Monday, May 18, 2015

Parikshit Suryavanshi: पंकज सेक्सारिया : एक संवेदनशील संशोधक

Parikshit Suryavanshi: पंकज सेक्सारिया : एक संवेदनशील संशोधक: पंकज सेक्सारिया हे एक संशोधक, लेखक, फोटोग्राफर,  अभ्यासक  आणि पर्यावरण क्षेत्रातील सक्रीय  कार्यकर्ते आहेत . पर्यावरण आणि वन्यजीव संवर्धन...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Last Wave, A Million Tsunamis

The Last Wave, A Million Tsunamis

Pankaj Sekhsaria, The Last Wave: An Island Novel, Harper Collins, 2014. 312 pgs.

A but-of-course smile touched his lips. 'I'll find my question…' Harish whispered to the empty room, as he saw the semblance of a destination emerging through all the clutter and confusion that surrounded him. 'And I'll find the answer too.' (The Last Wave)

Pankaj Sekhsaria's debut novel resonates with questions; the answers are not as easy to find.
We meet, the author and I, for a discussion of the book before a small but involved audience. Having written scores of articles on the Andaman Islands and related issues, what prompted the academic-journalist-activist-researcher to write a novel? Did the writing of this book help him find answers that may have evaded him in his activist avatar?
His answer is simple and sets the tone for the rest of the discussion.
"It has given rise to more questions," he says.
At the heart of the The Last Wave, a novel of questions and concerns, introspection and exploration, of escape and heartbreak, are the Jarawas, the ancient and original inhabitants of the islands. We see them fleetingly, sometimes close to their territory, sometimes outside it, but never for too long. In a way, this captures the perception others have of them and escalates curiosity. The novel reflects this curiosity through the abject interest of outsiders and tourist companies in the Jarawas as specimens. Along with curiosity, close on its heels, comes a pervasive sense of guilt that subtly underlines the narrative tone. Not individual guilt, but the collective culpability of those who seek to know more about the Jarawas, at different levels and in different ways, the guilt that arises out of intrusion and voyeurism.
The deuteragonists of this novel—Harish the aimless well-wisher, Seema the local-born woman exploring her roots, Uncle Pame the Karen boatman and other scientists, researchers and journalists—exist at the fringes of the central theme woven around the Jarawas and the effect of the outside world on them, their island and their needs.
The fact that India administers the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a quirk of historical fate, a legacy left behind by the British who used it primarily for penal purposes. Located far from the mainland, their geological and topographical context and their demographic habitation on-the-fringes give them a unique identity and requirements. Largely invisible to the residents and visitors to the islands, the Jarawas began to slowly make themselves seen, giving up their traditional defensive hostility and coming out of their forests; sometimes for banana and tobacco consignments, sometimes for casual and amused glimpses of life outside their forests, sometimes, as in the case of Tanumei and Erema, for medical intervention that was once redundant to the self-sufficient and proud race.
The Andaman Trunk Road that cuts through the virgin forests connecting the South Andaman and Middle Andaman threatens to bring this outside world right to the edges of the Jarawa "infested: forests: "''The Jarawas ... are a lost cause anyway. It's too late. The day their hostility went, when that Tanumei fellow was taken to the Port Blair and brought back—the Jarawas lost it. They stand no chance now. In some ways, it's the process of evolution.'"
The narrative sways between possibilities thrown up by various people given their specific interests. Evolution and the modernisation of the "jungle" are the ones most touted—by settlers and government officials. Amid varying and shifting ideologies in which the Jarawas themselves seem to have no say, is it possible at all to create an interface that enables negotiation, or is it completely non-negotiable, left at best to the inevitable cycle of evolution?
The book cover carries the picture of an orchid, Papilionanthe Teres. It stands out, pink and prominent, against the green background with its assortment of images in brown. The flower has its own interesting story embedded in this book of many stories. Along long stretches of the Andaman Trunk Road, the flower blooms only on the logged side of the road; the side with unlogged forests is devoid of its pink beauty. Since the orchid grows only where it gets plentiful sunlight, it is absent from the pristine, "undisturbed forests." Its profusion in stretches of organised tree felling and its complete absence in the primitive forests creates its own narrative of intrusion and destruction. The orchid is metaphor and reality interlaced in a larger narrative that explores the usual tropes of duality—native/outsider, myth/reality, progress/status quo.
The author compares the onslaught of the outside world on the Jarawas to a "relentless tsunami." If the tsunami is relentless, any subsequent wave could be the last wave. At the level of metaphor, the possibilities are varied. At the level of reality, something will give way, sooner rather than later. Will the Jarawas find themselves submerged by the lure of "modern" civilisation and its movies, language, corruptibility and illnesses?
This is the question that looms in the background, overshadowing the other narrative of Harish and his bildungsroman-esque search for meaning, for answers to questions he cannot articulate. Depressed and lost after a broken marriage, Harish accompanies his friend to the Andaman Islands on an assignment and is eventually drawn to its various stories, facts and the fascinating island people, especially the Jarawas and their apparent plight in the face of this "tsunami." Seema is a local-born woman, a descendant of the colony's prisoners on the island. She returns to the island to trace her roots, research and perhaps archive its many narratives. The novel also has an assortment of other characters, who do not drive the plot but exist to provide information and points of view.
The focus on the anthropological and socio-cultural issues is constant, unwavering; emotions, incidents and characters are left suspended, unresolved, not necessarily by chance or deliberately, but by these overriding concerns. The stories of Seema and Harish are not important; David's crocodile research is a device, as is the botanist SK's rant about tree felling and the replacement of pristine forests with plantation forests. What is important is the setting. It is the protagonist, the one that evokes response, throbs with a life of its own as the narrator swings the lens from one corner of the islands to the other, as well as to the turtle nesting beach on Great Nicobar where the tsunami of 2004 wrecks the island. Harish is saved, miraculously, to end up in a hospital bed and ponder over questions.
Story and plot give way to complex issues, yet the title seems to reduce the focus to only one story, the one less important—that of Harish. The book needed tighter editing. It is easy to tick off the list: wafer thin plot, perspective shift, loosely crafted characters, lack of an emotional core, restrictive title. Yet, The Last Wave is a sensitive book meant to sensitise, to raise issues about a place that literature has largely overlooked. It is a rich assemblage of the smaller narratives of an island's past, of lives threatened with extinction, of attempts to appropriate and to subsume, of settler-native conflict, of bureaucratic ham-handedness, good intentions and arbitrary decisions, of loss and love.
The novel is strongly reminiscent of Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide. Was he a major influence, I ask the author. The Hungry Tide made The Last Wave seem possible, Sekhsaria says. Having worked in the Andaman Islands for over two decades, Pankaj knows his subject well. It reflects in his writing of the anthropological, sociological and cultural elements, and it reflects on his face as he explains a slide show on the islands. As the surreal light of the slideshow fades from his face, it is replaced with the glow of giving us "a story that needed to be told". The Last Wave is his eloquent recountal of life on the Andaman Islands—the myths and realities, promises and compromises, hopes and disappointments, histories and meta-histories.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Last Wave - an island novel book stores in cities across North India:

