Archive for October, 2012

21 October 2012

We flew into the Port Blair airport a few minutes late and so it was a mad rush to catch the catamaran ferry but we made it in time. The ferry trip lasted about an hour and a half and was very comfortable and we arrived at Havelock quite rested and relaxed. It was half past four by the time we checked into our resort (Barefoot) and it was twilight already. Andaman Islands are about 10 degrees east of India’s time meridian and so the sun rises and sets very early here. The resort looked very comfortable and we spent the rest of evening just exploring the place.

22 October 2012

We got up fairly early and went to the beach, which was just a few minutes’ walk away. The beach was totally deserted and looked lovely with very nice, white sand. I clicking away like mad and as usual, only a few came out well.

 

The beach was very clean and the water was very nice too. This is said to be the best beach in Havelock Island and bagged the award for the best beach in Asia in 2004. In Havelock, beaches are numbered and this the No. 7 beach, also known as Radhanagar beach. As I was walking on the beach, I saw a person fishing, by just standing on the water and casting his line out. It was a bit surprising to me that one could catch fish so close to the beach and he said he does get some.

His son had the job of preparing the bait and he was busy killing small fish and other stuff one finds on the beach and putting them into a container. His name is Sagar Malik and he told me that the container was for the bait and the bag for the fish his father would catch. He is in class four and goes to a school nearby.

Sekharan was not feeling very well in the morning because of his fever and so he and I went to the Primary Health Centre in Havelock in the morning. Half a litre of saline had to be injected into him and so I spent a good bit of time there. The PHC itself looks quite neat and one wing is modern. The ward looked very primitive but was kept reasonably clean. It is in such a situation that one starts to think differently about how life can be in what is considered as paradise on earth. In this island of 10,000 inhabitants (tourists not included), there is but one PHC with one or two doctors. For people like us who are so used to meeting specialists at the drop of a hat, this is a different experience indeed. I was very impressed with the doctors and the nurses who have to be able to cope with many emergencies. They have to be really jack of many trades as the nearest specialist is at least 90 minutes away by boat. Being a government facility I am sure that they would also be short of funds and supplies but I was very impressed about their attention to our case and the care they took. My respect for nurses and doctors in the government service went up a few notches, especially for those that are willing to serve in such places as these.

While waiting at the PHC, I met an old gentleman by the name of Sarkar. He was about 65 years old and was at the PHC because his wife had suffered a heart attack about a week back. He told me that this was her third attack and he did not expect her to survive and so he was just waiting for the end. I was touched by how he stated it as a matter of fact. I felt this was not because of want of affection but because he was a very practical sort of person; he looked like a survivor to me. He told me he had been married for forty years and had three children, all of whom were away from home. He was originally from East Pakistan (Bangladesh of today) and came to Calcutta fin 1971 or studies. During his graduation days, he was disturbed the inequalities that he saw – both economic and casteist – and was attracted to Charu Majumdar and his brand of Naxalism. Later on, he got a job with Bangladesh government and later, moved to Andamans and started a tailoring business. He did not look very well off but there was a quiet confidence and conviction when he spoke. The conversation was very lively and he was very well informed on the latest issues including nuclear power and matters associated with that. The nurse was disturbed that he wanted to go out and buy his ration when his wife was lying in such a state when the end could be any time. The response was that life has to go on but the nurse could not come to terms with it. Somehow, I felt a lot of respect for this old man who seemed to take life as it comes and looked unafraid and unbowed at what was being thrown at him.

The evening was spent at the beach watching a glorious sunset. This is indeed the best beach I have been to and it is amazing how clean and good it is. Even I, who is not too much of a beach person, was highly impressed.

23 October 2012

We spent the morning hanging around the resort and taking it easy. There were a few shops around the public beach area and we went looking to see what they had to offer but there was nothing interesting. At the resort, there was a lady named Christabel performing with hula hoops. She was very good and more importantly, seemed to really enjoy the dancing. It was very enjoyable to watch and many of us also joined in with Athira and Bindu being the standout performers in our group, after some coaching. She is from Pune and is spending some time at Barefoot. I was very impressed with how she seemed to really be committed to her dance and how she seemed to enjoy it. To be able to immerse oneself fully into one’s art is a great ability.

We had planned a trek in the jungle after lunch but it was just seven of us as the trek was expected to be a bit taxing. In reality, it exceeded expectations and we were just glad that the really young had stayed back at the resort. We went up a hill called Japanese hill, which was used as an observation point by the Japanese during the Second World War.

The hill was quite high and the climb was very steep and through thick forest. It was impossible to make out the path and we would have been totally lost, but for the guide.

 

It was quick march but Bharath and Adityan handled it very well. The descent was tougher but the trek was very enjoyable indeed. As we walked through the forest, I could only marvel at the skill of the indigenous people who thrived in such circumstances. We all felt very happy that we had taken the time off for this trek and arrived back at the resort, happy but tired.

24 October 2012

We had planned to do snorkeling before lunch but we had to cancel it as Bharath was not feeling well. Some of our group could make it and they reported that it was fun. We spent the entire morning lazing about in the resort. It was also drizzling on and off and every looked even more green and clean after the rain.

After lunch, we caught the ferry back to Port Blair and by the time we arrived, it was evening and the sun had set.

25 October 2012

We visited Ross Island in the morning. Ross Island was the head quarters of the British in Andamans and it is just 20 minutes away by boat from Port Blair. It had all facilities for comfortable living with bazaar, bakery, church, tennis court, swimming pool etc. This island was captured by the Japanese during the Second World War and they tore down many of the buildings to use the materials for constructing military establishments. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited Ross Island at that time and the Indian tricolour was hoisted for a few days. After the Japanese surrendered, the British did not return to Ross Island and it was abandoned.

