Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Last Wave - a reading in Hyderabad, May 2, 2015

Reading The Last Wave: An Island Novel with Pankaj Sekhsaria at the American Corner on May 2, 2015  


Program : Reading The Last Wave: An Island Novel followed by a discussion with the author
Date        : May 02, 2015 (Saturday)
Time       : 06.00 pm
Venue     : American Corner, St. Francis College for Women, Begumpet, Hyderabad

The Last Wave: An Island Novel (2014) is Pankaj Sekhsaria’s debut novel. 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 rain forests. 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. 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. 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, an ecology poised on the sharp edge of time and history

Pankaj Sekhsaria is an Assistant Professor, at the School of Public Policy and Governance at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. An environmental activist, Pankaj has worked with Kalpavriksh in the past. He is an avid traveller, writer and a photographer. He has authored three books on environment in India. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D in Science and Technology Studies from Maastricht University. The Last Wave is Pankaj’s first work of fiction.  
Entry Free. Seating on first come, first served basis

Sunday, April 26, 2015

'The Southernmost General Store of India'

'The Southernmost General Store of India':
An excerpt from The Last Wave - An Island novel

Chapter 22: Nesting Turtles
Pgg 249-251

MV Chowra docked at Campbell Bay, the administrative headquarters of Great Nicobar Island late on Christmas evening. The Range Forest Officer, Mr Das, was waiting for Harish and Seema at the jetty and they set off straightaway for the turtle camp at Galathea Bay forty kilometres away. The road hugged the coast for the most part, riding over muddy brown creeks, cutting through coconut plantations rich with large fruit, and past settlements with large houses made of timber and corrugated tin sheeting. Shastrinagar at the 35 kilometres mark was the last settlement along this road, and it was just as they passed the last house here that Das slowed his vehicle, pulled aside and stopped by a small shop with a huge areca plantation behind it. Potatoes, onions, biscuits packets, slippers, towels, coconuts, packets of grain and spices, all lay together in the few shelves on display in the front. The shop was dimly lit and rather empty otherwise. A kerosene stove buzzed incessantly outside and a small kettle hissed vapour in an unintended duet. The only exceptional feature of the shop was its name, which seemed to have been freshly painted on a big board by the roadside:
Southern Most General Store of India (61⁄2oN Latitude) Shastrinagar, 35 kms, Great Nicobar Is. Proprietor – Balbir Singh

This was an accurate rendering of the shop’s geography; nothing indeed lay beyond Balbir Singh’s little entrepreneurial venture. Everyone who came here for the first time found this amusing and Seema smiled too as she saw the Board. For researchers going into the wilderness beyond, this was the last outpost of modern life.
Harish had been here a few months ago, and immediately recognized the old man sitting on a stool by the stove – the seventy- year-old proprietor with a long, flowing silver beard. He said a polite namaste, and sat down on the bench. The old man appeared to recognize Harish too, and returned his greeting with a pleasant smile.
‘Can we have some tea, Sardarji?’ Das called out from his vehicle, ‘and Harish,’ he continued, ‘please pick up the provisions that you want. You know you won’t get much at the camp. I think you should take some basic stuff – rice, dal, sugar, tea, pickle, some potatoes, onions and maybe . . .’ he scanned the shelves to see if he could find something interesting, ‘yes, take that tin of Haldiram’s rasogollas, but first check how old it is.’
Tea and shopping done, the visitors started off again. From here, the road went winding up a gentle gradient, then descended sharply and moved along the coast for a little before it cut more deeply into the forest. When it finally emerged, they found themselves at Galathea Bay. Here, at the mouth of the river Galathea, a wide beach of silver sand extended into the distance like a graceful arc of the waning moon. This was one of the best places to watch endangered sea turtles as they came out to nest.
The turtle camp of the Forest Department here was only a small bamboo shack, holed up in a small forest clearing by the beach. Camp Officer Winbrite Guria saluted Das, and said a big hello to Harish. He too had recognized Harish from his last visit. ‘If you need anything, tell Winbrite,’ Das said to Harish, and then turned to Winbrite, who had just unloaded the bags from the vehicle. ‘Ok, Winbrite? I’ll come back tomorrow afternoon.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Winbrite saluted again as Das returned to his vehicle.
The sun had retired for the night, and as was the practice here, the staff had already had their evening meal. Some dal and rice was now set to cook for the visitors. As they waited, Winbrite explained with an apology, ‘Hope you can manage somehow tonight. There is no sleeping place inside the hut, but first thing tomorrow morning we’ll organize something. Madam has come here for the first time, I’m really sorry.’
Harish had been here earlier and knew the forest staff quite well. He had been in these islands for only a little more than a year, but had already travelled quite widely and wildly, covering almost its entire length – from Landfall in the north of the Andamans to the Nicobars in the south, even into parts of the Jarawa Reserve that very few had visited. Improvising had become a way of life; be it shacking up in a police station in a remote village, spending a rain- filled night alongside cows in an abandoned bus shelter, being out at sea for over a week on a dungi or sleeping on the jetty because the evening boat had left ten minutes before schedule, he’d endured it all. Sleeping on a pristine beach like this one, with a starlit sky for a canopy was better than most other situations he’d encountered. He would be fine. He looked at Seema. She seemed pretty alright too.
‘We’ll be fine, Winbrite,’ Harish placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘Yes, yes,’ Seema quickly added. ‘Don’t worry, Winbrite. I’ll be fine. I’m an island girl.’

