ANDAMAN : The islands of dark water

ভ্রমনগ্রন্থ 'কালাপানি'র ইংরেজি অনুবাদ । Translation : Dr. Shafiuddin Ahmed

Landing in Andaman

27th May, 2008: After having a 2-hour long flight from Kolkata when we reached Port Blair Airport of the Andaman and Nicobar islands the security guard welcomed us with a bit admonition cautioning, “No, no photo.”

We noticed the vigilance saying ‘capturing photo is prohibited’. It astonished us because the town covered with jungles, tin-made cottages, small hummocks of red soil and a tiny runway, so to speak, is quite similar to our local town Chuadanga. So what is wrong to take photos here! What secret is going to be unveiled that one can’t take photos here!

However, we were foreigners there. Moreover, the security guard was in uniform to avoid unwanted jeopardy. So putting my camera in the bag we came out from the airport.

The representatives of the resort we booked earlier received us cordially; we really got a grand reception from them and got into a Tata Sumo car to reach the resort. After just a ten-minute drive, we discovered ourselves in front of the reception of Bay-Island Resort, located by the sea of Andaman and the outskirt of Port Blair town. All of us were over the moon at that time.

The architect legend, Charles Correa has structured as well as designed the resort which is considered as one of the masterpieces of the architectural monuments. The duo-nude statue of a mother and daughter kept in front of the reception-desk drew our attention most. Only there were some red yarns which were not enough to cover their bodies. These were really some marvelous art-pieces. There was a huge oil painting of ethnic communities hanging on the wall. The reception lounge was shaded with bamboo and wood. However, the shade was unable to defend the sunlight of May.

Arif bhai was at the reception with our passports while I along with Lavlu bhai was busy with our cameras. On the other hand, Enayet bhai was busy smoking his pipe facing towards the sea of Andaman while Sayeed bhai was looking after everyone’s bag and baggage.

Suddenly Arif bhai came to us with a bit anxiety and said we will have to go back to the airport.We surprisingly asked why, what is the wrong?

He mentioned that we need the permission-paper to stay at the hotel as we came from abroad.

Why did they not ask us before?

They thought we were the local visitors, Arif bhai replied.

There was no other way to avoid the situation. We were bound to do so the situation demanded. We left the resort to the airport to fulfill the regulations.

There was a feeling of confusion working within us regarding the stay permission. If we did not get the okay signal we might depart for Kolkata. The rules are really very strict in the Andaman for the foreigners.

We had to enter through the departure lounge, designed for exit, not for entrance. It was a tough task to do and we thought that getting the stay permission would be tougher than that. But we were proved wrong and got the permission easily.

We got the permission to stay at the island for a month with a plenty of instructions which were strongly recommended to follow by the tourists. The instruction forms were checked and signed by us and permitted by the authority.

These rules are only applicable to the foreigners. It was written in the instruction form that one can only stay here for a month at a stretch. If any special issue arises then he/she will be permitted to stay 15-day more. After the first visit one must stay outside the island for at least three days to stay further on this island.

There were also some restrictions about where to go and where not to within one month. For instance, in South Andaman Island, Middle Andaman Island, Little Andaman Island, Neil Island, Havelock Island, Long Island, Diglipur Island, Bara-tang Island, North Passage Island, and in Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park one can only stay at night.

On the other hand, in South China Island, Ross Island, Narcondam Island, Interview Island, North Brother Island, Sisters Island, and Barren Island the tourists can stay during daytime. Moreover, the sightseers must visit these places with a tourist guide. Beyond all of these limitations, there were some more conditions too to obey as not to take any photographs in the areas of airport, government dockyard, defense centre, Naval administrative centre and so on. Furthermore, to touch any coral or to throw any trash on the seashore was strictly prohibited.

Beyond all, these strict rules were also imposed on the annihilated aborigines who were only around 500 in number and had been living for thousand years at several places of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was totally banned to visit them or take any photographs of them. If anyone breaks this rule he/she will be penalized for this offence. The maximum penalty can be a 20-year jail for such kinds of activities. As far as we knew, Andaman is really well-known for maintaining these sorts of rules and regulations.

Afterwards I took permission-letter from the officer with a mourn-heart because it was my dream to know about the aboriginal lifestyle of Andaman minutely. But after being aware of the terms and conditions of the permission letter I did understand that my dream was far away from coming true.

The duty officer, originally from Kolkata, said that to work in this area is similar to work under detention. However he wished that he would be transferred to somewhere else. Before our visit, another Bangladeshi came to Andaman in the last month, he added.

The reason why very few tourists come here was quite clear to me. The journey to Andaman is not so pleasant through waterway. It takes 3-4 days to come here from Kolkata by ship. Though the flight from Kolkata to Port Blair is only a matter of a couple of hours but is really expensive. One needs to count 12 thousands rupees as plane fare for the tour.

The officer walked along with us inside the lounge and asked us about the motive to visit Andaman.

One of us said that we have come here to see the island of black water.

I told ‘to see the aborigines.’

It is not possible, he replied very swiftly.

Without any hesitation I asked, ‘why?’

He mentioned that Indian government has given special protection to them. To maintain the highest security of the tourists as well as the aborigines, these initial actions are taken by the government. Even the Indian nationals are not permitted to meet them.

I bade the officer good bye with a mundane gloom and returned to our resort.

Everyone was happy for getting the authorization to stay in Andaman. Finally we got an entry to the resort which was designed by the great architect Charles Correa.

Exploring Andaman

I together with my four tourist-friends liked the resort very much. It was incredibly well-decorated and the creation of a legendary architect was visible through its shape and design. The resort that combined nature with modernity made us bewildered.

The resort is designed in such a way so that one can always get the essence of the sea as it is broadened up to the sea from its entrance. While I was thinking of the sea, suddenly rainfall surprised me. Three of us started sleeping to greet the rain, while Lavlu bhai and I were excited enough to explore the place and capture the fleeting moments in our frames. And we decided to get down through the slope in the rain.

There was not sufficient light to take pictures as the sky was gloomy. So we waited for a while to have a glimpse of the sun. We could not control the temptation to take pictures of the view of sunset at the Andaman. We started taking pictures without wasting much time standing on the walkway which led us to go further.

Andaman has been famous for its majestic natural panorama from time immemorial. It seems that the creator has created the island with all His amazing perfection. The elegance of hills and sea has given an eye-catching look of Andaman.

The island is situated at eastern side of India on the Indian sea and got a lovely appearance with a bunch of islands, stones and sandy beach as if they all are holding their hands together on the stage of the earth and playing a piece of music close to heart. Andaman is known as “Paris of the far east” for so long for its lavish Ross Island.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are combined with around 527 islands. Sea measurement lengthwise it is 100 kilometers long. These islands are covered with 8293 square kilometers of lodged jungle. Some 50,000 hectares of the total land is suitable for cultivation. Rest of 86% of the total land is covered with green trees grown without the nurse of anyone. According to a law of Supreme Court of the country, it is strictly banned to cut any trees in the area. The existence of human being can be found in only 38 islands and it is assumed that rest of the islands lacks the footprint of human beings.

The whole island was previously known as Andaman. But after the year of 1974 Andaman was divided into two parts. The Northern part was recognized as Andaman and the Southern part as Nicobar. The Andaman Archipelago is an oceanic continuation to the Burmese Arakan Yoma range in the North and to the Indonesian Archipelago in the South.

It is said that the name “Andaman” is derived from the Malay word “Handuman” or Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God. The Nicobar word came from ‘Nakavaram’ a South Indian word means the land of nudes. As the primordial people lived here and they were nude and therefore the place was named so.

Andaman is run by a governing body consisting of the Lieutenant Governor-the presiding authority, the Chief Secretary and the Inspector General of police. The latter two work as the assistants to the Lieutenant Governor. It also has a Secretary and a Deputy Commissioner. There is no legislative assembly but soon they may equal the legislative assembly of Pondicherry. The only city of the Islands namely Port Blair has a municipal court. There are 18 elected members of this council. Three are appointed. It has a President, a Vice President and a Deputy President. They hold the position just for one year and every year a new president is elected. The members’ tenure is for five years. The Islands possess 67 Panchayats and a district council. The people elect a president and two members. And the members elect the third person. Only great Nicobar of Nicobar Islands has village Panchayats.

Languages in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands vary from community to community. Only 15% people of the islands speak in their mother tongue Hindi and rest of others speak in their own languages. The major languages spoken at Andaman and Nicobar Islands are—Tamil, Telugu, English, Punjabi, Kannada, Gujarati, Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi, Oriya, Karen and Burmese. Apart from the above, there are some tribal languages spoken around Andaman and Nicobar Islands such as Andamanese, Onge, Sentinelese, Nicobarese, Jarawa and so on.

Indian government keeps a sensitive eye on the people of the islands. As the locals are not interested in getting in touch with the modernity, the modern people are not allowed to go to the remote areas of the tribes.