As happens in such situations, nature has reclaimed its property. Now, there are huge trees and with strong roots that have totally taken over the dilapidated buildings. Many of the buildings are covered by the aerial roots and it is a very strange sight indeed.

There is a very nice looking church on the highest point in the island. The roof is gone but the walls are still intact. The bell tower is still standing but a huge tree is growing on top of the bell tower and its roots have reached the ground after traversing the entire height is the tower. My estimate is that the tower is about 60 feet tall. It almost looks like the tower was built into the tree like a tree-house. The wooden doors in the tower are still visible and intact.

The whole island is a reminder that nature will win in the end and to keep it at bay is a constant struggle. This is a location that can be developed very well as a tourist location but our inability to showcase what we have is very frustrating indeed. If such a location were in any western country, this would have become a world famous tourism spot.

The next stop was the most famous tourist location in Port Blair – Cellular Jail. Andamans was originally developed as a penal colony by the British after the First War of Independence in 1857. Prisoners were first housed in a jail in Viper Island but later a stronger and larger jail was built in Port Blair, called Cellular Jail. This jail is built in the form of a hub with seven spokes. Each of the spokes contained cells for prisoners and were quite long. Today, only three of the original seven wings are still standing.

We had taken a guide and he explained about the gallows and how the prisoners were forced to do a lot of hard work. This jail was built mostly for political prisoners who were exiled from the mainland and after their jail term was over (if it got over and if they were alive after that, I mean), the prisoners were settled in Andamans itself and were not allowed to return to mainland. The most famous personality that was jailed here was Veer Savarkar and the cell where he was incarcerated for ten years can still be seen. I had read that there was a unit of the Communist Party in the jail but the guide seemed unaware of it. The jail is so constructed that one inmate in a cell cannot see into another cell. Each cell looks out to the back of the cell in the next wing and the ventilators are very high and covered with a shade. Isolation seemed to have been an important need of the jailers.

So many lives and dreams have been lost within these walls; so many have given up all they had so that India could become independent. As I stood in the jail I could not but feel that we have not justice to that legacy. We have not used our independence responsibly or wisely and so we still are not fully free; the colour and language of the oppressors have changed, that is all.

Andamans is a testimony to the struggle that India has gone through. It has been inhabited for thousands of years and it was a colony of the Tamil Chola dynasty about thousand years ago. Later, it became a base for the Maratha kings and then the Danish took over. Later on, they sold it to the British. British used it primarily as a location for punishing Indian independence fighters. To be deported to Andamans was considered to be for life and no one returned. No one ever managed to escape from Cellular Jail and most died within those walls. So, to me, Andamans is a reminder of the countless sacrifices and commitment of our ancestors to our country. I could only hang my head in shame as I walked out of Cellular Jail…..

 

A trip down memory lane….

Posted: October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized
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18 October 2012

It is strange how our association with the past increases as the years go by. Last month, I heard that one of my teachers from Engineering was retiring and that brought up some old memories; long forgotten conversations, comments that guided and moulded. Radhakrishnan Sir had been a favourite with us as he came through as a genuine individual who cared for our future. When I heard of his retirement, I phoned him up and I was very pleasantly surprised when he recalled me even after all these years. It was also a matter of personal pride that he recalled me by my association with Panchajanyam Library. When we talked, he invited me to his house and I promised to visit whenever I was in Kerala next.

Accordingly, I set off yesterday along with two of my friends – Madhu and Murali. As we were driving there, I kept thinking about how the meeting would be and whether we could get back into the easy conversations we used to have on difficult subjects like philosophy. A long twenty three years had flown by and we had gone different ways. I had grown wiser in the ways of the world and had, to an extent, managed to utilize, benefit from and compromise with the base ways of the world. On the other hand, Radhakrishnan Sir had steadfastedly declined to compromise and had withdrawn bit by bit; the wheelings and dealings of the “worldly wise” were not for him. His was an outlook derived from the strength of Indian philosophical thought and wisdom and that was how he approached engineering and physics. I remembered him as a simple soul with simple needs but with strong conviction and awareness of what really matters.

I have to admit that I was a bit anxious when I walked up the steps of his house. All my concerns were blown away when he appeared. My friends, who expected an “engineer” were totally floored by the dhoti clad, smiling individual who welcomed us with folded hands. No grandeur, no pompous words and we started off exactly as we had left off more than two decades ago. We talked about the college and what he is doing currently and about his very famous ancestor, Kunchan Nambiar. The talk soon turned to values and life and sure enough we soon got into Vedas and Upanishads. His father was also present in the room and he is an expert in Sanskrit and Vedas. Once again, I was a student and for a brief while, I had the good fortune to be transported back in time. Recently, I had heard a couple of students say that Radhakrishnan Sir did not teach well and I could only feel sorry for their ignorance; it is surely their loss. It is not often that you have an opportunity to listen to a pure soul, a person with nothing to hide, but has a lot to share. This was what we had seen in this unique teacher when we were in his class – a pity that the later generations seem to have missed out on that.

An hour and a half passed like a few minutes. As we left, we were all silent for a few minutes. As I sit down to write this, I find that my writing skills are totally inadequate for this task. What do you say about someone who is only bothered about being a good human being, someone while being brilliant in his own field never bothered to chase commercial success, someone who is deeply concerned that his students should imbibe the right values that will help them in life? He did not ask me how successful I was in my career or otherwise, he was only interested in how I am as an individual. He gave me a gift of a book and some writings. I was humbled, impressed and touched by this very genuine person who only wants to make this world a better place to live in. I salute and bow my head in respect to my teacher, who practices what he preaches. To me, he is a great teacher and I know that many of my class mates feel so too. The mark that this teacher has left is valued and cherished even after a quarter century has passed. If this is not success, what is?