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Uncle Pame and the Jarawas...

Uncle Pame and the Jarawas...

Chp 14: Old Memories, Strengthened Bonds'

An excerpt from 'The Last Wave - An island novel',
Pgs 162-164

"They walked up for a short while and reached a narrow stream of fresh water that descended rapidly down the incline they had just climbed. They walked along for a couple of minutes and now the stream opened out into a small, palm-fringed pool.
Uncle stood silently for a few moments, staring at the placid blue water. Harish felt like he was witnessing a deeply significant personal ritual. Uncle bent down, scooped up a handful of water and splashed it on his face. He cupped his palms again and scooped up some more, this time to drink. He then sat down on a small log of wood that had been smoothened through years of continued use. A few moments later, he smiled at Harish, a sad, resigned smile.
‘This, Harish,’ he started off in his regular deadpan manner, ‘is where the Jarawas killed my Abba and Amma many, many years ago.’
Harish’s jaw dropped. The simplicity and suddenness of the revelation left him stunned. He didn’t know how to react, what to say. His mouth opened, but no words came out.
‘Today, I am seventy-three,’ Uncle continued, ‘and that was about my father’s age then.’ He went back to staring at the water before them, withdrawing quickly into a quiet, private world.
Harish regained his composure and sat down on the other edge of the log. The story came out shortly – and slowly.
‘A group of four, Abba, Amma, a cousin and I had come to Louis Inlet for fishing. It was my third visit, and no one knew how many times Abba and Amma had been here. Even they didn’t remember. It had been a proud coming of age when Abba first asked me to join them on this trip. These are rich fishing grounds today. They were even richer then and the Karens came regularly. We occasionally dived here for shell and also went hunting for wild pigs and monitor lizards in the forests. We would row from Webi to here, fish for a couple of days and then row back for an entire day. It was hard work, but fun and worth the effort – one never went back empty-handed.

‘On that day, we had stopped at the mouth of the inlet, very close to where our dungi has been parked today. This stream was the best and most easily accessible source of water. It was Abba who decided that day that we’d come up and get some for ourselves. The two of them – Amma and Abba – came up this slope just the way we did today. I followed along with my cousin, but we had needed just that much more time to tie up the boat. It was just as we were hurrying up this slope after them, that we heard loud shouts. Jarawa sounds.’ Uncle paused and shut his eyes. He was silent for a very long time. ‘Then there were two screams,’ he opened his eyes and turned to Harish, ‘Abba and then Amma. The old man’s assumption, or was it a calculation, was all wrong.
‘It was a costly mistake. A very costly mistake. Abba knew these forests very well. People in the village used to say he could smell the Jarawas from a distance. It was always safe going to the forests with him. Maybe his time had come . . .’ Uncle’s words were twitching with emotion. ‘Luckily for us – or were we the unlucky ones? – the Jarawas had not seen me and my cousin. We were not very far, and I still don’t know how they missed us. We crouched by a small bush some distance down this slope, trembling. Even today, a chill runs down my spine when I think about that day. We waited for a while, terrified that any movement or sound would give us away. We heard a shuffling sound that went on for sometime. When it stopped, we turned around and raced down the slope, jumped into the dungi and rowed quickly away from land. In the middle of the creek, surrounded on all sides by water – I had never felt safer before. I don’t know what Abba was thinking that day. It was like the Jarawas were waiting for him, and yet he had no clue. The two of us waited till the late hours of the afternoon. Then, terribly anxious, we came back. We had to check, but what if we were also attacked? Slowly and quietly, we climbed back, wary of any movement or sound. We turned left and reached the stream, half expecting a Jarawa arrow to pierce our own hearts. We walked up to this log here,’ Uncle tapped the log the two of them were sitting on, ‘holding hands, still trembling with fear. On that stone over there,’ he now pointed to a largish boulder that was also smooth with many years of use, ‘we saw something that I will never forget – marks of blood that seemed to have just dried. What a way to die! Even their bodies were not found.’
Uncle nodded, his eyes moist.