Every year only 2000 tourists get visa and entry clearance to these islands on the basis of one condition of not getting close to the tribes.

It was with the idea of making these islands safe for the ship-wrecked sailors that Lieutenant Blair of the Indian Navy was first deputed in 1789 to found a colony on an island near the mouth of a magnificent harbour, later to become Port Blair. The settlers, however, faced such hostility from the aborigines that they soon moved to an equally fine harbour in the north, later to be named Port Cornwallis. It was in the harbour of Port Cornwallis that the British fleet anchored for some time during the war with Burma. However, with the end of Napoleonic War, the British abandoned the colony.

In 1950 these islands remained under the control of Indian border; since then the area of the islands has been a part and parcel of India.

The British ruled the region until it was possessed by the Japanese during the World War (ii). Later Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose declared the place as its own under liberated India. Its authority organization centre was set up in Guruduara near Abardeen Bazaar on 21st March, 1944. In the same year in October Cornel Lag Nathan handed over the ruling power to Major Alvir and left Andaman forever.

There was a big gap between the scenario of the sea beach and what I saw on the internet. The footpath from the resort to the sea shore instructed us to walk and we did. It seemed that it was the same as other sea beaches. While I looked at the water it reminded me our local Rangamati. Some other islands around us drew our attention and I could match them the canals and remote villages of our country. It looked like the same but just in a bigger replica. The heatless light of sun of the afternoon peeped on the water. The sunlight was struggling to reach the universe as the cloudy sky was playing with the sun.

After walking a while we noticed a group of fishermen fishing on the coast. They were talking in Tamil.

We subconsciously went closer to the water and discovered that the deep blue water of Andaman and the sunshine altogether produced a dark reflection which glittered. The scenario was so incomparable that I was a bit perplexed whether to capture it with my video camera or still camera. The still camera suited the best.

The darkness of the evening slowly visited the seashore. We kept walking to discover something more. A small temple was seen on the seashore. Though we were not pilgrims the people who were worshiping and singing hymns in Tamil fascinated us. Previously some Bangaleses were seen here but now many Tamils are gathered here.

To spend the evening with little crowd was a bit unpleasant here. However, we kept walking and came to Netaji Pakkha where we saw cellular jail, on the other side of hills and at the front plain land. Besides these, a tiny garden with a few benches to sit, few cradles and statues of great legends like Netaji Subhash Bose and Rabindranath Tagore were over there. At the other end there is a seaside and a pier. The British used this pier for shipment. Now it is an important place for the tourists. The tourists now visit different islands from here with ferry.

As the dark became darker, the street lights gleamed. We heard the ring-bell and a hawker hawking and selling coffee was saying there was a show at night in that place. The place was cellular jail. We started searching the place.

It was not safe to go there without a gang. The following day we planned to go to the cellular jail but we were in a hurry to see that. It was only 6 pm of the evening but looked like late night. A silence was present over there. But Lavlu bhai took me to the place running up some stairs of stone. There was a large open space and a garden. Some statues of the prisoners were noticeable. Around 4-5 feet high statues were expressing their views through their stillness.  Every statue got its identity. The names written over there didn’t need any floral wreath but were bearing much significance through their historical appearance. We read out some names as Binayak Damodar Sabarkar, Indu Bhushan Roy, Pandit Ram Laxman, Mahaveer Singh and young Ramdas. All were showing their sense of protest as prisoners. However, we noticed some information on Binayak Damodar Sabarkar such as his date of birth and death. He was born on May 28, 1883 and died on February 26, 1966.

Furthermore, a quote was written over there, what was exactly as “Sentenced for imprisonment to a total of 50 years in Nasik Conspiracy case and Deputed to the cellular jail of Andaman on July 1911, Repatriated on May 1921.”

After a while there was to start ‘Light and Sound Show’ where the history of Kalapani would be disclosed. But we didn’t intend to go inside to watch the show because three out of our five members was absent. So, we decided to experience the show next day.

Moreover, our resort tour operator Hasina was not with us at that moment. So, we postponed our program. It was time to sleep then.

In search of aborigines

There is a tiny museum on the ground floor of Bay-Island resort. There are different photographs of different tribes. Some are hunting; some are involved in group dancing or mothers fostering their children and so on. All of them were cloth less in the frames.

A Bengali resort staff namely Hasina was assigned for this room. She studied in Anthropology. That is why it was easy for her to explain the history and culture of Andaman to the tourists. She had an expertise in numerous languages. Besides Bengali she was equally expert in English, Tamil and Hindi.

I was viewing a photo while Hasina stood beside me. She pointed the picture and said this race is called Jarawa but only 30-35 of them exists on this island.

Enough surprisingly I asked only 30-35!

She reminded me about the total figure of the people of 10 ethnic communities which is only around 500 in number. And this number is being decreased day by day. After few years they will almost extinct.

I asked her, how do you know all these?

She politely answered that it was her job to know the history. After having your breakfast I will unveil some documents of them to you, she added.

We could not wait till breakfast. We compelled her to disclose the story of the aborigines. She agreed and we started our breakfast with her at the terrace of the resort to hear the stories of the aborigines.

We were very keen to know about the Aborigines. We preferred the terrace rather than the air conditioned well decorated room. We took bread, omelet, juice and coffee in our breakfast. We were ready to hear the story. We sat facing towards the Andaman and keeping the Bay of Bengal back. As map shows the Andaman has got a connection with the Bay of Bengal through Burma.

The shiny morning was really soothing. There were not a large number of tourists. Only some honeymoon couples were there in the resort. The sea was as gentle as a huge lake. The sea generally remains busy with the noisy waves but then it was not indeed.

We made an over-all plan regarding our tour. In fact, we preferred Hasina as a tourist guide as she used to offer package tours for the tourists. On the very first day we planned to roam the Port Blair city. On the second day we will move outside the city. The following day we will visit the far removed islands journeying through the waterways. Finally we will fly for Kolkata on the fourth day.

Since we were not allowed to go to Nicobar Island, we were a bit upset. But Hasina visited the island several times for her study purpose. So we can have visualization about the island.

A survey of 2001 shows that there are about 350000 people living in the area of 3000 square miles, consisting of 700 islands. Though the secret of the life style of the people of 2200 years ago is still kept intact by the Archaeologists, it is also believed that around 30-60 thousand years ago human beings started living here.

I was eager to know and asked Hasina that how the very first human being discovered this island.

To answer that query is not easy but I can refer you some books where your queries will be fulfilled, she replied.

I desperately urged her to tell me as far as she knows.

No book gave a crystal clear idea about when first human beings came to the Andaman Island but the scientists came up with the assertion that the human beings had been living in the earth for two million years. People spent 99% of the time-span by hunting. Men had been introduced to agriculture and farming for the last few thousand years. Industrialization came to us not so long ago. Before it, people led their lives by hunting and then farming. The touch of the industrialization and modernization has added a dimension to human life.

Previously people were bound to be uncivilized due to the lack of facilities but in the age of science and technology people still live an uncivilized life for the sake of their origin was a bit hazy to me.

Andaman is the only place of the world where we can find this sort of people.

The Sampan race of Nicobar Island has a great similarity with the Mongolian of Indonesia. After the Tsunami of 2004, the aborigines of the area made their houses in higher places. Not only Tsunami visits but also the bandits visit here a lot. Moreover this place was famous for slave business.

The slaves were brought to this island from Cambodia and Indo-China. According to Hindu, Greek, Chinese, Italian and English businessmen the people outside the island would pass their days with fear and anxiety. If any ship would come to this island by mistake it would be looted by the dacoits of the island. The people of the island learnt the use of the fire and iron from the foreign businessmen. However, without the locals none is allowed to enter the island.

Hasina showed me an oil pastel art. Some people were chasing cattle with handmade sharp weapons. Hasina said this is the oldest race in Andaman named Sentinelese. A survey of 1990 showed that they were only 80-100 in number at that time. But now they are approximately 50-60. Furthermore, they are known as the most violent aborigines in the island.

Many researchers lost their lives while researching them. Before knowing anything they threw longbow to kill the researchers. That is their real nature. The British tried a lot to control their wild nature but failed.

The Indian government had started to offer them some gifts from 1991 but they could not take those offerings cordially. On the other hand, the Jarawa started to receive some gifts from the government from 1974. Though Sentinelese received the gifts as coconut, banana, iron pieces and hammers but refused red cloths for women. To wear cloths or to be civilized is still a humorous matter to them.

One query knocked me and that is–are they rich or poor?

Some absurd thoughts again entangled my mind as—

How do they manage their lives sharing food, accommodation and without the slightest touch of modern civilization? Though they are mentally rich, they are unable to meet their basic needs, Hasina told. They are all in all in their island. I found it interesting and intended to visit them but literally it was not.

