Yes, it is Andaman calling

Yeats’ Ireland is alive in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

By Krishnakumar S.

PORT BLAIR (ANDAMAN & NICOBAR ISLANDS): And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, said the poet William Butler Yeats, in The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

With industrialization at its zenith in the late nineteenth century, the poet was getting highly nostalgic of his long lost countryside, wanting only to go back to his countryside , only  to have a cabin of clay and wattles made, so that he would live in the lap of nature under the bee loud glade, far away from the din of the alarm clocks, smoke stacks  and  factory sirens.

But Yeats’ Ireland is no more so.  Since the eighties, the Celtic Tiger has grown at rates that it has metamorphosed into a member of the OECD rich member club. No more does the Irish wish to be reminded of the potato famine, or of the slew of migration to the New World.

Now, the island is more a country of immigrants coming in search of the opportunities in buzzing finance and information technology, only have a bumper ride in the recent past in the context of the crisis.

No wonder,  at my getaway  to Neil island (in the Andaman), I met an Irish couple cycling themselves to merry in the daytime, fishing in the afternoon,  playing cricket in the evening and being part of the international music choir of sorts in the late evenings. Yes, even Yeats’ own countrymen of today are discovering in Andaman, the Ireland of the late century.

Trees at the Chidiyattapu beach
Trees at the Chidiyattapu beach

Received by the lullaby of nature, Neil Island at Andaman welcomes one and all into the world of slow pace, with their cattle and haystacks. The turquoise blue waters in the beaches of Neil Island seem to carry with it a gentle coolness, as if to soothe us off the urban discomforts we have carried with us as baggage.

Wading and swimming becomes day-long pleasure.  Amidst the grand coconut groves, interspersed with arecanut estates, are those majestic deciduous trees which stand tall as if they were nature’s historians taking a note of everything happening.   As the boy sells tender coconut, we watch the easiness with which a man jumps from one arecanut tree to the other, cropping its harvest. With a Keralite as its Panchayat president, the region has a large share of Bengali and Tamil speakers.

Photo Feature: Andaman 

During the low tide, early hours in the morning, we witness the natural coral bridge and the water-life underneath.  The site of sea cucumbers and sea snakes fast takes us back to our biology textbooks, which we had long lost memory off.

Needn’t be worried, there would be some secondary school student who has accompanied his parents on a LTC trip who would lavish us with his ready reckoner information. Given that the sea cucumber is delicacy in the south east Asian cuisine, there are groups of people who gang up to  smuggle it out to Burma and so on, those not smart enough end up in the jail too.

With  one of the lowest crime rates in the country, the jails  in Andaman has a very low occupancy rate, thanks to these sea cucumber thieves, the Andaman police have some job to save themselves.  Given their disguised unemployment, one of the locals pointed out, some of the police personnel took to taking classes in the neighborhood school, which resulted in good improvement in the student performance, only to be scorned at by the teaching fraternity, who wanted the police to mind their own business.

Prior to our departing for Neil island, we had a fast trip through Port Blair. The Aquarium and the Anthropological Museum can serve us as much information as time permits.  Restaurants and hotels of different price ranges are a specialty of Andamans.

My daughter was fast to christen one of those humble ones as ‘Ustad Hotel’, given their happiness to serve. The Chatham Saw Mill, which used prison labor, during colonial times, for meeting the demand for wood for the war related purposes of the Empire, through logs which arrived from Dinglipur, is yet another place of historic importance. Time didn’t permit us to watch the elephants in action at  Dinglipur forests.

The climb up to Mt. Harriet gives us a picturesque long view of Port Blair and its surrounding islands. The twenty rupee Indian currency has the view from atop Mt. Harriet on its backside. Rich in biodiversity, the trekking at Mt. Harriet proved to be interesting.  The slight drizzle in the course of the trekking made it even more interesting.  The Sagarika Emporium not only has good marine exhibits, but also sells shells and conches for those who want them.  A glance over the whole of the well-lit organized capital city of Port Blair from the main road makes the evening stroll worth it.

Cellular Jail Andaman
Cellular jail from within

Port Blair and Cellular Jail brings us memories of our fighting past, possibly we are not able to rise up to the expectations of those martyrs. Long queues of people pay respectful tributes to the unsung heroes of our independence. It is said that the 1947 independence day at Andaman was unique in the sense that it has representation from almost every part of the country. As we hear about the torture through which many of them went through, en route their trip to the cellular jail, as well as in the prison, the protests which they staged, and also the heart rending depiction of the same through the Light and Sound Show organized at cellular Jail, we find many in the audience burst into tears.

Some take particular care to read out all the names of the martyrs engraved on the plaques. Most of us having born after 1947 have only heard of these through our history textbooks. One thought it would be good if the government offered some short term national and international fellowships to be associated with Cellular Jail and other cultural institutions at Port Blair.

Church Andaman
A dilapidated Presbysterian Church at Ross Island (Photos by Krishnakumar S, Nandita, Binuja)

From Port Blair, one can see Ross Island, the old capital of Andaman, as well as North Bay. The latter provides good avenues for snorkeling as well as watching water life beneath through glass boats. The colorful marine life around North Bay is anybody’s delight.  The multi-colored fish of various genres, that too, at the same place, specifically makes North Bay a place of delight, not to speak of the good beaches which could take much of our time for swimming and wading.  The uninhabited Ross Island has only animals and birds as its natives now, other than a dilapidated Presbyterian Church as well as  giant  majestic banyan trees, who have withstood centuries.

Ms. Anuradha Rao, who takes care and nurtures the fauna of Ross Island, and makes the animals really feel at home there, inspires many a traveler.

As we had another half day before our trip back to New Delhi, we took to a well-wisher’s suggestion for a ride to the Chidiyattappu beach. I haven’t seen nature at its brilliance like I have seen it there. After a long ride through the arecanut and coconut groves, through ups and downs, we find ourselves been lead to a seashore, where some trees are seen edging on to the shores and into the ocean. The clouds above were refusing us the right to glance at the sunset, but as the time approached, knowing well our sentiments, the clouds just gave way for a two minute glance of the sunset.  The area, once hit by tsunami, has some of those majestic trees, whose roots still serve as a background for group photo–ops. It seems that those majestic trees after years of selfless service are refusing not to serve.

After those days amidst turquoise blue waters, majestic deciduous trees, large sandy seashores, colorful world of coral reefs, seashells by the seashore, and a bite of the marine delicacies, back in  Delhi, I feel like repeating with Yeats:

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core…

Yes, it is Andaman calling…

(Krishnakumar S. teaches economics at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi)

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