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 amazon.in