Hasina warned me pinpointing some risks which were logical. She had never been to them but shared an experience of a person who went there with armed police taking some coconuts as gifts. The Jarawa started teasing him nevertheless they received the coconuts. But what she stated was really scary.

A revolutionary leader namely Muhammad Jafor Khaneshswari was marooned on this island for 18 years in 1865. He provided various interesting information about the aborigines in his book. Such as—-

(i) There are nude aborigines living on this island for many years but the exact time of their first presence on the island is unknown. But that is for sure that they don’t eat human flesh.

(ii) They believe in a god who lives in the sky and his residence, the sky is very beautiful. The rain comes from him and his better half deals with the fishes and the sea.

(iii) According to their thoughts there are two types of devil. One lives on surface of the earth another lives under the water.

(iv) They believe that angels have both the genders of male and female who roam in the jungle and look after the human beings.

(v) The maximum they can count is up to two. The males do not have beards or moustaches.  They always keep themselves clean-shaven by the pieces of glass.

(vi) Both the bride and the bride-groom are dressed in red on the occasion of their marriage ceremony. The bride-groom is taken in front of the bride along with some local weapons which symbolizes that the man is taking responsibility of hunting and feeding her in future. After that, they live happily forever.

(vii) When a baby is born, at least two women nurse the new-born baby. The baby starts playing with the sharp weapons from its tender age.

(viii) Their houses are dilapidated and small in size. These are made with only four pillars of bamboo or wood and a lot of leaves surround the cottage. The only furniture or thing they have in their houses is their weapons.

From 1906 to 1908 Redcliff, an Anthropology scientist, researched on the aborigines of Andaman. Then an Indian scientist TN Pandit did research here in 1967. From his research, it was brought into focus that around 18 houses were found on five islands. Fire would always remain lit at the four corners of their cottages. According to their belief, this fire would give them heat and safety; so they would never douse fire. To set ablaze was not an easy task at that time. Thereupon, they always kept some trees near the fire to be burnt.

In 1967 when the scientists visited the aborigines they went with heavy weapons and firearms. But another research team did not have to take so many preparations while they visited them in 1974. However, the Sentinelese also attacked them that time. The research team could only take some photographs and left some gifts for them, nothing more than that. Among the gifts there was a white pig which was killed and buried by them. Enough surprisingly, nobody ate them.

No one, from the race Sentinelese, knew his/her original name. The names were given by the British as the aborigines live on Sentinelese Island.

The aborigines of the Andaman and Nicobar Island are entirely known as Great Andamanese. Only 10 aborigines live here. They were in 5-8 thousands in number in 1788-89.

The British tried to include them into their colony but the aborigines strictly opposed. In the year of 1858 they showed their protest to the British people explicitly. They armed with some local weapons involved themselves in a fierce clash with the heavy armed British personnel.

In 1859, Port Blair was again attacked by the aborigines. This massive attack is known as Aberdeen. There was a betrayer in the Andamanese people. In that war Andamanese fell in a backward position. A huge number of people lost their lives in that war. That year the number of the aborigines was decreased and they were only 3-3.5 thousands left in the Andaman. Afterwards, the number of the aborigines was being decreased day by day. In just 40 years, the number was decreased to 625 only. Many diseases visited the people of Andaman in different times. Thereupon, the present population of the Andaman is little.

Once upon a time, they were only dependent on hunting, fishing and collecting foods but now-a-days they get government aid. A survey shows that there are only 39 people living here. Amid them are 14 children, 12 young couple and an old leader.

The government has assigned some government staffs over there. Amid them are teachers, physicians, electricians and law enforcers.

Every race has got its own language, culture and lifestyle. They don’t have any similarity or any internal clash with one another. Before 1850, they were rest to be discovered before the world.

There was a statue of a Jarawa family. ‘Jarawa’ means foreign person. The race came to this island from Burma two thousand years ago.

There is a conflict between the Great Andamanese and the Jarawa. The Andamanese live on the seashore. The Jarawa live in the middle of the island so that they can be safe from the Andamanese.

They live in midst of the jungle. As they live far from the seashore, they have not involved themselves in fishing or boating for a century. They couldn’t associate with any other races. Consequently they were killed in a great number by the British and the Andamanese in 1885.

The Jarawa is recognized as the cruelest race on the island. They can attack anyone they see from far. In 1993 they killed 4 hunters and 5 fishermen at Jirkatang. In 1996 they cut hands of three woodcutters.  They locked into a clash with the law enforcers in the same year while police openly fired at the self defense.

I asked Hasina, have they ever crossed their boundary?

The answer came out, no.

They assume any person outside their community is unsafe to them. So they do not come close to any other people. However, as I remember once one of them came to the civilized world, she added.

It was 1996. The Indian police recovered a Jarawa who was trapped and injured. However, he was rushed to Port Blair Hospital for treatment. He was treated by the doctors. There was a huge crowd to see that person in the hospital. His language was absurd to the doctors and vice versa.

Finally, he got well and was dressed up like a civilized person. Afterwards, what happened to him is still unknown to everyone.

Tsunami! Tsunami!

The signs of four-year-old wreckage were visible beneath our resort. This wreckage awfully reminded us of the dreadful snap of Tsunami. Anyone will utterly be distressed only having a look on it.

The people of the Andaman were not prepared for the dawn of 16 December, 2004. All on a sudden, fierce wind and storm was started to blow over the land. Along with it was an earthquake measured about 8.9 in the Richter scale. Even the South Asian Island, Andaman could not escape these turbulences.

‘Tsunami’ is a Japanese word. It means the ‘wave of stream’. However there is a difference between the wave of Tsunami and that of the Sea. When the Tsunami approaches the sea remains calm and quiet but it makes the sea-shore turbulent. Later when wave after wave arises out of the Sea, the whole Sea becomes turbulent. The waves of Tsunami can rush toward the shore with a speed of 500 mile per hour and can raise about 50-100 feet high from the ground. At last, when it crushes the shore with all its strength, its ferocity is violently exposed. It becomes incredibly higher and speedier at that time.

This resort of Port Blair could escape the devastation of Tsunami. It did not yield to the dreadful snap of the disaster. And the architect of this resort Charles Correa was admired once again for his brilliant architecture.

In accordance with the statement of the resort staffs, this was the only hotel where water supply and electricity production was as usual due to the continuous service of generator. It was the Nicobar Island where Tsunami attacked severely. On the other hand, it was like a blessing out of a boon to the tourists that the Nicobar Island did not give access to anyone of them to explore it.  There were about 200 tourists stranded in the Andaman Island but no one was hurt.

These two hundred tourists, at last, got rid of their confinement about two weeks after the attack of Tsunami. But anxiety and fear did not leave them. De facto, the airport was not ready yet to board in and out the passengers. People faced a terrible crisis of food but they were alive.

A number of islands of the Nicobar were swept away by the wrath of Tsunami. People were also swept away like ant-hills. Again many of the houses, cows, oxen, goats and people were drowned while being swept away.

Swandipwan, one of the waiters of the hotel, was working over there leaving his homeland of Kolkata. His description of the entire happening was just like a firsthand report. Everyone woke up in the morning at the thrusting sound of thunder. After a while the entire sky assumed red color. Houses and doors were shaking. People came out of the houses uttering the name of God. Like a mild high tide, water submerged the land. This water also went back after a while. And the shaking-mood was suddenly stopped. People felt relieved. Sudden lowering of the sea-water left a good amount of sea-fish on the shore. Everyone ran toward the shore to collect the fishes from the folds of the waves.

Sometimes, fate toys with human destiny. This might also result in fatal catastrophe but people never had any pre-idea of it. When they finally sensed it, everything was already finished.

This very tragedy also occurred here. While collecting fishes everyone noticed a huge wave coming shoreward which swamped all around at the blink of an eye. It was just like how an ant becomes thrashed under human foot without the slightest notice of a person. Nature similarly swept away everything.

Approximately 10-12 thousand people used to live in 3-4 lower islands of the Nicobar. When the water went off, there remained nothing but grass and leaves. However, an amazing fact was that no one belonging to Sentinelese ethnic community was hurt. They asserted later that one of their age-old rituals predicted the approach of a terrible disaster. So they all took shelter in a far-off place on the day before Tsunami.

It was necessary to go outside the city of Port Blair to observe the fatal ruins caused by Tsunami. We did not have any problem with transport as we had a car already parked at the hotel lobby. We could go for a ride at anytime or we could also pass time sitting in the terrace with some cups of coffee. Was it not wonderful?

We have named ourselves as ‘Pancha Parjatak’. And we the five travelers have formed a tourist group named PP since 2001. We invariably follow some rules during any tour. In the same way we followed some rules during this tour. The first one was that we could not say ‘no’ to anything as the word had to be left behind the immigration lounge of our native airport. Anyone’s proposal had to be accepted by the other four. When we felt the urgency of voting in some cases, we depended on the consent of the majority. For instance, any of our group members wanted to sleep at two o’clock of night, but other three wanted to sleep after the sunrise. In such case the drowsy person needed to chase away his sleepiness. In addition to that he also needed to sit on the chair facing towards the east as if he were enjoying the sunrise.

