Walking on a thin layer of ice


Nao junior returning after his morning session of fishing at Strait Island jetty

Our life is made up of stories only we remember. We forget some of them and we keep some in our hearts forever. Why we forgot some of them, is a puzzling question? I guess our engaging life and work makes them go in oblivion. But can we just afford to lose them and let them die alone? I think they are like the kitchen gas (but without any odor) you have forgotten to put off, lurking around you. You just need to light a match to show it upon you. Then as you have seen them alive again, you want them to stay. You enjoy the pain and joys they give to you. You want to become its pet again. Suffering but still cherishing it. Sadness and loneliness give you the chance to think of brighter days ahead. It’s a necessary evil which you need to walk on and on. Changing your mindset never helps. Because you can change it all but you cannot change the ‘YOU’ in you. Someone said ‘writing is like shitting, you take out whatever you have inside’. So I’m writing but this is no shit.

When I ponder about my farewell days at JNU and at Andaman Islands in the year spanning 2005-2006, I miss those blue and lonely times. It is not that I’m overflowing with people here. But my sensibilities have changed a lot living and working here. That white dreamy smoke coming out of the cigarette in my fingers seems like a long forgotten past. The way I thought about Nao Junior, the uncrowned king of the last of the Great Andamanese at Strait Island. I used to feel sad about whether I would be able to see again that dark face with eyes like a cat peering in the dark. The day he came fully drunk looking for me at my rented house at Premnagar, Portblair and said that he is my elder brother in his charming Andamani Hindi (hum tumko bhai cota manta hai). I felt the same for him and shared a cigarette with him (though he detested it). I hated it when my neighbors called him ‘Jungli’ next morning while referring to him. Who is going to tell all the settlers living on the Andaman Islands that the land on which they all are living is Great Andamanese soil and they should show some respect for its real owners?

How I used to worry about Chachi (Boa senior, the last genuinely Great Andamanese woman) and whether I would ever help her in cooking food at her small hut and then share ‘Sukhaa paan’ (flavored tobacco leaves and lime) together. Sometimes I used to see her looking up in the sky and staring in the blank. Like a child, I wanted to know what she is thinking. Her eyes looked dreamy and lost in the past. When I showed her a photograph of her younger days, she quickly recognized every one in it. I felt good for showing her a slice of her lost and foregone past. I can never forget the way Chachi offered me her little provision of rice and dal, when I told her that I’m going back to Portblair from Strait Island to bring some provisions. She smilingly offered the little she had. I was lying as I was not going to the town to bring ration but to call my love at the other end of India. I felt guilty.

Andaman was lonesome for me as I was in love with loneliness and a woman. The solitary ride of the Andaman state transport bus, I took to Vandoor area in the evening to capture glimpses of Jarawas, cannot be forgotten too. Though by the time I reached Vandoor police outpost, It was already dark, I thoroughly enjoyed the sight from the bus all along the road. The driver of the bus also got off the wheel to share some tea at that ramshackle tea shop run by a Telugu speaking lady. I told him that I’m doing some journalistic writing on Andamans,Jarawas, Tsunami etc , so he let open all he knew about Andamans. He was a Pugga (turban) less Sardar born in Andamans. So despite his demeanors his lingo smacked of Andamani Hindi. He told me that to see Jarawas I’ll have go to the jungle outpost of Vandoor police station. Some policemen sitting at the tea shop informed me that Jarawas also watch TV at the police outpost inside the forest and they are very fussy especially about tobacco and liquor. We started back for the city soon afterwards. Andaman looks very dark in night so could not help looking at my watch all along the road. I was lonely again. Christopher McCandless : you were absolutely right.

To be continued.

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