‘Three months later, I came back all alone with Abba’s old gun. I came up to this pool and waited in the forests along the edge, on the other side there. It was on the afternoon of the second day that I saw a group of five Jarawas approach the pool. I steadied myself, took aim and blasted the man at the front with my first shot. The others scattered like feathers in a strong wind. That very moment, I also promised myself and the Jarawas that I would never come to their forests with a gun again. I never have.’
Harish was dumbfounded. Uncle seemed to him in this moment like a little child who needed assurance that all was okay. And what forbearance. So much had happened, yet Harish had only seen respect for the Jarawa in Uncle’s eyes and manner.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'When Dr Vishvajit Pandya made an appearance in 'The Last Wave''

'When Dr Vishvajit Pandya made an appearance in 'The Last Wave''
...An excerpt
Chp. 2: The Local Borns
Pgs 25-27

Another important influence was Seema’s distant uncle – Butterfly Uncle, who occasionally visited the islands from Bangalore, to study rainforest butterflies. He had grown very fond of Seema and spotted, early on, her interest in and potential for scholarship on the islands. They corresponded regularly, and whenever he came across books, articles or writings about the islands, he would promptly mail them to her.
By the time she completed high school, Seema had a rare collection of books on the islands that included many she understood only partially, and a few she did not understand at all, among them, Above the Forest, A Study of Andamanese Ethnoanemology, Cosmology and Power of Ritual by Vishvajit Pandya. It was a prized possession, an autographed copy, gifted by the author himself, when he visited her home with Butterfly Uncle.

‘This book is about Vishvajit’s stay with the Onge of Little Andaman Island, about their lives and their beliefs,’ Butterfly Uncle explained as Seema beamed at her new gift. Though an islander herself, she had never been to Little Andaman, which was only a six- hour ship ride, south of Port Blair. Neither, as far as she knew, had anyone else from her immediate family. And yet, here was this man, coming from so far away to study the people of the forests there.

‘So, Uncle,’ she had asked Dr Pandya, ‘they are not junglees then?’
‘No,’ he had emphasized. ‘They are junglees. It depends on what we mean. Those living in the forests, in the jungles, are junglees – like those living in villages are villagers, or those living in Delhi are Delhiwallahs or those living in Australia are Australians. But by junglees, if we mean savages, uncivilized people, that they are not.’ He had paused. ‘Certainly not.’
It had also worried her immensely that the entire population of the Onge people was only about a hundred. ‘You’re joking, Uncle,’ she said when Pandya had told her this. ‘That’s half the population that lives in this colony. There are more dogs in Port Blair than that,’ she had exclaimed, and felt immensely and immediately embarrassed at her inadvertent comparison.

Pandya had explained a little to her about the Onges, how their population had fallen, how, from being masters of the Little Andaman Island and the forests there, they had been reduced to second-class citizens. ‘It’s very sad, actually,’ he had concluded in a gloomy tone. ‘Maybe you will want to study more about them when you grow up.’
Viswajit Pandya was just the kind of ‘undesirable influence’ Seema’s mother would curse later in life, when her daughter started to make the kind of choices she made. First, wanting to study for so long; then that she wanted to do it far away in the mainland; further that it was neither medicine, commerce, nor management, not even engineering that she was interested in, but some god-forsaken subject like anthropology. ‘What subject is this? Study local borns for what?’ she had asked exasperatedly. ‘We are all here. And these Onges and Jarawas? You’ve lost your mind! I knew it the first time I had seen that Pandya – all these silly ideas – I’m sure you got them all from him!’ But it was clear to her that Seema could not be stopped.