There was no team leader in our group. However, there was an accountant. His duty was to pay all the bills from his own pocket and credit card, and to inform all of us about our due before landing in our homeland. Again Arif Bhai was our sole trust in case of choosing restaurant or food. He has an expertise in this field for many years. So it was more or less certain that we were about to get fresh food at anywhere.  And that is why after our visit to the Cellular Jail, we relied on Arif bhai entirely for food as our obsession with the place could not let us pay attention to anything else.

Arif bhai requested our driver in his every possible way to take us to such a beach where a beautiful view of the sea could be perceived along with green coconut and lunch,

This driver was Tamil. He did not understand English well. So we conversed with him connotatively in English and denotatively in Hindi. However Syeed Bhai had the capacity to speak Hindi fluently; so we got much relief during this tour.

Our Sumo Pajero ran on the narrow road by the side of the Andaman Sea, leaving Port Blair behind. The right side of the road was hilly while the left possessed the view of a vast-blue-calm sea under the blue sky; and in between was the pitched way with zigzag narrowness.

By the left seaside there were many coconut trees grown in a little distance from each other. Some of those were straight while some of other was arched. I did not have any interest in straight coconut trees. On the contrary I started to search for my camera as soon as I saw any arched one. We abruptly stopped our driver two times. At the third time he himself stopped seeing a row of coconut trees with a background of blue sky and blue sea.

I got down with two cameras- still and movie. Our driver asked if we were from any shooting unit. I disappointed him.

Enayet Bhai introduced me to the driver as a director and claimed themselves as my advisers. He also addressed me as a photographer and a writer.

Enayet bhai’s admiration really worked out. Afterwards, at the sight of any beautiful scenario the driver made me take photos at any cost. He also helped me set my tripod or fix my camera besides his respective duty. He actually found me someone exclusive.

We all got down on one of the beaches called ‘Palm Beach’. One of the imperative features of the beach was that it had a bend like a half-circled necklace on both sides, which was mingled in two directions.

The beach of the sea was like a river quay.  Some boys with black skin were making merriments in the water. Their faces indicated that they all were local inhabitants.

Two or three pairs of white-skinned tourists also came here by the car; but it seemed that they were not intended to get down. In fact white skinned tourists do not like such places near Port Blair in the Andaman. In search of more tranquility they stepped toward Havlock Island. It required about two and half an hour to reach Havlock Island; it really spanned a long time, didn’t it?

We sat scattered down on the seashore. There were paved quays in two or three places. The local people were having their bathe. I sat on one of those quays. I just wanted to take a still photo of five-minute fixing my tripod camera. I hardly experienced such a noiseless shore resounded by the bird chirping and the sound of the waves.

There was a slice of an island in front of us. It was one of the 572 islands. It might create an illusion at any sudden look that an ox was laying under the water and its hunchback was floating on the water. There was no sign of greenery in that island other than only branches.  No wave was there as well. Nearby were some tiny fishing boats. I cherished to go to that vacant island. Any of the fishing boats could do this job at a single summon of mine. Offering a reward to a boatman would surely fulfill my desire. However, there were some steadfast rules. It was not allowed to ride on a boat without any licensed guide. And any other island was not accessible without them.

The time was passing on with the counting of waves. Blue calm water looked very mesmerizing. What a dual characteristic the Andaman Sea was possessing– sometimes quiet, again sometimes agonized. What a devastation it brought to the islands in the name of Tsunami!

We said our driver to take us to the place where the ruins of Tsunami would be more visible. The driver informed us about a beach twenty five miles away from there. It was ‘chiria tapu beach’ where a lot of birds come in the evening, according to the information of the driver. Those birds were of 64 types.

When we reached the ‘Chiria Tapu’ beach, the evening sunlight had already ceased. We got down from the car with much enthusiasm. There was a small resort nearby. We parked our car at that resort. The place was really beautiful. Our driver told us to roam around the resort. We reminded him of the 64 types of birds which he had mentioned about earlier. We expressed our desire to see the birds first.

Hearing this, our driver shrank a little in shame. He also smiled a bit. His smile could not hide his feeling of guilt.

Finally, he disclosed that though the beach was named as ‘Chiria Tapu’, a lot of birds do not come here nowadays like before. There was no space left to accommodate the birds as all the trees were broken down as well as wiped out by Tsunami. Rather you can have a walk by the seaside, which, I anticipate, will not be less enjoyable than seeing birds.

We started roaming around; but no one was much interested in walking. By the seaside was erected a corral of stone. The waves of the sea could not go by. Five of us began to react differently this time. Lavlu bhai started walking by the seaside in search of an excellent composition.

Enayet bhai lay straight on the stone and sang a song for a while. After sometime he stopped singing but it was not clear whether he stopped for the lack of listeners or the coolness of the evening breeze made his eyes closed. At a little distance was Arif bhai alone. I took my still camera with me because it was much troubling to handle a movie camera. Besides I was not in the mood to do the things which were needed to prepare a movie camera. It is always very easy to handle a still camera. Whatever it, nature was static there. I wanted to take some photos of that serenity with my still camera.

Suddenly my eyes were stuck to a cub located a quarter mile away from the seashore we were. When I saw it with keen eyes, the screen of illusion was removed before my eyes. It was a tree with a broken twig at the top, but a portion of the tree was somehow glued to the root and was above the water; this wrecked tree took the shape of a lion.

In ancient age, the Chinese people used to decorate their palace-gates with statues of lion. Such would be done with a view to saving the palaces from the evil spirits. It was their belief that those statues would save the palaces from the evil spirits.

The nature of the Andaman turned into the shape of another statue of lion due to the attack of Tsunami. Will this statue play the role of a protector against any future disasters?

We were standing on a place where there was a sign of roadway. The roadway was far removed from the seashore.  The sea has now extended its water-scale up to the roadway. In the middle of the sea, there were some trees visible. The trees just had the skeleton-like shapes with no leaf or twig. It was not clear whether the trees were alive or dead. The trees were also uprooted and twisted. They were visible over the water as they were not totally wiped out.

Once there was certainly a bank; otherwise it was impossible to grow trees under the water. It was certainly the Tsunami which massacred everything. Much of the seaside was also collapsed owing to the cracks of the earthquake. Those trees were the life-like witnesses of such destruction.

Dusk came over the Chiria beach. The sun was about to set behind far off greenery. Five of us were no longer together. Everyone was enjoying the sea beach in his own way. We became busy again at the approach of an overlapping twilight.

Nature is really amazing! It can snatch away everything on the one hand; on the other it can also pour its bliss over everyone. Nature is at the same time destroyer and preserver. We are mere children to such indissoluble mystery of nature.

 Kalapani: Cellular Jail

I heard the word ‘kalapani’ from someone in my early childhood. I could only remind that the word had an awful implication. The word unconsciously or subconsciously blocked one of my brain neurons as long as my adolescence lasted. Therefore when I would start reading books or newspapers side by side my academic study, this un-understandable word would persuade my senses silently. Later I came to know about the Andaman Nicobar Islands from various books. I also acknowledged that these islands were more famous as ‘kalapani’ islands than as beauty holders. The great fighters of ‘Swadeshi Movement’ were sent there to go through numerous dreadful punishments. These islands were more known for such sordid acts throughout the world. It was just like a single order of a king in an opera drama, enough to send off the accused there at any moment. Hearing such dialogues in dramas I imagined the Andaman Islands to be human less. I thought that people sent to the Andaman would survive having uncooked vegetable and fruits, and died afterwards alone.

Later growing up a little I came to know about the Cellular Jail. I also got it that the anti-British revolutionaries like Pritilata, Abhiram were imprisoned in this jail to give them punishment for loving their motherland. I do not know why my body would thrill at the name of these revolutionaries and a clod of grief would come up to my throat.

I finally felt the existence of the word ‘kalapani in my diverse matured occasions of life. With a thirst to know the world, I travelled many countries and witnessed the reality of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. The memory of the ‘kalapani’ enthralled me in each of those places.

The Cellular Jail was situated at the centre of the main city of the Andaman. When we arrived there, the daylight was already off. We could not enter the central building of the Cellular Jail; but we got satisfied roaming around our dream place. A shadow of grief was obvious in each of faces of my companions. I could understand their nostalgia working within. We came to the inner space of the jail building at one point. There were several statues of those fighters who were close to our hearts during our childhood.  Mohit Maitra, Mohan Kishore Namdas, Pandit Ram Rakha Bali, Baba Bhanu Singh, Indu Vushan Roy, Vianayak Damoder Soverker– each of them was a part of history.

