-students often drop out at this stage. Conventionally, the proportion of girls dropping out of schools is high, especially among poor, labouring classes. Their vulnerability increases manifold after the disasters.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review of The Last Wave


by K Naresh Kumar
New genres in book publishing, especially in English language, have been a constantly evolving trend. While on the one hand Indian authors are beneficiaries of a new young readership, both within India and abroad, they have also been encouraged to go beyond the ordinary to write and unearth new forms of fiction and non-fiction, with largely successful results.
Pankaj Sekhsaria and his new book ‘The Last Wave’ is one such effort. An environmental activist, Sekhsaria has a basic degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University and has followed it with a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication from Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.
Having been actively involved with the civil society movement for a considerable stretch of time, it can be assumed that such outputs are commonplace for the authors of Pankaj’s ilk. However, hearing him outline the reasons for his recent endeavour makes you feel it has been a multi-pronged initiative.
During the book reading session on Saturday evening at Lamakaan which had an audience comprising a few from abroad as well, Pankaj elaborated on the background of his book which was primarily a throwback to the frustrating times which he faced when highest judicial activism failed to protect the people it was intended for. He was alluding to the fate of Jarawas, the indigenous tribe of Andaman and Nicobar, who have been forced to re-alter their lifestyle to end up as entertainers for the mainstream visitors from India, getting corrupted with addictives generously shared by the outsiders and being susceptible to other forms of exploitation. Ironically, the order of the Supreme Court, passed in 2002, ordering the closure of theGreat Andaman Trunk Road, connecting the mainland to the Jarawa settlement – the biggest threat to the Jarawa tribe in recent years- is still functional, a good 12 years after it was passed.
So what is the book, listed among the top ten selling books in the fiction category in Hyderabad, all about? As its blurb says: ‘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 rainforests. 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. Harish’s 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, ecology poised on the sharp edge of time and history. The book is published by Harper Collins and priced at Rs. 350.

Get a copy at

Dec 31, 2004; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 31, 2004

Hello all.
ThankYou for keeping alive hope.
i am keen to volunteer with SANE or any other group that is /planning to engage in relief and rehab in the islands. My friend Richa has worked with SANE and was thoughtful enough to forward the group mails to me and help me communicate with Pankaj.

these news bits are very confusing. the media says that the government says that all is well- an aerial survey has shown that all the indigenous groups are safe- but it seems to be a blanket statement and much remains hidden- especially when they are also maintaining that all islands have not been accessed.

i think somebody mentioned that for relief work we need to get in more people who understand the indigenous people of the islands. While security concerns may be paramount, at the end of the day, the armed forces can only probably help in reaching those places. Ration and water is easily reaching Chennai as people are providing help in kind and it would accumulate there after sometime. Some of it can be quickly diverted to the arranging for supplies should not be such a big problem as is the question of timely distribution.

News just in said that the Centre is planning to have an integrated relief force?? for supervising relief work in the islands. i think the likes of anthropologists like Dr. Roy Burman should be a part of is alright to evacuate tourists- i think that is the first thing which was done at war footing. but what about the actual natives?? they do not seem to be a priority here.

as of now everyone including the government realises that distribution of water and ration even to the remotest of islands should be on top of everyone's mind. Slightly later, counselling for dealing with post-trauma stress and reconstruction of lives would come in- which is going to be significantly long-term.
does somebody know how long will help provide immediate aid- realistically? Has that aid which was to be sent today, reached them? Are the Sentinelese safe? Do they have any fresh water sources still intact?