Fortunately for the girl, her father supported her completely, respecting the urge of scholarship even if he didn’t entirely understand it himself.
Having reconciled themselves to their daughter’s choices, Seema’s parents were now looking forward to having her back in the islands with them after a long while.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

'The Andamans of the 1920s'

'The Andamans of the 1920s'
An excerpt from 'The Last Wave - An Island Novel'
Chp. 2: The Local Borns
Pgs 21-23

"This was the Andamans in the 1920s, an excitingly important decade where new flavours from elsewhere were being added to the stew all the time – the Moplahs from the Malabar who came to the islands after their rebellion against the British; the wandering Bhantus from the fertile Gangetic plains, forced to flee as they were being implicated and regularly persecuted for being thugs and dacoits; and even a sizeable number of families from Buddhist Burma.

Officers of the Empire, as always, were busy with a host of their own activities: missions to remote parts of these islands, attempts to establish contact with the dangerous natives of the dense forests and elaborate expeditions for botanical and zoological studies. One official had even helped organize the local borns into the Local Borns’ Association.
At the same time, the Great Indian Railway project on the mainland and demands of the British Navy meant that timber extraction in the rich forests on the islands grew rapidly and a need arose to induct new labour and expertise into the Forest Department. The rulers looked in both directions to get their work-force from – the thickly forested Chhota Nagpur Plateau on mainland India in the west and the famous teak forests of Burma in the east. The Church was forever willing to oblige the empire, and it soon became the recruiting ground for those to be brought to the islands with promises of plenty and prosperity. The Mundas, Oraons and Santhals were recruited through the Church in Ranchi, and came, ingenuously, to be called the ‘Ranchis’ in the islands. The Karens, Christians from the Baptist Mission, too were brought in from Bassein in Burma under the supervision of the Reverend Father Lugyi and the leadership, in fact, of Uncle Pame’s father.

Not surprisingly, when the decade of the twenties slid into the next one, nearly thirty different languages were being spoken by the 20,000-odd people inhabiting the Andamans – Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Andamanese, Telugu, Malayalam, Burmese, even Pashto. The islands had truly become a cultural melting point. Over time, customs and rituals fused. Some were lost completely, while others were created anew, hybridizing rapidly with Darwinian enthusiasm, creating a new community that kept growing newer as the decades marched on.

The Moplas, the Bhantus, the Bengalis, the Karens, the Local Borns had all, individually or together, been put away and forgotten as irrelevant deposits of the colonial project – a forgetfulness that Seema had an intuitive discomfort with. These identities had not only charted the trajectories of the islands, they had shaped the very contours of the land – rich stories and enduring legacies. Yet, those pasts were considered barely significant?
The relatively classless and secular community of the Local Borns had grown in number and continued to maintain its original character right till Seema’s time. Nearly 40,000 strong now, they formed an important part of the island’s population and claimed the islands to be both their land of birth and action – janam and karam. The islands, for them, were home.

Many of Seema’s generation were now moving to the mainland. They were very aware of their origins, of what might have been called the illegitimate conception of her own great grandfather. But this did not matter. There was no shame in their history. Instead, there was pride that they had shaped the islands, that they were the pioneers. Many, however, did not know what to do on the islands, finding it too small and constrained, and having moved out, were determined to stay away.
Like others of her generation, Seema too wanted to explore the world and had stepped out. Unlike most of them, however, she was equally interested in their own history, her history – the stories of the people and the place she belonged to. Hers became a reverse focus, a re-inverted lens. For her it didn’t seem right that the Andamans merited only a few paragraphs in an Indian history and merely footnotes in the British one. There was more, much more to these islands and the islanders.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Logging a rainforest tree

'Logging a rainforest tree'