It was necessary to buy tickets to enter the Cellular Jail. Each ticket was for 30 rupees. On the way to the central jail was a museum. There was no way to ignore this museum. This jail would be used as an administrative building once; afterwards it became a witness to all the stigmatic occurrences of history.

The antique and the historical paintings were hanging on the walls. About 200 paintings were there. These bore the signatures of what types of dresses the prisoners used to wear, which sticks were used to beating them, which instruments were used to driving the hand mill of prisoners. In the middle of the hall room, there was a model of Cellular Jail made of wood. A tower extended its hood from the middle of the structure with seven wings directed toward seven directions.

The specialty of the construction of the Cellular Jail was that the entire jail building was divided into smaller cells. Each cell was separated from the other by a single wall. There were 698 cells in the Cellular Jail. The size of each cell was 13ft by 6ft. The building was shaped like a Star fish. This three storied building had seven branches. These seven branches were attached to a single observatory tower. This tower was used as a control room. The four wings of it were abolished during the earthquake of 1941 and the rein of Japanese soldier over the building from the March of 1942 to the March of 1954. The other three remained yet now as a sign of age.

Observing the wooden replica when we were approaching forward, two wax made statues came on the way. ‘Two prisoners were breaking coconuts’. Among many labors performed by the prisoners during that period, it was the hardest one to produce oil from a broken coconut by the hand mill of oil and to separate the rind of it. A prisoner was compelled to produce about a mound of oil every day. There was a process to produce oil in that way. At first the dry coconut was to make squashy hammering it with a wooden quark. Therefore the wrap of it was thwarted; and the kernel of it was washed with water and hammered fervently to make it soft like flour; and it was used in the hand mill finally. I always read the stories of hand mill narrated in the voices of distressed characters. I met a real hand mill first in that cellular jail. The prisoners would have to produce oil from coconut by these hand mills. On the other hand, the rind of the coconut would be washed properly with water; it would be processed in a way to separate the fiber from it. Later the fiber would be dried.  Everyday one of the prisoners needed to bring out a mound of fiber from the coconuts. It was really a hardship. How ironical the situation was! The prisoners would need to make ropes out of that fiber which would be used to beating them. For some prisoners one of the major punishments was to be beaten at any time of a day. Sometimes the prisoners would be beaten for creating violence inside the jail building. These beating equipments were also made by the prisoners. Again the strong ropes were needed for hanging.  The food they would be offered after daylong toil was utterly inhumane. The breads would be full of germs and grasses would be boiled to serve instead of vegetable curry. The water given to them would also be abundant with germs and insects. One day the guards behaved so cruelly that the freedom fighters started hunger strike from 12 May, 1933 against such cruelties. Mohaveer Singh, Mohan Kishore Namdas and Mohit Maitra passed away during this time. Their dead bodies were confidentially brought out from the jail and thrown into the sea. This hunger strike shook the whole India. It created a massive reaction amid all classes of people in India. Therefore, the British rulers granted the demands of the strikers after 46 days.

We entered the central area of jail building after visiting the museum. In the middle of this square was a burning inextinguishable flame on an altar as a momentum. The rest of the space was used to making a garden. The flowers of different sorts were gardened over there. Were there flowers also during the British period? Probably there was not. How could the men be so cruel if the flower plants would be available there? There was not any flower plant certainly; or if there was really any, not a single flower would surely bloom there.

We got separated from one another after we had entered the jail building. Four cameras were in the hands of four of us; only Enayet bhai was holding a stick. He was not intended to take any photo. At the sight of any beautiful thing he expressed his emotion in the loudest voice; but if asked why not having a photograph of it, he said that he was reserving all videos and imageries in the storeroom of his neural CPU. This photography was done entirely in the way he liked but there was no way to print the photos out.

In 1978 and 1979, Archibald Blair and Cole Brook, as the representatives of East-India Company, first, visited Andaman. Their main target was to seek a harbor and to establish a penal settlement for the freedom-seeking Indian freedom fighters. In order to meet this purpose, Lieutenant Blair developed an impermanent habitat in Chatham Island, located in the south-east of Andaman. But at last, in 1976 he left the islands due to the unfavorable weather, diseases and the failure of not bearing the excessive maintenance cost of the harbor. However, one hundred years later when the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857 was ended, the hidden desire of the British to set up an establishment here in Ross Island was exposed for the second time. To fulfill the desire, Dr James Paterson Walker together with 200 prisoners reached this island boarding a British war ship, Senuramis on 10 March, 1858. The darkest chapter of Indian history began with his arrival, which is branded as Kalapani in the pages of history.

There was no way other than passing the Bay of Bengal to reach the Andaman at that time. About one hundred and fifty years ago, people would not visit frequently to far off lands like today. Looking at the vast sea from the shore was their only way to know about a sea. From the shore, the deep blue color of the sea-water seemed black and that’s why they would call the island ‘Kalapani’ (black water).

The construction of the Viper Jail was started in 1864 under the supervision of Ltd. Colonel Baron Ford and was ended in 1867. One Police Inspector, one Head Constable, two Sergeant, four Class-one Constables, thirty Class-two Constables were posted over there in the Jail to assist Ltd. Colonel Baron Ford. The amount of assistants was being increased day by day. The inward look of Viper Jail was so terrible that it was called ‘Viper Chain Gang Jail’. The revolutionaries against the British Reign were kept in chain there even at night. There were four different kinds of punishment for the prisoners in Viper jail. One way was to bind the prisoners with a tree and to leave them under the open sky so that they could be bitten by snake or scorpion. The second way was to lock them in a dark room. The third way was to beat them fastening their hands and feet. And the last was to hang them.

During the first liberation war of India, commonly known as ‘Sepoy Mutiny’, the English men hung thousands of freedom fighters. Even many of them were blasted by bombs after hanging them with trees. Those who were not executed among the freedom fighters were segregated from their family and nation. And for this reason the Andaman was recaptured again and Dr. James Patterson journeyed toward the island with 200 prisoners on March 10, 1858. In April, 1868 were deputed another 733 prisoners from Karachi to the Andaman. In fact, countless prisoners were sent to the Andaman from Mumbai, Kolkata and Madras. To accommodate such a large amount of prisoners, the construction of Cellular Jail began in 1898. After the completion of the construction, the prisoners were shifted to the cellular jail in 1906 and the viper jail was used only for the female prisoners. Mohammad Jafor Khaneshwary, the writer of the book ‘Autobiography of the Andaman Islands’, reached the Andaman islands on 8 December, 1865. It took him 34 days to reach there.

Mr. Jafor had been imprisoned for many years. Till then he was not kept in the Cellular jail of ‘Kalapani Islands’. He was in exile there. He spent many years in this island. So he could observe the life of the prisoners from a distance. His writing includes the lines- “Arriving in the island, I saw the foreheads of the prisoners tattooed with their names, crimes and the nature of their punishments. It was something like the words of one’s fate which remained imperishable for lifetime”. He wrote about the prisoners as well, ‘the prisoners accused of the crime of participating in the revolt of 1857 included kings, Nobab, Jaminder, Maolana, lawyer, litigant, deputy collector, sadr-e- asmin,  Judicial officer, Resalder, provincial government, collector etc. Their blackness and Hindustani identity were their prime crimes. They would get cheap cloth and rice like any other cobbler and sweeper, and need to impart physical labor only for such crimeless ‘crime’.

The punishment given to the prisoners for lifetime was divided into several parts. At first they would be sent to jail for six months. Although the rules and regulations were much strict, their physical labor was much relaxed. Therefore they would be sent to an associate jail for eighteen months. Here labor was of much painful with feeble rules and regulations. The prisoners were supposed to sleeping at the barrack at night for following three years and to work under the guards during daytime. They were often rewarded for their labor and their ability was also justified in the meantime. For following five years they were to work less and the vigilance over them was much flexible. Their labor would also be paid during this period. And they could spend their little amount of money for the purpose of comfortable living or they could also deposit it in the bank. After passing ten years in this way a prisoner would get a ticket of free life. In such situation a prisoner would get permission to live in a village, to cultivate, to tend cattle and even to marry under conditions. He would not be free totally, because he would not get any right of being a citizen; he could not abandon the island or he could not live a workless life.  A prisoner would get a complete free life after following the rules for about twenty to twenty five years.

We slowly approached toward one of the buildings among three. There was a shade in the middle of the building. It was certainly a factory once. The prisoners would work here. The instruments depicted in the paintings include hammer, iron bar etc.