Modern Book Depot, Sadar Bazar, Agra Cantt…/shopp…/books/modern-book-depot
The Browser, Sector 8C

Capital Book Depot
Sector 17,
English Book Depot
Book World
Natraj Publishers
English Book Depot
Barwara Book House, Civil Lines, Jaipur
Rathis Media Centre, Ajit Colony, Jodhpur
National Book House, Kanpur
Universal Book Seller
and Universal Book Dist Co.
Cambridge Book Depot , The Mall, Mussoorie…/articlesh…/41116908.cms
Universal Book Co.
If there are other stores or cities where the book is already available or should be, please surely let me know!

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Last Wave - Available in Delhi at ...

Gurgaon: OBS, Midland, Om Book Shop (Ambi Mall)
Noida: OBS
Khan Market: Bahri Sons, Full Circle,
South Extn: Midland
Aurobindo Market: Midland
GK: Full Circle
Hauz Khas: Midland
Saket: Bahri Sons
CP: Jain Book Depot, Amrit Books

@Bahri Sons, Saket, May 2014

@ Midland, Aurobindo Market, May 2014

Full Circle, Khan Market, also May 2014

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Heat Rash

A Heat Rash,
Excerpt from The Last Wave
Chp. 20, Pgs 223-226

She had already pushed past the man in khaki. ‘And what are you standing there for?’ she said, pointing at Harish, ‘Come with me.’ She looked at policeman and said nonchalantly, ‘My husband.’
‘Really? I didn’t know you were married.’ Pintu jabbed his elbow into Harish’s ribs. Harish walked through quickly and across to Seema. They went straight to the doctor’s cabin.
‘Hello, Doctor,’ Seema said politely. ‘How are you?’
‘Hello, Seema,’ he said, mildly surprised. ‘And how are you?’
‘I was passing by, and thought I’d see you,’ Seema replied, ‘just to
get checked.’
‘Not needed. Not needed. You are fine.’
‘If you say so, doctor. And what is this commotion outside?’
Seema asked casually.