Thank You so much for all the authentic information

best wishes

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A reader's review of The Last Wave on

The Last Wave

A reader's review on

 The main protagonists of the book are not really the characters around whom the narration is structured - viz Harish the aimless drifter turned researcher or Seema the "local born" anthropologist who lived outside the Andamans for many years only to return to study her own family's origins. The main protagonists are the tropical rain forests that cover the bulk of the South Andaman island and form the natural habitat of the Jarawa tribal population. Seema and Harish accompany David, a senior biologist, on his annual crocodile survey around the Andaman islands. And on the way they discover the many different ways in which the Jarawa reserve is being systematically exploited by the very people whose job it is to protect them. The logging policy put in place by the government over 40 years ago with the intention to preserve the forests is changing the character of the rain forest. Prof Kutty, a biologist, working with the government discovers scientific proof that the "Andaman Canopy Lifting Shelterwood System" for logging is slowly changing the nature of the rain forest to something more like the deciduous forests found on the Indian mainland. However, his reports are suppressed and Forst Department refuses to reevaluate its methods.

Poachers and hunters routinely hunt in the Jarawa forests and fish in their waters.. often leading to bloody encounters with the Jarawas, but the authorities turn a blind eye.

The policemen in charge of protecting the villages settled around the reserve are amongst the primary instigators of the hostility shown by the Jarawas as they misuse their powers and guns to hunt inside the Jarawa reserve and show disrespect the their customs and women.

The descriptions of the Jarawa community and their growing bewilderment as they are forced to start interacting with the "civilised" people is sensitively portrayed. The author also brings to light many interesting nuggets about the history of the islands and the people who settled the islands.

A very interesting read that leaves us rooting for the Jarawas and the rainforests of the Andamans. This book has raised my awareness about the battle to preserve the Jarawa reserve being fought by various environmental groups.

Dec 30, 2004, a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2014

Dec 30, 2004
Press Release

Upward of 10,000 are believed dead in the Nicobar Islands, and limited relief is only now reaching south of Car Nicobar. Confusion prevails. The news from Central and Great Nicobar is utter devastation. One inhabited island, Trinket, is in three pieces. The Navy and Coast Guard have been picking up bodies and providing what aid they can but they are overwhelmed.
The population of the Nicobars is 42,000, with perhaps 30,000 Nicobarese. Half of the Nicobarese are missing. Aid on Car Nicobar is said to be eluding most of the Nicobarese so far, and reaching primarily settlers and personnel from the mainland. The other Nicobar islands contain almost exclusively Nicobarese and a couple of hundred or so of another indigenous tribe, the Shompen. There is great concern for indigenous Andamanese as well: the Onge, Great Andamanese and North Sentinel islanders. There is little news from settlers on Little Andaman either, other than reports of many deaths.
Ten ships are said to have been dispatched to the Andamans from the mainland. But these typically take five days to reach. During these critical days, what is to become of the survivors? The cholera bacillus already exists on the Nicobars. There is virtually no clean water or food in the entire Nicobars, and even Port Blair is short of water, food and fuel. Bodies have yet to be cleared. Epidemics are more than likely.
In this context we wish to question the decision of Indian authorities not to allow foreign aid. International aid agencies are already ministering to the survivors in Sumatra and Thailand, and from these regions it would have taken--would take-- no more than a couple of hours for them to airdrop supplies such as drinking water and food on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and to send teams to pick up bodies and take care of the injured.
India presumably does not want foreigners in this region because of defence concerns. But what is the point of defence if not to protect lives? What security concern can possibly outweigh the need to save the lives of thousands?
In 1942, when a massive cyclone hit southern Bengal, killing more than 10,000, the British authorities did not send aid for weeks, and also prevented private agencies from functioning there. Their concern was security. Later, during the Bengal famine, they refused offers of grain from other countries, saying they had the situation under control; in truth, more than 2 million people died. Today we are appalled at such murderous callousness. Why should Indians in turn be handed the burden of similar guilt? Who are the authorities to refuse aid on behalf of the Nicobarese, or, for that matter, any of the other stricken?

Mahasweta Devi
Rupa Ganguly
Sita Venkateswar
Author, Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands
Madhusree Mukerjee
Author, The Land of Naked People: Encounters with Stone Age Islanders

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dec 28, 2004, a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 28, 2004
Water and a Tsunami

Like a giant falling,
The earth lost its step.
Ten meters down the ocean floor fell.
For thousands of kilometers a brutal jagged incision.
The earth revolted as if hit in the solar plexus,
Its three stories high waves, worse than killer whales.