On the right side there was the ‘hanging room’. It was a tiny tin shed room with a crisscrossed beam of stiffed wood from the middle of the room raised upward. A slippery rope was hanging from the beam. There was a wheel like thing on the floor. On this wheel, a prisoner would be made stand with his hand and feet fastened, face covered by black wrapper, eyes closed. Getting a sign, another prisoner would roll another wheel which would displace the first one and the prisoner would hang for minutes until he would breathe his last. He would turn into a mere dead body at last. Then other prisoners would bring him down and lay him straight on the floor. Under the floor of the hanging room was a basement floor. The dead bodies would be piled on there. The other prisoners alive awaiting the same punishment would dispatch the dead body from there. Would these bodies be taken to the cremation ground or to the graveyard? Or would these bodies be drifted away by the water of the Andaman Sea? There was no specific answer to these questions. Maybe, three of the possibilities would be applied or maybe not a single one.

Beside the room of keeping dead bodies was the cooking room. This room was used for the same purpose still then. The staffs residing in the jail complex were cooking here now; the prisoners punished with physical labor would cook here before.

Therefore we entered the cellular jail. These buildings of 100 years old were really durable. The construction was done following the Victorian style. The style featured the same craft by brick, arched round window and thick wall of brick.

In one of the existing three wings, a room was open. Going up a little by the staircase of corridor we met the cell. It was a cocoon-like place with the area of 13ft by 6ft. There was a small ventilator 8 feet above the ground. The ventilator was made in this way so that light and air could easily pass through it, but there was no chance to have a view of the outside.

They would sleep on the floor during both winter and summer. Had there been any mosquito net? Probably there had not been any, because there had not been any bed or pillow for the prisoners.

There was a much bigger hinges in chain outside the cell. Before each door of the cells there were heavy iron rods. These rods were also locked. This system was for observing the prisoners from the outside. However there was a different system to send food to the prisoners. There was a hollow like a post box on the wall. Unlocking it the food would be passed inside. However there was no visible arrangement for sanitation. It is really thinkable how this need would be met up. There was not a small amount of Indian tourists available in the Cellular jail during our visit. Some of them were surely the descendents of the freedom fighters. Those visitors were observing the brutality to the prisoners with tearful eyes. It is really difficult for anyone to control himself/herself looking the undergone sufferings of one’s ancestor caused for loving motherland.

However, ‘Watch Tower’ was the main attraction for the tourists. There was now a new museum on the Watch Tower. The height of the Watch Tower was similar to a three-storied building. Some photographs of the revolutionaries and the fighters of ‘Swadeshi Movement’ were hanging on the wall.

In front of some cells of the third floor the names of the revolutionaries were also written down.  They sacrificed many years of their life to make their motherland free.

These heroes played the crucial role to drive away the British. So the British treated them as ‘dangerous criminals’ during their rule.

The entire complex of Cellular Jail was visible from the roof of the third floor. The Ross Island was half a mile away from the Jail. The British would control the whole administration staying there on Ross Island. We will visit the Ross Island tomorrow. Suddenly our team comprised of five tourists became spiritless thinking about the acts of the British. Enayet Bhai started singing a song.

Arif Bhai furiously said he sometimes desires to bring the next generations of the British to these places to show them the tokens of the oppressions of their forefathers. Lavlu bhai remained silent. He zoomed the main gate of Cellular Jail in through his movie camera. The Indian flag kept flying. Taking the camera from Lavlu Bhai, I took another shot of the flying flag and then the camera tilted up when I started zooming out. I set my frame to capture some birds flying independently in the blue sky. The shot, I think, would not be bad one for the end-title to my travel documentary.

Ross Island

According to the information of Tourist Guide Book, if Ross Islands is not visited, it would be impossible to view any monument of British rule. To get this information, we started searching the real location of Ross Island in our map which we kept with ourselves to detect locations. As soon as we knew about the location, it seemed to us that Ross Island was so close to us that if someone screamed standing on the island, we would certainly hear his/her call. Truly, it was only half a mile away from our resort.

But we needed to go across the sea to reach there, though it was very close. We could not go there by swimming. Apart from, our permit-paper did not have that provision to visit the island by boat let alone the attempt at swimming. Nevertheless, there remained some scopes to visit the Ross Island.

There were a number of ferry boats stationed at the terminal, a lower part of Cellular Island. The ferry boats were like Steamers. These ferry boats generally visit some selected islands all day long. These boats normally start their journey at 7 am every morning. And they come back to Cellular Islands just before the evening. The arrangement was not bad at all.

Many days have not passed since this terminal was built because the shiny look of the walkway was indicating that it was newly built. De facto, the whole terminal was broken down due to the devastating Tsunami. When Tsunami went back completing its heinous activities, this terminal was rebuilt.

A Minar (minaret) has been established in the open field adjacent to the terminal in memoriam of the Tsunami-martyrs. There is an epitaph at the bottom of the Minar. The ticket counter is situated beside it. Our team comprised of five tourists boarded one of the steamers after the confirmation to our tickets.

The steamer, in ten minutes, made the whole team of 60-70 people get down in Ross Island.

The man who had been working as a tourist guide in those steamers for the last 20 years was a Bangalee of Kolkata, namely, Pradip, having a thin and tall shape. He used to speak in a mixed language of both Hindi and English. We developed a deep affinity with him. Moreover, a woman was working here on the island as a part-time guide. To hear her speech, everyone needed to pay ten rupees. She would speak very well using pure Hindi. But we needed to hear everything in Bengali. This is why we booked Pradip. There was no reason to decline our offer on part of Pradip Da. So, he became our intimate guide. We started hearing him. At first, we heard the history of Ross Island.

The island was named after British Surveyor Sir Daniel Ross. During British regime, this small island was the capital of Andaman-Nicobar. In 1978 and 1979, Archibald Blair and Cole Brook, as the representatives of East-India Company, first, visited Andaman. Their main target was to seek a harbor and to establish a penal settlement for the freedom-seeking Indian freedom fighters. In order to meet this purpose, Lieutenant Blair developed an impermanent habitat in Chatham Island, located in the south-east of Andaman. But at last, in 1976 he left the islands due to the unfavorable weather, diseases and the failure of not bearing the excessive maintenance cost of the harbor. However, one hundred years later when the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857 was ended, the hidden desire of the British to set up an establishment here in Ross Island was exposed for the second time. To fulfill the desire, Dr James Paterson Walker together with 200 prisoners reached this island boarding on a British war ship, Senuramis on 10 March, 1858. The darkest chapter of Indian history began with his arrival, which is branded as Kalapani in the pages of history. Kalapani or the displacement from the island was a type of the most severe punishment at that time. Ross Island was the main controlling centre of disseminating punishments. This island of 200 acres is situated in the northern part of Port Blair. During British regime, for the purpose of leading a smooth and civilized life, this city was fashioned with all modern amenities including swimming pools, churches, ball rooms, garments houses, hospitals, bakeries, presses, barracks of troops, parks and so on.

Telling us this part of history at a stretch, Pradip Da stopped.

After a while, three of our other tourists disappeared. Amid us, Arif Bhai was a sheer nature lover. He had that patience to count the waves of sea sitting under a coconut tree. Even he did not feel tired to do so. All on a sudden, I noticed him and still then he was thinking something antipathetically sitting under a coconut tree.

There was still-camera of at the hands of Lavlu Bhai. He was busy in taking photographs. Enayet Bhai had already started singing. He did so whenever he got chance. I was at aimed at Prodip Da with my video camera. On the other hand, Sayeed Bhai was capturing me in his frame.

Suddenly Sayeed Bhai, interrupting the speech of Prodip Da asked why Japanese Bunker was there.

Prodip Da got very delighted hearing the question because he would frequently give answer to this type of questions. And that is why he would probably speak very swiftly. Furthermore, he did not even fumble at the time of speaking. He would deliver his speech in a very organized manner. During the Second World War, those Islands were captured by the Japanese. They made a number of bunkers to take advantage in conducting war. We noticed the existence of so many bunkers all around the island. The Japanese, hiding themselves in Bunkers, would detect their far off sea enemies and prevent any sudden and unexpected attacks. Pradip Da entered into a Banker to give us the real essence of his tale. But we did not have any interest to do what Pradip Da did because in a small island like Ross, full of water and bushes, the reptiles such as snakes might be there inside the Bunkers. Moreover, there was no relevant reason to show off our over excitement.

We had to go near the boat. It was not a beautiful one. The local people call it ‘Hodi’. The main inhabitants of Andaman, with the help of these tiny boats, generally go fishing. These boats do not have engines. The aborigines are not familiar with engines yet.

After we finished viewing Hodi, we saw Lavlu Bhai capturing the picture of a broken wall with much concentration. In front of this place, the line, ‘Duality of Nature’ was written on a signboard. Nature is at same time destroyer and preserver. The establishments of two-century old were shattered due to the natural disasters such as Tsunami, Earthquake etc. Nature has destroyed these with its own way. The same nature was again revived without anyone’s care. Nature has this dual-aspect. This binary has made nature much more beautiful. A banyan tree held the almost destructed ruins of an age-old establishment with its tall roots. The nature turned into such a look as if it desired to introduce the next generations of Indian-subcontinent to the memories of their forefathers.