‘Just curious onlookers – they have nothing better to do anyway. I was telling you about those Jarawa boys. One of them was admitted here last night with high fever.’
He noticed Harish, who had been standing to the side. ‘This is . . .?’ he asked Seema.
‘This is Harish, our colleague at the Institute.’
‘Hello, Harish. Please sit.’
‘Thank you. Is it serious?’ Harish asked, ‘This fever?’
‘No. I don’t think so. We won’t keep him here for very long. It is
not good for him. I am giving him some medicine and will send them back tomorrow.’
‘But,’ Seema queried, ‘will he be okay?’
‘Well, what can I say? See, these are orders from the top – from Port Blair. They don’t want the Jarawas here for very long. It’s, in any case, not good for them here – they can easily get an infection of some kind. See, I’m not supposed to be telling you all this.’
‘You think,’ Seema asked tentatively, ‘that we can see him?’
‘Actually, that would not be allowed, but come, you can have a look quick.’

Seema and Harish quickly followed Dr Bandopadhyay out of his room and stopped at the door of the adjoining ward, which he entered. It held four beds; three were empty and the one farthest away was occupied by a little Jarawa boy, about six years old. He looked extremely tired, had a runny nose and a rash seemed to have appeared on his forehead.
Harish noticed from the corner of his eye that there was someone else in room as well, sitting quietly in the corner to the right. Harish turned to look and recognized him immediately. The same glare pierced through him, the same anger that had knocked him out only a few months ago. This was the same Jarawa man he had exchanged glances with on the afternoon glass bangles had been slipped over a Jarawa wrist.
He was staring straight at Harish, and like before, Harish could lock eyes with him for only a few moments.

‘Let’s go,’ Seema tapped Harish’s shoulder as she turned and followed the doctor back into his cabin.
‘What do you think it is, Doctor?’ Seema asked.
‘It is some kind of heat rash, nothing more.’ The tone of the answer was a clear indication to the visitors that they should be on their way.
‘We should be going,’ Seema saw that their time was up. ‘And I don’t need to worry about anything, Doctor, right?’ she asked, for the sake of asking.
‘No, no. You are fine, don’t worry.’
‘I noticed,’ Seema said to Harish as they were walking back to Pintu’s house. ‘Why was that Jarawa guy staring at you so intently? It’s almost like he knows you?’
‘I don’t really know,’ Harish replied, a little lost in his own thoughts as he described to her what had happened at the jetty the last time. ‘But you know something?’ he said with a frown. ‘There was a change. That glare was the same and yet it was different. Something seems to have happened . . . I don’t know!’

They were now with Pintu who had his own speculations to offer. ‘There are two things that would interest you,’ he started, ‘Tanumei has virtually disappeared . . . No, no,’ he saw the concern on the faces of Harish and Seema, ‘nothing seems to have happened to him. From what we hear, he is still around, but somewhere deep in the forest with his band. He’s not come this side for weeks. No one has seen him for a while now. It is quite baffling.’ He paused. ‘The other thing is this fever. See,’ he said, ‘I don’t know for sure. They are all from that side – from near Middle Strait. One of the Jarawa group has now set up camp very close to the road, and this is where the news is coming from. This boy in the PHC, he is from that group. I know because I saw the man accompanying him.’ Pintu looked at Harish. ‘The tall, thin Jarawa fellow with those big, intense eyes. You remember him Harish? He was there last time too, at the jetty’. ‘Oh! Was he? These Jarawas are still quite unpredictable. This Middle Strait group more so. You will even see some of them on your way back. Definitely. They are standing by the road all the time.’

‘This is what Basu and Justice Singh were also talking about, isn’t it Harish?’ Seema was reminded of the conversation of the earlier evening, ‘The Jarawas near Middle Strait.’
‘Basu?’ Pintu asked. ‘Samaresh Basu? That crook?’
‘Yes,’ Harish said, ‘we met him in Mayabundar just yesterday.’ ‘He’s like a two-tongued snake. Says two things in the same
breath.’ Pintu clearly had a strong opinion about the man. ‘One never knows what these politicians really mean and how much to trust them. He was here last week and promised in a meeting that he would get the administration to move the Jarawa from here to some other island. Might be a good thing to do, but I wonder what Basu’s going to gain from that?’
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Friday, May 1, 2015

The Last Wave - One year old now!

'The Last Wave' is one year old now.

It was exactly a year ago, in the first week of May 2014, that 'The Last Wave' was released after a long long wait for me. Its been an exciting and insightful one year - releasing the book in different places, reading from it, being in conversation about it, answering questions in person and on-line and getting responses and reactions from readers around the world. Very fortunately, the interest in the book continues and I am hoping it sustains.
There are many people to thank for being part of this journey - my publisher Karthika, editors, Ajitha & Rajni, the entire sales and marketing team in Harper Collins, family and friends who've worked with me to reach the book far and wide and perhaps most importantly, the hundreds and hundreds of readers who've read the book in different ways bringing in new interpretations and meanings. These have been hugely insightful and clearly, without the reader there is no book!
So thanks again everyone for everything.

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