From our shanties Oh Sea Goddess,
We worshipped you,
The matriarch you presided over our lives,
Like children we lived of your bounties.
Why then did you avenge against your own.

Those who pollute your womb with oil and tar,
You have not harmed.
Who, in distant lands, insatiably feast on your jeweled fish, pearls and coral,
You have made wealthy.
Who channel their toxic effluents and plastic into your home,
You have shielded, by distance.
For, those who produce carbon dioxide and raise your temperature,
You have forgiven,
For those who plan development projects (of oil prospecting and ports)
Along your shore,
Their sins you have ignored,
For those who test their nuclear weapons in your atolls,
You have made powerful.

It was my low roof home you swept way.
My little wooden boat, bought on a loan.
My seven months old baby girl, whom I hoped would be a doctor.
It was my community of humble poor your smothered.

I see you colluded with the Elite Gods of the Earth,
Who have pushed us to the fringes of their existence,
To live on shifting sands,
So they may easily erase the dispensable me.

Oh Mother Sea,
Your even hand of justice I do not see.
Lillian D'Costa

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dec 29, 2004; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 29, 2004

Dear Vidya,
This is the kind of mail we needed. I am from Madras and have been  active with many groups and people on coastal related issues. I am  presently in Seoul working for an UNESCO organization and have been  tormented that I am not in Madras now. I know very well the TNSF people  and the quality of the human beings and their dedication to the grass  roots and ordinary people. I know and am aware of AID and its work,  all the same I want to place my appreciation at the professional way in  which you have organized yourself and which is evident from the  information provided on your website. Other than the National  Federation of Fishworkers which any way is more useful on the mainland,  and aid organizations like Action Aid, AID can play a very important  role in the immediate relief that is required and which is the most  important and urgent concern. But beyond relief we have to see how to  convert this terrible disaster and tragedy on our coasts and on the A@N  islands to see that our coastal people are provided homes and housing  befitting human beings. This is a tragedy beyond words beyond all our  known frameworks of concern, compassion and activism. I wish each and  everyone of you involved so deeply and concerned with the situation in  A@N islands success in you work of assisting people on the islands and  others like Vidya who through their work with organizations like AID  are reaching to those who need help by mobilizing money and support. I  will do whatever I can to help even if temporarily displaced from India  for a month or two, my thoughts and all my good wishes are with each  and everyone of you concerned and compassionate human beings,  especially Pankaj who brought this community together,

yours sincerely,
Lawrence Surendra

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dec 29, 2004; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

On Dec 29, 2004, at 1:10 PM, V Jonnalagadda wrote:

Hello Sharbendu, Pankaj, and other friends,
I am a volunteer with AID (Association for India's Development) at the  MIT chapter. As you might know, AID has already sent in $25,000 for immediate needs, and our Chennai chapter is deeply involved in relief work in the field. The volunteers in Chennai have also undertaken sending of materials like medicines to Sri Lanka. If you could identify people in A&N who can recieve materials and organize relief efforts, we can direct funds and supplies to the islands. > For people (especially from overseas) who wish to make donations, you could refer them to the website . I can  personally vouch for the AID volunteers in Chennai in that they are committed and sincere to making sure that the weakest people are the ones to benefit.> Please feel free to contact me if you need any information about AID in general, and our chapter. We are looking to support longer term projects on the islands working through grassroot organizations.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The 'Glowing Coals of a mangrove night' - An extract from 'The Last Wave - an island novel'

The Last Wave - An island novel
'Glowing coals...'
Pgs 1-2

Harish peered into the mouth of the creek as they approached it. The creek, so pretty and welcoming by day, had acquired a completely different feel at night; the waxy green of the mangroves had now turned pitch-black. Dense, uninviting, its earlier enticements replaced by an ominous darkness. The mangrove revealed nothing of what lay beyond. The sky, juxtaposed, offered relief – studded with a million twinkling pinpricks, little windows to gaze into and see through to the other side of the great heavens.