There was a swimming pool beside the banyan tree standing near the beach. Oh! We saw the black and white photograph of this pool in the display center of Cellular Jail. This picture of 1881 showed some white men playing in the water. But later the pool was beautified with tiles. One hundred and twenty five years ago, the whites made the swimming pool to have the real flavour of salty water of sea. The waves of high-tide would submerge the pool with water. Some water would remain stagnant after the falling of high-tide. Again the swimming pool could be vacant by opening the mouth of the tape to make the water go down to the sea. Moreover, it could be turned into a pool of sweet water by saving water from raindrops.

After viewing the swimming pool, as soon as we stepped a few walks forward we noticed the water purification plant. The British would turn the salty water into sweet water in this purification plant. The crisis of pure drinking water was one of the major problems of this island. Many British died owing to the lack of pure drinking water. They would always suffer from many kinds of water-born diseases because most of them were unable to adapt with this sort of water. Colonel Addison made the water plant. This same sort of water would be used for the purposes of making ice and bakery works. The steam created from the activities of the water plant would be used to running power house and printing press.

The portion of sea near Andaman was famous for crocodiles. The cautionary sentences written in the tourist guide book about Andaman included the information that once there was the existence of 30 feet long crocodile on the sea-shore. And to those crocodiles, human species were very luxury foods. One hundred and fifty years ago, the crocodiles swallowed not only the aborigines but also some white men of red skin. That is why, the British set up a swimming pool discarding the tendency of going to sea-shore to have the flavor of salty water.

Since Ross Island was the then capital of Andaman, all the powerful administrative men would reside there. This is the reason why, all the modern amenities were available there at that time.

In one phase of our walk, we arrived near a house made of red bricks. We heard a melodious tune coming from the house. We peeped through the window and saw some battalions of Navy force were taking rest over there. A signboard was hanging in the front door of the house. This was the bakery we talked about sometime earlier. Bread and biscuit would be provided for the Sahibs from this bakery. The building of the bakery was built mixing the architectural art of Victoria and Chennai-Kerala of India. It was our guide’s assumption that a ship-loaded laborers were brought to this place from the coastal town, Chennai to build the building. In a word, the arrangement was more or less flamboyant. About five hundred people were living on the island. Amid them were British officers, Indian traders and their families. Though a large amount of people were living on the island in comparison to its size, the island fashioned with all modern amenities would scatter its own beauty. The invention of generator also gave a magical touch of science to Ross Island. In a dark night, it would seem as if the island, like a gigantic ship being decorated with electric bulbs were running across the Bay of Bengal. Thereupon, at that time Ross Island was called the ‘Paris of the East’.

The middle part of Ross Island is vey high. It is like a tiny mountain. Reaching atop the hillock we saw two different paths following two different directions. We also saw some ruins of a number of almost destructed establishments. The very first establishment was possessed by Colonel Addison. De facto, the connection of electricity, the purification of water and the smooth running of bakery were materialized by Addison’s intellect. There were a plenty of coconut trees here and there on the island. But there was a written direction for the tourists not to touch any of the landed coconuts. However, if someone sells coconuts, anyone can buy. The garden of coconut trees once was a court of lawn tennis for the Sahibs. There were two tennis courts. No new road was constructed on the Ross Island. Some of the old roads were reconstructed and some were not. The British would use those paths for communication. There were three types of vehicles namely rickshaw, horse and palanquin used as the modes of communication. The British officers using these types of vehicles would roam here and there on the island. Closing our eyelids we viewed some weak black natives were pulling those vehicles peopled by the healthy English officers. The whole scenario reminded us that some people sitting on the lap of mothers were being suppressed by some unknown men of a far-off land. Pradip Da admonished me seeing me to stand apathetically and asked what I was thinking so deeply. I replied him I was thinking nothing.

I was lucky enough that I was not born in this region one hundred and fifty years ago. If so, I, too, had to pull rickshaw to reach the sahibs’s Bungalows. Whatever it, I came to visit this area. I was following Pradip Da. It is really difficult to cope up with the tall men in case of walk. Furthermore, I was carrying a camera of 6 kg with me. Suddenly I stood in front a broken building. According to the signboard bulletin, it was a subordinate club. Pradip Da informed there were three separate clubs on the island including the ‘Settlement Club’, ‘Subordinate Club’ and ‘Temple Club’. The Settlement Club, located near the sea shore, was for the officers and the Subordinate Club was for the non-commissioned and junior commissioned ranked officers. The immediate upper floor of Subordinate Club was the dance floor with a bar. There was an auditorium on the right hand of the bar. This dance floor was made of burma-teaks and its window frames of glasses were brought from Italy. The Temple Club was made for the local citizens of this island. The Temple Club was named after John Richardson, once chief commissioner of Andaman. In fact, it was established for the local people so that they could carry out their religious rituals.

The secretariat was not very far from the clubs. It was the main secretariat of local administration of the Andaman-Nicobar Islands. Now no existence of that secretariat was over there. At a very little distance from the secretariat, the shattered part of the church stood holding its past memories. It was a protestant church made of marbles. The frames of the Church’s windows were made of burma-teaks and the glasses of windows were imported from Italy.

A small road beside the church went up to the Bungalow of Chief Commissioner. Nothing of its existence was over there. Now there was a dense garden of coconut trees. The bungalow was actually situated in the northern part of Ross Island comprising twelve rooms. Amid them were seven or eight bed rooms. There was a tennis court beside it. Apart from were a room for birds and a palm house. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stayed at this bungalow when he came to visit the Andaman in 1943.

We got tired walking a long way. It was very pleasurable to see the waves of sea sitting on a bench made of stones, kept beside the church. But this moment was not lasted long because our guide, Pradip Da was repeatedly watching his wrist watch. We were given only forty five minutes to roam this island. Was it possible to visit all the historical places in 45 minutes?  We were tired but there was no sign of tiredness in the face of Pradip Da. He said he will introduce us to the oldest inhabitant of the island. I being romanced kept following our guide. After we stepped a few walks forward, he said, see Dada, this banyan tree is the oldest inhabitant of this island, aged more than three hundred years. As it is impossible for a tree to communicate, we were deprived of being known a lot of important information. The tree was a witness to everything happened during the last three hundred years.

We were noticing the age-old banyan tree. The large stones kept on the shore to save the island from the sea were being crashed by the waves. A fragrance of those waves was being felt. I desired to get down to the stony coast. But a cautionary sentence was written over there that it was forbidden to use the beach. So there was no way but to come back by steamer.

As we were walking, all on a sudden, we noticed a pond. Before we asked something about the pond, our guide informed us that it was the only pond of sweet water of the island. Basically, the pond was the only pond of sweet water in the entire Andaman. The pond was the other reason for the British selected the Ross Island as administrative zone and residential area for the officers.

We viewed a graveyard situated near the pond. I stood before it and fixed my camera on the tripod. I read the epitaphs. An innocent British child namely Loren survived only 22 hours after his birth and died on 16 September, 1863 on the island. That time a large amount of the British died owing to malaria and other water-borne diseases. Consequently the graveyard became their ultimate place to be rested forever. About forty graves were over there.

The Ross Island started to be uninhabited during British period. The establishments of Ross Island were heavily damaged due to a massive earthquake felt on 26 June, 1941. Furthermore, during the Second World War, when the Japanese soldiers started to move toward India, most of the British started to leave the island. And by January of 1942, the entire island became uninhabited. The Japanese set up some new establishments for their convenience after they had captured the island on 23rd May, 1942. For the defense of Port Blair, the island was handed over to the Indian Navy on 18 April, 1979. After two hundred years of that handover, the island totally became free from the imperialists.

However, we did not have much time left to stay over there. We started our journey toward a new island to experience some new memories.

Viper Island

As soon as we finished visiting Ross Island, we all boarded the steamer. Meanwhile all of us were provided the lunch packets. A food-coupon was attached to the ticket. The package included chicken biriani, half of an egg, one banana and a cane of cold drink.

Our steamer was running across the sea of Andaman. We passed our times viewing the small islands and the gardens of coconut trees from the steamer. Our guide, Pradip Da using a microphone gave lectures on different things. After a while everyone was informed that we were going to visit Viper Island. The worst prisoners were sent to the island as their punishments before the Cellular Jail was established.

Pradid Da told two possible reasons why the island was named as Viper. Firstly, in 1789 the British Lieutenant Archibald Blair came to the island by a ship called T. S. S. Viper. It was kind of a myth that the ship which bearing Mr. Blair faced a terrible sea-storm and shattered and the ruins of the ship was somehow found on this island. Thus the name Viper came into vogue. The second reason was that once a lot of viper snakes would be available on the island. The revolutionaries who got death sentences as their punishments owing to be active freedom seekers would be ensured their death through the biting of intoxicated viper snakes.