An excerpt from The Last Wave - An Island Novel
Chp. 17: The Last Frontier

Pgs 194-6

SK drove for a short while and finally pulled up in a small clearing where the motorable road reached its end. There were two small paths that led into the forest from here, one straight ahead and another to the left of where they stood.
‘What you see before you,’ SK said, pointing ahead, ‘is among the last of the ancient rainforests that still remain here, a mysterious unordered world that will soon be no more.’
Harish was as at a complete loss for words and the two men stood silently, surveying the mighty forest before them. Suddenly, a huge thud echoed loud and clear, catching Harish by surprise.
‘That,’ explained SK, ‘is the Forest Department axe at work.’
Trees here were still being cut the old fashioned way. Hard human labour putting iron to timber, knocking it off bit by bit.
‘There,’ SK pointed into the forest ahead, ‘can you see the guy?’
‘Which guy?’ Harish scanned carefully with his eyes. ‘I can’t see any . . . Oh! There? Yes, there. I can see him.’
Barely visible in the shadow of that great forest, dwarfed by the huge tree he was knocking at, there he was – a mouse of a man nibbling away at a giant rainforest. It was a formidable sight: a tree that went more than a hundred feet into the heavens, buttresses so thick and huge at the base that a human being could build a small dwelling within them.
And the man with the axe? There were two, perched about twenty feet up the tree trunk on a makeshift scaffolding, just above the point where the buttresses merged into the straight, ashen trunk.
Harish could just about make out as the arm and the axe came around from behind the man’s back, traversing nearly hundred degrees of movement in complete silence.
‘Thud.’ The axe hit the wood and the forest echoed loudly.
The axe came back. ‘Thud.’ ‘Thud.’ ‘Thud.’ It absorbed every other sound that might have been heard.
Harish’s eyes had slowly adjusted to the low level of light and he could now see a huge V-shaped cleavage, gnawed into the trunk of the tree – a fresh, angry wound that would soon consume its victim.

‘It’s almost done,’ SK said.
The two men had now disappeared around the curvature of tree, away from the V they had just created. It was a delicate operation. The V had to be just the right size or the tree would collapse before the little mice had time to get to safety. Too little, and it would remain standing. The difference was a fine one and only those with experience knew when it was just right.

The men quickly scrambled down the scaffolding and scurried towards the visitors. They waved their hands to SK as they came up to him. They turned around, panting and sweating profusely, now waiting for the final downfall, for the tree to start tripping over the wound they had just inflicted. It started a little later, a mild sound that came creaking through, then crackling louder as the tree started to tilt over, then even louder. Finally, the tree snapped completely, a huge crackling sound that went on for much longer than Harish thought it would. The crown of the tree started to fall from the summit of the forest, struggling as it came down, screaming for the others to make way lest they too be destroyed. It hit its first neighbour, slid along its side, shaving clean the branches that came in the way and then knocked into a smaller adjoining tree, smashing its crown. The fall gained speed and momentum and the tree finally collapsed with a thud so powerful that the entire forest reverberated with its sound. Then the ensuing silence, for at least a couple of minutes.

Harish stood still, shocked by the power and the violence of the scene before him.
SK walked up to the tree that only a few moments ago had had the rare privilege of communion with the sky and the clouds. ‘The canopy of the rainforest,’ he began explaining to the still dazed Harish, ‘is one of the last frontiers for botanists. It’s an entire world up in the sky and canopy studies have taken off in a big way in places like Latin America and Australia. Orchids, insects, reptiles, amphibians, other plants – there is so much that is new to be found in the canopy up there. Something’s being done in our own southern Western Ghats too but there’s nothing here, not even a chance in the near future. The Andamans have some of the finest rainforests anywhere, but jokers like me have to wait for trees to fall like this to get some idea of what is up there. I don’t really know what to do. But do you see what I brought you here for? There’s not a single PT here. This is recorded as a virgin forest even in the records of the Forest Department, and see what they are doing to it. And you know what?’ He paused for effect. ‘This is illegal!’

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fleeting memories... a dolphin and a coral garden

Fleeting memories... a dolphin and a coral garden
An excerpt from The Last Wave - An island novel

Chapter 11
Pgs 118-120

‘Jabo!’ Uncle and David screamed in unison as Popha cranked up one of the Kirloskars now. It came alive with a sputtering sound, and its plume of dark, diesely smoke coloured the sky a dirty grey. The wind blew it straight into Harish’s face, nauseating him mildly as the vessel set out onto the placid waters of the small bay.