Reality was replicated perfectly in its reflection. The mangroves were revealed as a dark wall on the surface of the water along the banks of the creek. In the middle was the grey silver of the sky above, and the lines that separated these reflections receded like a giant V into the distance of the creek. If a guiding star was to be plucked from the night sky and placed in a creek, it would be the illusory tip of this always receeding V, forever at the centre of the channel of water – focus on it and you were never lost.

But they were not navigating the creek for the fun of it, Harish, Seema, crocodile man and institute director, David; and their most local of guides, Uncle Pame. This survey was to span the western coast of the South and Middle Andaman Islands – and they were actively looking for crocodiles. The inflatable moved at a steady pace, with David at its tip, staring intently into the night. He sat for a while and then switched on his torch. The powerful beam of light cut sharply through the dark and fell on the water’s edge to create a little pool of diffused yellow. It sallied back and forth, as David willed it, went off and then came on again on the opposite bank. This went on for a few minutes.

As they moved deeper into the mangroves, the creek became progressively narrower and the banks started closing in. The tip of the V was now closer, but still receding, always just out of reach in the brooding darkness.

David flicked the torch on again and directed its beam to the right. Suddenly, he gesticulated in a wild, animated manner. Uncle got the message immediately. The inflatable slowed down considerably and Uncle angled it to the right. Seema and Harish directed their attention to the new pool of yellow light that had come to rest on a little bunch of mangled mangrove roots and floating debris. They were about forty feet from the creek bank; the pool of light remained stuck where it was. David indicated again with his right hand. Uncle killed the motor completely and picked up the oar. Seema and Harish felt the tension, straining their necks as they scoured the pool of light that David now held steadfast.

David seemed to be in his element, completely focused, his gaze locked with something out there. ‘Glowing coals,’ he muttered in a muffled voice. ‘Look for the glowing coals.’

For a moment it made no sense. Then, all at once, it was clearly visible. Right at the centre of their attention, in the mangled debris, separated from each other by only a few inches, were two small dots of brilliant red: the eyes of the monarch of the mangrove creek. The animal appeared transfixed, blinded by the concentrated beam of powerful light fixated on it. Seema and Harish also watched, transfixed, as Uncle rowed onward in complete silence. The only sound now was of the swishing oar.

‘Small croc. Young one, about three feet long,’ David said softly, as if he could read the questions in the ignorant minds. ‘The distance between the glowing coals . . .’

