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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