David was seated next to Uncle, while Harish had already moved to the front of the boat and sat on the bow plank at its very tip. Seema walked over and sat next to him just as Popha cranked up the second Kirloskar. The engines created such a din out in the ocean that it was almost impossible to hear one’s own voice – it was the only thing that marred an otherwise perfect setting.
The gentle mist of the morning had cleared and a little fishing boat was just about visible on the horizon. A moist, invigorating breeze caressed the faces of the occupants of the dungi as it simultaneously cut through the waters below and the air above. The sea itself was calm – a sheet of thick, fluid glass so clear you could see down to the very bottom of the yet shallow ocean floor.
The dungi was moving forward with purposeful linearity, the water below bobbed up and down, and patches of colourful coral in all sorts of shapes, sizes and forms passed quickly by. Tropical fish, big and small, painted as if by a child exuberant with a newly discovered palette, darted in and out of the coral architecture, some in groups and others in solitary explorations. It took a few moments for Seema’s untrained eyes to settle into the ocean’s complex rhythms.

Harish and Seema were both bent on either side of the dungi, peering intently, enthralled by the wonders passing below them. They looked up at each other, shared excited smiles and quickly turned back to the waters, like little children, not wanting to miss even an instant of this visual treat.
Their eyes were immediately drawn to a smooth, linear movement in the depths ahead. For a moment it looked like the shadow of their own vessel. In the next moment it was a mystery transformed. Out of the literal blue, unaware and oblivious of the mysteries and love it inspires in the humans it shares the world with, a dolphin emerged from the deep and swam alongside Seema for a few seconds.
‘Dolphin!’ she shrieked.

Nothing could have prepared her for this moment. The dolphin skimmed along just under the surface of the water, keeping pace with the Kirloskars. The morning light passed through the waves, making abstract white patterns on the darker body of infinite elegance. The beautiful creature swam along for a short while with silken grace, and then broke through the water surface, emerging for a few moments. Gliding along in the country boat, Seema was within touching distance. She only just resisted her desire to reach out and caress the glistening animal.

The dolphin continued to swim with them, propelling itself effortlessly over the shoals of tropical fish and the coral. Then, with an imperceptible twitch of its tail, like an accomplished ballerina at the height of her performance, the dolphin switched to the other side of the dungi and swam alongside Harish for a while. Harish was no less ecstatic – only his nature did not allow him Seema’s liberal expressions. He watched transfixed as the dolphin emerged again from the water for a few fleeting moments, dived back in and then disappeared from view just as quickly as it had appeared.
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

When the tsunami came.... An excerpt from The Last Wave - An Island novel

When the tsunami came....
An excerpt from The Last Wave - An Island novel

Chp 23: 26th December 2004; Pgs 262-264

"...Harish and Seema had not covered much ground themselves, and they ran now with renewed fervour. They ran past the small bamboo structure of the turtle camp and onto the road beyond. They should have taken the path to the right, where about 300 meters ahead, a narrow trail went steeply up a small hillock. It would have helped them gain valuable altitude, but time was precisely what they did not have. The water would be on them before they co

On the path to the left, Harish had, on his last trip here, discovered an incomplete single-storey concrete structure that was meant to become a forest camp. The local forest officer, the one before Das, had siphoned off the money meant for the construction and all that he had come up with was the framework of the pillars and a roof.

Harish made a quick calculation. This structure was now the only possibility of gaining some height in the short time that was available. ‘Follow me,’ he said to Seema as he darted to the left. The ground was overgrown with vegetation, but there was a clear narrow pathway through it that led to the stairway of the bare concrete framework.
The wall of water, meanwhile, continued to rise and was moving towards land at a speed that appeared to grow exponentially with the decreasing distance. Harish had kept a close watch on the wave, or what he could see of it through the forest. ‘Slow down, slow down,’ he tried hard to instruct it, as he clambered up the stairs.

From up on the roof now, about fifteen feet above terra firma, the movement of the ocean was clearly visible. There was no time. The wave would be upon them in a few seconds. ‘Hold tight to the pillar,’ Harish screamed to Seema, who had just reached the top. The sight from up there took her breath away. A huge, solid mass of grey water came rushing in, engulfing the forest camp, lifting it and then ripping apart the fragile construction as if it were a house of cards. Seema panicked and just about managed to hold on as the wave rushed over the building they stood on. The wave reached a height of about twenty feet and, fortunately for the two, the water hit them only at their knees. Even then, the current and the power was such that they would have been swept away had they not been clinging to the pillars.