Dec 30, 2004; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 30, 2004

Dear Pankaj /Friends
Let me take a breath before I start writing. Yes I am very much fine, still in Andaman Islands and was moved to see your email and concern regarding my whereabouts.  Situation is pretty bad here and rumors and some predictions have made life miserable here - however things are beyond normal.  Well on that disastrous Sunday, was in Wandoor research base. I woke up around 6.30 am and was having tea and was planning fixing stuff for new research vessel. And suddenly I realized the windows have started shaking. To confirm I asked my assistant Albert to come out and see and by that time the shake was becoming massive and I shouted earthquake and asked him to move out of house. As soon as we came out, the whole earth was shaking and it made me us difficult to stand. Soon I realsied that it is very unsafe to stand around house and trees and we went in open space close to sea (my house in the islands is on sea shore but its on the base of a hillock!). This earthquake lasted for more than one minute, however I had experience the earthquake in Solapur in 1994-95??, but this was terrible. Huge cracks were all over. After few minutes some forest people came out and we chatted about stuff. Soon after some time I realized that being an island, tsunami would follow earthquake. Well with that thought I came back in house and started assessing the damage. As soon as came into the house, I realized that I had forgotten to unchain the doggies. (I have five dogs who gives me company in remote place and guard house and boat). I came in hall and saw all diving air cylinders were all around, book shelves were fallen and papers and books were all over. Bed room wall was broken and room was all covered with cement slabs. While inspecting I asked Albert to keep an eye on water level rise and within a moment he shouted water is crossing road with all force. I felt that it may be worst soon. My house is around 15 meter from sea-level so I thought It would give me few minutes to take out necessary things from the houses. I unchained all dogs, took laptop and rushed to the top of hillock and from there started going to jetty. By that time sea had shown its power. Several boats were on the road. Houses, shops and the marine national park interpretation center was flooded. Sea water was everywhere and people had fled within a few minutes.  Several people started getting in to water and trying to take belongings from their house. I was sure that water will start going down soon with great speed. I shouted at them and warned them for not going into water. Thank god people took me seriously and came on the top of hillock. Then the real game started. Water started going down and started taking all with it. It took several fishing boats, tourist boats and even the wooden jetty was on its way in water. The speed of water was so high that I could see the channel between the island. Water again started rising. This continued for whole day. The water level was pretty high, I couldn't understand why? As water would take time to adjust. But the third rise was pretty high. However the Tsunami was pretty slow in this part of the island and its mainly due to the corals, mangroves and the depth gradient. I been saying in all seminar over the years that the existence of the island is on the existence of coral reefs and mangroves. As these animals and plants reduce the impact of waves during monsoon (these islands experience seven to eight months monsson). Havoc was every where. Well, at the moment I am surrounded with tribes from Car nicobar and taking information from them as I am leaving tomorrow for car nicobar for relief operation as most of the government aid is around one place and just now I was told by these tribes that lots of ppl are in deep forest and no one is going there. These ppl are starving. Though I am shocked but I have to be pretent to be brave as I have responsibility of several ppl. While stuff was happening in Wandoor. I had made up my mind that my research vessel is gone for forever and was worried about my staff who were in boat. My boat is my dream but made up my mind that have to work hard again to get another boat for research. Well then started going to port Blair and on the way saw the devastation of tsunami. The water level was still high and had taken its toll all over low lying areas. Several huge ships had broken their ropes and were in open seas and even some boats were sitting comfortably on the jetty. While seeing that I was thinking about my boat and when I reached chatham jetty, police stopped me saying that bridge is weak and its dangerous to go to the harbour areas, I tried to tell them that my two staffs are their and I must go there and see what is the situation. He still tried to resist me and then I fired him and gave him lecture and then he mellowed down. When I reached there I couldn't see the boat where it was supposed to be and I was more worried about my staff. Suddenly some one came from back and said Sir! OH my .. He was one my staff Keybow and I took a breath and asked him about Porichh (another staff) and he said he is safe and again I took another breath and asked about the boat and he told me that boat is safe and it was kind of miracle... then I looked at sea and said in my mind that I cant ask more than this from you (my belief is that ocean is my religion and god. believe it or not! Then news started pouring in from nicobar groups of island. Devastation was just unbelievable. Well then I spoke to office ppl in mumbai and asked for sending stuff for helping ppl and couldn't believe when stuff started coming from next day. After the disaster when I called to my mother and in office I was advised to come back immediately. However I preferred to stay back as it would have set wrong example and I wouldn't have been happy for that action. Yesterday distributed clothes, bedsheets, jackets (this time of the year its pretty cold and its unusual), footwears, medicines, toys for kids and ration, vegetables among people in wandoor (several of them were nicobaris). I was speechless as most of them are from car nicobar (the worst affected area in the islands) and I had tought them scuba diving. Well most of the settlers have paniced and started going back to mainland. Some people instead of giving helping hands to the needy ppl were just playing the role of audience. I felt sad about their attitude. Then the game of rumors, panicking and running around started. I could see that administration was just confused and didn't have crises management plan and trying to do something. But I was moved to see the help coming from mainland and from international level. Though lot to do but have to concentrate my effort in nicobar. I was just told by the people  who just arrived from car nicobar about the situation. Several ppl are still in forest and are injured, without food and water supply and administration haven't reached yet there. So tomorrow I will collect stuff coming from mumbai and will proceed to car nicobar by Indian air force plane and will try to reach deep inside forest to the ppl and assess the situation and give the stuff to them or get back to them again with necessary stuff. Well now I guess for next couple of months atleast have to concentrate on the relief stuff, however I am aware that we need to focus on long term solution for the problem faced by ppl than day to day stuff and hope that we will able to do some thing. I must say that now ppl of Andaman have realized that ocean makes difference in their life whether its good or bad and for that we need to respect the ocean. Now I hope in future local politicians, administration consider the fact and don't overrule the environment. Well that's now at the moment from myside and will keep you all posted. As far as environment is concerned, well I am sure the population of salt water crocodiles, dugongs and corals have seen severe damage. This is the peak time of turtle nesting in the islands and I am sure that there must be severe damage due to the tsunami. But for the moment need to concentrate on the people issue then latter I am aware that got to work on these issue so hectic time ahead.  Before I say bye I must thank you for being with me in this difficult time
and making me more responsible in what I do. 
Thanks a lot 
Sarang (Kulkarni)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Dec. 29, 2004; a post on; revisiting December 2004

