Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Travelogue in parts.One(,) two many

The road to Port Blair is nonexistent from the mainland for reasons obvious. I being truly and only as I could be took the nefarious sea route fraught with peril, thunderstorms, and cyclones (The only missing ingredients being pirates and sirens and a Homer to catalogue the events and spin a great epic about it) instead of the convenient air route which is quite busy from both Calcutta and Chennai (its merely an hour and forty five minutes or so). We halted at Chatham (what can be best described as a suburb in Port Blair) for quite sometime. For a forced early riser(like me), it was a bit unnerving to see the sun shining bright and beating the daylights out of me at five thirty (which’s early by any standards) in the morning (and setting at 1730ish even before you could say ‘Good Evening’).

The city is a trader’s paradise with most of the commodities exported from the mainland. Fisheries, handicrafts, coconuts (sized like pumpkins) and some minor art crafts are the industries native to the island. The city is a cosmopolitan with majority of Tambis (1), Bongs (2) with a couple of Mallus (3), Gultis (4) and Biharis (5) thrown in to add more flavour to the main town centre and its quaint shops selling cheap imported electronic goods, flowers for the offering and a dozen restaurants that specialize in serving brightly hued fish, salty squids and other delectable denizens of the deep in their flesh or well cooked. Our business agenda included roaming about the city in the late evenings running or walking for hours at a stretch; devouring as many Pani Puris (6) to the heart’s content and giant narial paanis (elaneer) (7), also to the heart’s content. There are a lot of islands that dot Andaman and Nicobar which are well connected by ferries with their splendid beaches that make it a peaceful getaway. One of the nearest beaches is that of Corbyn’s Cove, a nice little place tucked away in remoteness. It offers what a beach has to; endless waves, some silence for the patient soul, a refreshing shower after a nice long swim under the sun and one of the amazing black teas ever tasted at a disguised tuck shop. There’s the usual dal muri (8), ice cream and a strange aquaria restaurant with an equally strange aquarian name.

The imposing structure of ‘The Cellular Jail’ (9) forms the centre of the city. It’s a pity that only three of the original seven arms have stood the ravages of time. A haunted air about the well preserved ramparts, a deep sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach and nausea take over as history and time unfold their story in bits and pieces. The Japanese during the WWII persevered with, what the British had begun. The jail’s history is also well documented and preserved for posterity, to be looked up as meaningless statistics for a figure hungry statistician. There’s the next door Ross Island that houses deer like domestic fowl and sheep and the barracks of the erstwhile British Army. A must go are the Havelock Island and Jolly Buoy with its supposedly pretty beaches (supposedly because I haven’t been there personally) and scuba diving at supposedly reasonable rates. Up north is the ‘Barren Island’, the only place in the whole of India to spew forth lava, ash and such other raging hot things that can be expected from an active volcano

Some more facts –for the uninitiated
The A&N first came up on the Radar screen in the Ramayana when Hanuman and Rama chose to sidestep it on their way to Lanka. Translated from Sanskrit, the name Andaman roughly translates to abode of beauty and peace. The second notable instant when the island lime lighted was when the Dutch East India Company chose to land here (sometime during early 1600s. They had to beat a very hasty retreat because of the mosquitoes and malaria. Even now malaria is rampant in the deep jungles and other interior islands. Many places still go by the names of Wasp Bay, Spiteful Bay near the Kamorta islands(where people still close doors after sunset as a feeble attempt to ward off finger sized mosquitoes and wasps).

(9) The Cellular Jail - The work on the Cellular Jail started in 1896 and finished in 1905/04 as the first three storied penitentiary that could house almost 700 native prisoners. Veer Savarkar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and many other notable freedom fighters have been a part of this notorious jail or have succumbed to the ruthless acts of the infamous jailor David Barry. Barry died a sorry death onboard a steamer bound for Calcutta en route to his dear and beloved England where he could never belong to. A&N were for a brief time under the Japanese during the Great War (approx 1943-46).History has it that the Netaji was conned about the appalling and squalid situation of the prisoners and governance in the islands. Japanese bunkers still exist today as a memoir of the past and finds utility as public dustbins to a greater majority.

…..of some help

(1) Tambi- slang for Tamilian ( Native: Tamil Nadu- a very old, once civilized region; inventors of idli, dosa now facing peril due to many incumbent politicians clothed in shades of white)

(2) Mallu – slang for Malayalee ( Native: Kerala- where literacy is the highest in India that makes people overqualified for a job of any kind; where each family has to have its representation in Dubai and Mumbai; home for as many coconut trees as politicians in the whole of India.)

(3) Gulti – slang for Andhraite( Native: Andhra Pradesh- place of long names and longer surnames which can trace the family tree till Chiranjeevi(worldu famousu superstaru from Andhra) and Asoka ( not a worldu famousu superstaru) ; place of fiery pickles and edible material(!) inspired by Barren Island.

(4) Bongs – slang for Bengali (Native: Bengal (West/East) – place where fish has been a flourishing religion since time immemorial; of rosogollas and people with tongues that never cease to wag about the rosogollas, mishti doi.

(5) Bihari – slang for Bihari (Native: Bihar- !&%# ?)

(6) Pani Puri, (7) Elaneer – a.k.a Golgappa, Puchka and Narial Paani, Tender Coconut Water (really great edible stuff to eat and end up with ‘Delhi Belly’ (not to be confused with ‘Delhi Belle’) and drink(certainly not a proven pesticide that dissolves teeth in ten days and/or gives one embarrassing burps or belchs after dissolving teeth in ten days); one of my favourite pastimes)

(8) Dal Muri – a really Bengali stuff to eat. Made with petrol (or castor oil or castrol super TT), puffed rice (pori), onions, groundnuts; ingenious Bengali invention to keep insects, people and bad fish breath away.

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