The water gushed deep into the forest beyond. There was a couple of moments’ stillness, and then it hissed viciously as it turned back, withdrawing with a force and a vengeance that made the incoming wave appear benign in comparison. There was a flurry of action, of sound and movement. The swirling of the waters, the roaring of the winds, and the most frightening of them all, the snapping. Snapping of the trees around as the water first hit and then pulled away with unforgiving energy. Right before them, a giant evergreen tree went soaring into the sky – once unshakeable, resolute, now gone in a split second, snapped like a matchstick. It came crashing down, not very far from where Harish and Seema stood, hitting the moving water surface with a loud thud; then another tree and another and another and another . . . Seema tried to keep count of these loud thuds in a feeble attempt to divert her mind from her fear and panic. It was futile. She could neither keep count nor make out the thuds anymore – there were too many, too quickly, too loudly.

The entire landscape before them altered dramatically even as they watched. The thin strip of the coastal forest, about twenty metres wide, had been flattened. Not a tree was left standing and the sight before them had turned even more ominous. Just a couple of hundred metres from what might have been the earlier coastline, another wall of water had begun to build. Harish sensed it was definitely an angrier wall, and one that would come crashing in with even more vengeance.

‘Quickly!’ he called out to Seema, who was hugging the pillar about ten feet from him, ‘Remove the stuff you’re wearing. Take off your jacket, your shoes too. Quickly, before the water comes back!’

Both stood clinging to their pillars, now staring at the wall of water with macabre fascination as it closed upon them in only a couple of minutes. This was a much bigger wave and as it reached them, it appeared to deliberately hover above their heads for a moment, just for a split second . . . and then went crashing past – this time way above them.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jan 4, 2005; a post on; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Jan 4, 2005
dear pankaj,
the first part of this might be useful.
take care

-------- Original Message --------
[Deeshaa] The Urgent and the Important
Date:     Mon, 3 Jan 2005 00:49:09 -0800 (PST)
From:     Suhit Anantula