Dec 29, 2004

this is another update on Andaman for information of this  group /......

Aboriginal tribes may have survived the tsunami wrath 

Port Blair, Dec. 29 :Amidst devastations caused by the killer tsunami  waves there were some positive indications today that the highly- endangered aboriginal tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands may have  escaped the nature's wrath.
"The Jarwas, Onges and Sentinelese may not have been affected by the  killer waves as most of them have been in the Andaman area which has  not been much affected," Lt. Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands  Ram Kapse, said here today.
But he said there was some concern till now about the Shompens,  inhabitants of the Campbell Bay, as there was no information about  the effects of tsunami there.
Kapse said an 18-member expert committee has been set up to assess  the situation and the effect on the aborigines. Only after that would  the picture be clear.  The aborigines of Andaman and Nicobar were the most endangered tribes  in the world and considered modern world's only link to ancient  civilisations.
Meanwhile, a senior official of the Anthropological Survey of India  (ASI) in Kolkata told PTI that a group of ASI scientists sailed today  for Middle and South Andamans to ascertain the welfare of Jarwas, one  of the six aboriginal tribes who were inhabitants there since the  mesolithic period i.e. 2000 years ago.  "Only today, the situation seemed a little favourable for our  scientists to look out for the Jarwas residing in dense forests in  Baratangi and Kadamtala areas in Great Andamans," ASI Keeper L N  Soni, told PTI here.  Soni said the ASI was concerned about the welfare of the tribes --  Jarwas, Onges, Sentenelese, Shompen, Nicobarese and Great Andamanese - - inhabiting innumerable islets in the Andaman group of islands which
were slammed by last Sunday's high intensity tsunamis.
He said naval ships were trying to penetrate the heavily-damaged  forested islets to report on the other tribes. All these aboriginal tribes are stated to be world's oldest  aborigines, dating back to the Mesolithic period, though some  subscribe to the view that these tribes belonged to the upper  palaeolithic period.
The ASI Keeper said that once the Jarwas were located in their  original habitats, "we will be relieved about their safety that they  survived nature's worst onslaught."
As per the last census, there were 266-270 Jarwas in Middle and South Andamans.
He said that the communication network, both telecom and road, was in very bad shape making it a herculean task for approaching any of the islets. "However, our men have been trying to re-establish links with  them and see for themselves how they are doing."
The ASI scientists, he said, would enquire about their welfare, food  and drinking water availability and submit a report to the ASI headquarters.
At a later stage, ASI scientists would sail in groups to other islets  to trace other tribes, like the Onges, Shompens, Nicobarese and  Andamanese.
To a question, Soni said since Sentenelese were still hostile and  could not be approached by people from outside, information about them would have to be collected by "other means".
He said that ASI had moved the island administration for providing  support for information on these tribes.
All these tribes, he said, were adept at overcoming adverse maritime  conditions and were good swimmers while many of them lived on tree- tops.