Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Saving a wonderland - Review of 'Islands in Flux' in The Hindu

Review by Jacob Koshy, in The Hindu, April 30, 2017

Saving a wonderland

Exploitation of the Andaman and Nicobar islands must end

Andaman and Nicobar, which consists of 500-odd islands that stretch from the south of Myanmar to the north of Indonesia, is synaptically removed from mainland India. However, when the monsoon approaches, India's meteorological department is particularly interested in the A&N archipelago.

One part of the monsoon winds branch out from here to make landfall in Kerala and usually, any delay is blamed on local cloud systems around the broader Andaman area. Once the monsoon soldiers on, interest in the Andamans abates until the next year.

Journalist and environmental scholar, Pankaj Sekhsaria, has for long chronicled this transactional relationship between the Andaman and Nicobar islands and the Centre. Islands in Flux is a collection of reportage and opinion pieces by Sekhsaria and published over two decades in several magazines and newspapers, including this one. The articles here primarily deal with how, beginning with the British and down to the present dispensation, the region's rich forestry has been exploited for timber and the ecological and social changes in its wake.

Logging has dramatically changed the balance of species, both plant and animals. Numbers of the four main tribes of the region, the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese, have dwindled from about 5,000 in 1850 to 500 today. This is largely due to a massive influx of 'mainlanders', who have over the years, sought to harness the benefits of its strategic location, forestry and now, increasingly, its tourism potential.

Sekhsaria touches upon themes such as the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on the islands, the challenges faced by various tribes in preserving their way of life and having a say in the islands' future.

A significant drawback in this collection is that there is little first person-perspective on how contemporary inhabitants of the islands view development. How has tribal contact with the outside world influenced internal tribal relations? Has the advent of increased communications technology meant a greater desire for adopting new modes of living?

While a good primer for those interested in the islands' history, it lacks anecdote and the scintilla of sharp observations to let the light in.

The book is available now In stores across the country and also on amazon (print and kindle): http://bit.ly/IslandsInFlux

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