The construction of the Viper Jail was started in 1864 under the supervision of Ltd. Colonel Baron Ford and was ended in 1867. One Police Inspector, one Head Constable, two Sergeant, four Class-one Constables, thirty Class-two Constables were posted over there in the Jail to assist Ltd. Colonel Baron Ford. The amount of assistants was being increased day by day. The inward look of Viper Jail was so terrible that it was called ‘Viper Chain Gang Jail’. The revolutionaries against the British Reign were kept in chain there even at night. There were four different kinds of punishment for the prisoners in Viper jail. One way was to bind the prisoners with a tree and to leave them under the open sky so that they could be bitten by snake or scorpion. The second way was to lock them in a dark room. The third way was to beat them fastening their hands and feet. And the last was to hang them.

With the passage of time, the elegance of the building had been lost. The weeds were grown here and there throughout the building. It seemed to be that the Viper Jail had lost its old glory. We slowly entered the main room. As soon as I stepped into the main room, all the memories intensely knocked me. The moment of Sher Ali’s hanging, the agonized visage of Pritilata, Khudirum’s laugh of pride, the inevitable bravery of Abhiram were glittered before my eyes.

It was that room where a lot of freedom fighters, without an iota of hesitation, embraced their deaths for the sake of independence. The timber used in order to hang the freedom fighters was bearing the witness of time. In the room, there was little corner where the revolutionaries would be purified through bathe. Afterwards, they would be heard some religious adages.

On March 11, 1872 Sher Ali started to read from Quran after he had had his Fazr in that room. He had been continuing to read from Quran until he was worn black cap by the butcher.

There were four windows above the hanging room. The soft ray of sunlight was entering through the windows. Possibly the same sort of the ray of sunlight removed the darkness of the room on the day Sher Ali was hanged. Looking at that sunlight, Sher Ali might recollect his country and the people of his country. May be he thought one day his country’s people will scatter his thoughts of freedom worldwide. At last his dream came true.

The movement of the revolutionaries became successful. The British were compelled to abandon India. But the persons like Sher Ali do not come back. There are the tokens of glorious memories. We discovered our guide as a good orator after we had come to the hanging room. Now Pradip Da started to speak in Hindi because most of the visitors or tourists visiting the room were non-Bengali.

I would like to share three important matters with you all.

First of all, you might think that there is nothing significant here to see or enjoy.  Why did we come here? Did we come here only for passing time? Secondly, here we have 150 people but I need only one who will hear me with much patience. Thirdly, as I am a private guide, the authority has just sent me to help you provide necessary information. However, the government does not pay me for it rather you can say I am self-employed.

The guide by his all means convinced us to run fifty staircases up. After we had reached atop he showed us a broken establishment. We thought we came here expending a lot of money not to see it. The guide told us, Sir, hear me with full concentration. He requested us to have a look over the entire building. Prodip Da told us that you all please try to imagine that you are visiting the island with your family members because whether you again get a chance or not in your lifetime to visit Andaman is not sure. You are staying at a good hotel, eating healthy and delicious food, taking photographs, and enjoying beaches with full spirit. But don’t you think that you are forgetting some great souls? Yes, I am telling about the freedom fighter who sacrificed their life for the independence of their motherland. And you got the opportunity to visit this land due to their sacrifices. So I urge you all to pay a tribute to those freedom fighters before you leave the place. You might think that why I am telling something about the freedom fighters. I would like to say I am just a guide, not a lecturer but the next generations or the children of today do not feel the real essence of the independence. They only know that a flag is generally flown every year on 15th August and the day is observed as a holiday but they do not know why. But if I tell the children of this generation to write a couple of lines regarding the freedom fighters, I am still sure they will not. Conversely, if the children are requested to send a sms or play with computers, they will easily succeed. I am not against the advancement of science and technology. By the same token, I just like to say we need to read and know our history. Thereupon I brought you all here. I know that nothing marvelous or important is here to see or enjoy. But I wanted to revive the feeling of independence in you. I again request you all to pay homage to them at least for a minute. I will not extend my speech. Amid us, many of them are senior to me; many of them are much more educated than me. If I make any mistakes, please pardon me imagining me as your younger brother or son. Thank you.

There was a pin-drop silence among the tourists after hearing a long speech from Pradip Da. Nobody looked one another. Each and every eye was at Pradip Da. There was no monument but the hanging room and Ejlas (judgment) room on the island.

There was a deep forest beside the hanging room, a stigmatized token of last two hundred years. Was the existence of Viper snake over there? The anti-British revolutionaries would be left in the deep forest taking them by ship from Kolkata. The revolutionary leaders would be died by the biting of the snakes.

It was very difficult to reach atop the small mountain of Viper Island. However we did it with much hardship. But we felt comfortable at the time of running down. After getting down, we found a very tiny stationary shop where we got some biscuits and chanachur. The shop opens at 10 am and closes at 4 pm. The island did not have the connection of electricity. The population of the island had been the same for the last forty five years. He was the only inhabitant of the island. He would speak in Uriya. However we had failed to communicate with him for a long time due to a big gap of language. The only thing I wanted to know was why he decided to stay in this uninhabited land leaving behind the other places of the world. But I did not get any answer from him.

Beside it, there was the court from where the verdict of four kinds of punishments would be announced. Except the verdict room, the entire island got devastated due to the Tsunami. Possibly the verdict room as a witness of the suppression of the British will be there centuries after centuries.

Coral Island

Leaving the Viper Island, we rode on a ferry. We were remembering the speeches of Pradip Da. We all looked very sad for a moment. But we were forgetting the memory of Sher Ali’s hanging in five minutes after we had boarded the steamer again. All the sea sides were surrounded by small mountains and deep forests.

Two hours were still left to set the sun. These hours were kept intact for us to enjoy. The tourists got very much engulfed with sadness to view the witnesses of the British’s suppression on the then freedom expecting revolutionaries in Viper Island and the tokens of the British’s extravagant lifestyle in Ross Island. Now it was needed to bring some happiness to their minds. In this part of the tour, the tourists were taken to a new seaside island namely North Bay.

Our ferry slowed itself down beside a lighthouse of tall tower but did not stop. Pradip Da wanted a twenty rupee note from me. I brought the demanded amount of money from my wallet and tried to hand it over to him. But in lieu of taking it he told me to unfold the note. As soon as I unfolded it I saw a picture of lighthouse printed on the rupee. The picture was not a photograph. It was drawn by hand. I tried to find out the similarity between the two. Pradip Da got very delighted to show me the real lighthouse which was drawn in the twenty rupee note. Meanwhile some tiny boats came near our ferry. Ten passengers could ride on each boat. We needed to put on life jacket before boarding the boats.

I told them to carry me first with a view to taking photographs. Pradip Da told me not to hurry because he assured to show me something exclusive. Pradip Da along with the five of us boarded a small boat and told us to roam as our desire. There was a plate of glass attached to the bottom of boat. We viewed the probals through the transparent glasses. We tried to view probals turning our bodies upside down but failed. Our boatman got busy to show us probals. At last we saw a few of them. I tried to capture some photos of those but succeeded partially.

There is a production house of pearls in North Bay. I heard the stories of pearl searching and sometimes read about those in the books of fairy tales but I have never seen the process of producing pearls. Pradip Da took us to the production house of pearls. Our companions got busy to collect the chains made of pure pearls. Three of us got down to the sea changing their cloths. They were given to wear a special kind of masks through which they could take breathe inside the deep sea. The main motto was to show them how the sea fishes move inside the deep see.

Only twenty families stay in this small island. It is a matter of pleasure that all members of those families are bangalees.

The manager along with some laborers of pearl factory stays on the island. There are some tin-made houses. People can enjoy electricity. They do not have bazaars or shops. They usually go to Port Blair for shopping. There is a primary school where only 16 students study.

The factory manager was Anwar Hossain. He got delighted to have some bangalee tourists and got much interested in showing us the whole island. He informed the island was much more beautiful before Tsunami. Tsunami destroyed the beauty of the island. He walked us toward the lighthouse and said we can go atop running up the stairs to have the full view of Andaman. I could not restrain myself from taking an establishment shot by my camera. I went near the lighthouse to do so. Suddenly Pradip Da said to me that my companions got tensed not finding me anywhere. I told him to give me sometime to enjoy the lighthouse. But the ferry would no wait for me if I went to see the lighthouse. Nobody can stay on the island after 4 pm. I was a little bit bored with the steadfast rules of the Andaman.

The sunlight was being dimmed. The sun was about to set behind far off greenery. After evening there was no way but to pass times by gossiping. We passed the entire day staying on the water vessels.

We have to rise very early in the morning tomorrow because there is an airport reporting at 5 am. The Kolkata bound plane will take off at 7 am. It will arrive there at 9 am. The Dhaka bound plane will take off from Kolkata at 1.30 pm. So, we will be flying throughout tomorrow.

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