The Urgent and the Important
Submitted by Suhit Anantula on December 31, 2004 - 01:42. Culture
The tsunami which hit Asia has created massive destruction and has resulted in the death of atleast 100,000 persons. This is a natural disaster of a high magnitude. Seeing the destruction, reading it about the media has made me wonder about I can help these people.
I could sit and just read about it, write about it on my blog and/or go and work on the field. The act of working on the field of very exciting to me. I wanted to be nearer to the devastation and help people out. As I was wondering how to go about it, my dear friend Reuben gave me this piece of advice.
Do go ahead, but please do not be a hindrance.
This made me think. Then I understood what he meant. In a similar vein I found Peter Kaminsky s' article on a similar topic.
This is what he writes :
In general, the best way to help is to give money to a relief organization that is providing aid in the disaster area. Being an effective international relief worker requires specialized skills, knowledge, and expertise, and every worker deployed requires support that may strain resources that have already been stretched by the disaster.
He also provides links from Aid agencies which make it clear that even though we have good intentions it is not enough or relevant at the time of disaster. This is the time and domain of specialists. That was my first learning.
In the meanwhile Dina Mehta contacted me to see if I wanted to participate in the collaborative Tsunami Help blog . (I have been working there for the past 2 days, hence no postings on the blog, on Deeshaa Network and on I found this to be a great opportunity and started working a wonderful motivated team out there. Never have I seen people (in my short experience) before collaborating from all corners of the earth, forming groups, leaders taking over, decisions being taken, absolutely strangers work together better than corporate groups. This team has created a website which was accessed by 200,000+ people in 3 days.
The team has worked hard and well. The team has also created a Wiki to accompany the blog and get things organized. This has proved to be so helpful that Wiki News which hosted the blog crashed. In the meanwhile, Google has been kind enough to support unlimited bandwidth for the tsunami help blog.
I have been trying to get people to move from the Deeshaa yahoo group to the Deeshaa Network for a month now and this has not been hapenning. A stark contrast with the disaster scenario. This disaster has changed a lot of things. People were forming groups on their own, a lot of them where contributing and working all day and night and things where happening. The sheer size of the disaster, the media reports, the loss of life and property and the urgency of the situation has made everybody to move in.
This is my second learning. When the urgency is shown, when the right moves are made we can get a lot of people working together for a particular cause.
The third learning was understanding steps in creating "smartmobs " for getting things done. But, that will be a separate post.
In this chaos, urgency and information overload Atanu Dey provides his view, an alternative view if you may call that.
He starts his blog post with these dramatic paragraphs.
I am outraged.
Yes, I not so much saddened as I am outraged.
It is a great tragedy. So many lives needlessly wasted. So many children dead, so many more with little hope of a decent human existence. Millions homeless without proper water, food, healthcare and education. Entirely preventable because we have the technology and the resources to avoid all this suffering and death. In the end it comes down to human frailty--greed, short-sightedness, ignorance, the lust for power.
And then there was an incident on Sunday when an earthquake unleased a tsunami in the Indian Ocean and killed about 50 thousand, give or take 10 thousand. It is getting a lot of press and appeals for help on the internet are beginning to rival the pedellers of Viagra in the volume of email and the urgency of their appeal.
Then he throws this bomb.
Yesterday 55,000 children died premature deaths, a few hundred million people didn't have adequate housing, hundreds of millions were hungry. About half of all children in South Asia are malnourished. Poverty, a clear cause of malnourishment, is a also a consequence. It is a Silent Emergency.
We are a strange lot. We get on with our lives as if nothing is the matter with the world, when 10 million children die needlessly every year. Then a stupid large wave hits and a few thousand die and we run around like headless chickens. Some sobering statistics:
Every year, over 10 million children under the age of five die from readily preventable and treatable illnesses such as diarrhoeal dehydration, acute respiratory infection, measles, and malaria. In half of the cases, illness is complicated by malnutrition. [ Source ]
He ends the post with this :
Why? Bounded rationality? Or as I see it, unbounded stupidity. Fifty-thousand dying each and every day is not news. Being essentially innumerates, we do not find statistics very useful. What we need is pictures of great devastation for entertainment and distraction. The pictures of tsunami-ravaged coastlines compel our attention unlike the numbers we read in the annual reports of global institutions such as the World Bank.
If you read the post your first impression could be that he is against people working for the tsunami. This is not so. My understanding is that he wants all of us to react million times more with million times more people volunteering with million times more concern for that poor souls who are dying everyday.
I had a chat with Atanu about this. He made three important points.

The urgent gets precedence over the important. It is basic innumeracy and ignorance. Solve the systemic problem.
These are my fourth learnings.
So here is my question?
Why don't we work together as we are doing now and solve these systemic problems? What is stopping us? Why do we give importance to the Urgent rather than the silent emergency?
How can we get to collaborate and co-operative to make this world a better place? How? How?...
Quadrant II Thinking
From Stephen R. Covey's "First Things First".
This...describes the gardening process. its' identifying what's important and focussing our effort to help it grow. Its planning, cultivating, watering and weeding. Its applying the importance paradigm...its a high-leverage activity. On one level, this process is a first-aid measure to treat the problem of urgency addiction. If you haven't had the chance to think deeply about needs and principles .... you are basically operating from the urgency paradigm. Quadrant II is not a tool, it is a way of thinking.
Clearly we deal with both factors -- urgency and importance -- in our lives. But in our day-to-day decision making, one of these factors tend to dominate. The problem comes when we operate primarily from a paradigm of urgency rather than a paradigm of importance.
Like chemical abuse, urgency addiction is a temporaty painkiller used in excess. Simply doing more fater fails to get to the chronic causes, the underlying issue, the reason for the pain. To get to chronic causes requires a different kind of thinking. Its' like the difference between "prevention" and "treatment" thinking in medicine.
Check these numbers out : Are we really innumerate?
"Every single day -- 365 days a year -- an attack against children occurs that is 10 times greater than the death toll from the World Trade Center," says Jean-Pierre Habicht, professor of epidemiology and nutritional sciences at Cornell. "We know how to prevent these deaths -- we have the biological knowledge and tools to stop this public health travesty, but we're not yet doing it." [ Source ]
One child dies of malaria somewhere in Africa every 20 sec., and there is one malarial death every 12 sec somewhere in the world. Malaria kills in 1 year what AIDS killed in 15 years. In 15 years, if 5 million have died of AIDS, 50 million have died of malaria. [ Source ]

~ Suhit