Walking on a thin layer of Ice: In the Midst of a Boat Ride


If we consider life as a journey, then it is better that we travel alone. Actually not alone in the way we conceive aloneness, but in a rather different way. This solitude is accompanied by longing, melody and the desire to be together again. All set to bring communion of the pain of separation and the joys of being together. And I must say this is a greater pleasure than any of the two. One should not travel alone to be alone in the end but to break the solitude which in turn will be rejuvenated on its own.

Now we come back to my farewell days in JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) before I took that mesmerizing ride to Kadamtala in Andaman Islands. We say memories fade, but I would say they take a backseat looking at you from behind. Watching you all your life. You cannot see them but they are always looking at you from your back. If you want to see them, you will have to face them.

And when I look back I see myself sitting on a concrete slab smoking cigarette with tea which is neither tea nor hot water or both, and talking some nonsense to an equally endowed lady in wee hours. Smoking is best done in company of a close friend (preferably woman) who ideally should be a smoker. Then you don’t give a damn what others are doing around you, and you think only about three objects- the burning cigarette in your hand, the woman beside you and the all the rational-irrational nonsense in air. I must admit that women are the best listeners. Compared to men they have more patience for listening and only after listening to your view, they would bring forward their own. You can blame it on their subversion by men but I am well aware that they are equally ferocious if they are fooled around much.

And I think of how every morning after getting up I used to go straight to the balcony at the back of my hostel Room and stare at the green tress and the vast sky outside. I used to feel so good by beholding nature. There are some numbers which remain stuck in our memory forever. For me they are 4, 219, 102 and 230. Now I’m not going to write about them here as they have their own stories stringed to them.

Have you ever enjoyed the rains in the open by walking on the lonely roads? This is a pleasure you can seek only when you are free from the worldly woes that cling to us all the time. Have you ever thought that you can become an alarm clock for somebody? I believe this is called humanness. Doing things without thinking of any gains is purely human and we do it often.

There is something in JNU which makes it a real utopian territory. A place where you live away from the harsh realities of the world, enjoying the sweet nectar of life and thinking in a very bookish sense of life. But I also know it makes a very different individual inside you: a brick meant for making a house which stands only in dreams. An individual with above average sensibilities and concern for the preciousness of human life is born in almost every one who is touched by the life in JNU. This is place where a student can talk to all the big shots without bowing in front of them. This is also a place where young Indians jostle together whether they come from Bihar, Tamilnadu, Nagaland or Maharashtra. Life is a celebration for many us who have lived there because here you celebrate its dark side too. The unreality of the reality.

When I remember the winters, I wonder why the jackets turn into branches surrounded by the fog. You have to come back from a long walk in the wee hours after graveyard shifts to see this happening when you can walk only by holding hands. Winter is not always the time when nature goes into hibernation but it is also the time when tears are frozen and every thought just fogs. When you want to cry but you cannot. Winters have also been the beginning of new life for me. A time for unfolding of a new story. That is why I have started enjoying winters more now.

Coming back to the boat ride to Kadamatala. It was a usual hot and sunny day of February 2006 in Andamans when one of my university senior who came to Strait Island on an engine propelled dinghy boat to see us. When I was offered the ride to kadamtala, I could not resist it. We were going to visit the abode of Jarawas (one of the last survivors of Pre-Neolithic people on earth) at Kadamtala area in Middle Andamans. I had met Jarawas but only at District Hospital in Port Blair and not in their natural habitation. Our boat was small enough to accommodate just 5-6 people and thus could not brave the open sea. So we stick to the passage by sea shore inundated by mangroves. Sometimes we crossed between two mangroves separated like lost brothers. I was trying to touch the sea water when the boatman told me to stop doing it as the waters were infested by crocodiles.

After a 3 hours boat ride we finally reached Uttara jetty where I first saw some Jarawas standing at the embankment. We proceeded to Kadamtala village (a village of Bengali settlers) where I was introduced to a lean and thin Bengali guy who will take me to a very different world later. Next morning I was riding a Jeep which left us in the outskirts of the village. At the roadside we waited for another guy who was going to bring some medicine for the Jarawas. After waiting an hour or so, he finally arrived and after getting the medicines from him we embarked on a very special journey. We took a dust beaten path going inside the forest. The trees were becoming thicker and bolder as we were walking inside the forest. We came across two makeshift bridges made of fallen tree trunks spread over big ditches on which only an expert gymnast can walk. I managed somehow. I also noticed some human voices shouting nearby together with some small clear grounds on which some big leaves were spread. I was told that Jarawas use these clear areas to relax while hunting. After taking many turns and curves, I started feeling that we are reaching the habitation as I could see the sky more clearly now through the foliage.

But the destination was not that near. Finally after walking another half an hour we reached the Jarawa village. I could see some children and some women sitting under huts. My companion told me that most of them have gone for gathering (it was a honey season) and they will be coming back shortly. I was standing mesmerized by looking at the unique world looking back at me. One of the children asked about me from my guide. My Bengali friend told them that I have come from a very far place riding an airplane which they still see in awe. I was feeling thirsty so I took out the bottle of water from my bag. I took a sip. Soon all the women and children wanted sips from the bottle as if it is an elixir. Later more people returning from hunting and gathering expedition joined us. I was introduced to a man with marvelous physique. I was told that he was above 60 years in age. Here I and my Bengali friend were the only wearing clothes and representing the new civilization. I was living the past which our forefathers must have lived once. The charm of the grand old world was putting me in a transcendental world.

I told them in my half cooked Andamani Hindi and gestures that I met the Jarawa mother at Port Blair hospital whose 6 months old baby was injured by a bamboo stick at Port Blair hospital. They quickly recognized her and informed me that she belonged to a different Jarawa village. One child was touching my body to confirm my gender as he could not see what I could see clearly. He was new to our civilization. Though I was living with another group of indigenous and older group of Andamanese people (Great Andamanese), but I have seen them in a government sponsored model village (Strait Village) where there were concrete houses, electricity and indigenous people who depended on government doles for their day to day survival. On the contrary here I was standing in the midst of the last remains of Andamanese culture and society.

My Bengali friend gave some of them the medicines he brought along. They liked the way he applied some antiseptic lotion to their injuries and bandaged them. Medicine brought two warring civilization together. Jarawas who were hostile to all intruders in their territory till 1992, made peace only when the magic wand of modern medicine touched their lives. Time was running fast and we had to return to kadamtala village also. So we bid goodbye to the Jarawas and started the return trail. While coming back I was thinking as if I was sitting in a time-machine set to throw me back to the world I belonged.

To be continued.

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