The Times Of India, Mumbai:
Tuesday, December 26, 2006.
How the bow-shaped islands were bent out of shape
by Nina Martyris
It was like a terrorist attack by nature. Stealthy and shattering; a serving of notice in the most brutal way possible. On December 26, 2004, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal were transformed from a land of lotus eaters to a human tragedy whose wages we are still trying to make sense of two years later.
Among those devastated by what the tsunami had done was Surgeon Commander Tilak Ranjan Bera, a naval eye doctor who spent a year stationed at Port Blair and fell head and heels in love with the emeral isles, strewn with coral and an innocence that few other honeymoon destinations have.
Bera, who subsequently returned repeatedly to conduct medical camps on the inhabited islands – the Andamans have 550 islands, 24 of which are inhabited – Nicobar consists of 22 islands, 12 of them inhabited. – constantly took pictures of the geographical and human features of the island. Because of this passion, he has in his personal collection a priceless set of photographs of the pre-tsunami state of the islands, which, when juxtaposed with the post-tsunami photographs, reveal the gigantic changes wrought in the topography of the region by the killer wave.
Bera has compiled his years of reserch, interviews and photographs into a large-format book, “Andaman & Nicobar Islands; The Mysterious Bay Islands of India, Pre- and Post-Tsunami“. In the foreward, Ram Kapse, the Lt. Governor of the Islands, writes, “Containing many rare pre-tsunami photographs of the Nicobar islands, this book is certainly going to be an important pictorial document of the rich natural beauty of the islands.”
|Jolly Bouy Island:|
Two of the most startling juxtapositions are Jolly Bouy Islands and Grub Island. As can be seen from the pictures, Jolly Bouy island has been tilted to the south, and a new sandy beach has emerged at its north-east corner.
Even more dramatic is the case of Grub Island. Although the island itself has remained intact, the spectacular sandy ring of beach around the it has been completely lost with only a little strip of beach visible in one corner.
Bera is an old Andaman and Nicobar hand. He has already written five books on the island, including “Andamans: The Emerald Necklace of India“, which is in its sixth edition. “The anthropology of these islands is unique,” he says, “and you have to study them in great detail in order to understand them. I had to consult oceanographers, geologists and anthropologists to write this book. I struggled a lot to understand the complexity of the place. Since many of these islands are under protection of the Anthropological Survey of India, you can’t take photographs or pass through without permission. I visited with tribal welfare volunteers who were familiar with the area and the people. I found that the inhabitants are much more healthy than the rest of us. Most don’t know their age. They look so young and so fit. One or two tribes though are suffering from tuberculosis and have fertility problems”.
Bera’s earlier book, written in Bengali, Nicobarer Dwepe Nancowri Ranir Deshe, is perhaps the only book on Nicobar. “While I was in Port Blair, I heard that a Queen ruled on Nancowri Islands for fifty years, right upto 1989, and that Indira Gandhi visited her despite the complicated logistics involved. My Nicobar book talks about the queen,” he says.
His new book is a collage of many aspects of the Islands, both human and natural. These are pictures of the heritage structures of Port Blair from the Cellular Jail to the clock tower built by the British to the old colonial bungalows; there is Viper Jail, where Sher Ali, the assassin of Lord Mayo was hanged; notes on wooden fetishes erected by the tribals to keep bad spirits away; and chapters on the people themselves, the hunter-gatherers and the bee collectors, a charming story of how the Jarawas tribe, hostile to the other groups, was brought around, and a myth busting one on the negrito tribes, who are not cannibals as claimed. They killed intruders out of fear, not for feast.
“I am appealing to the international community that if they have seen any such thing before and managed to prevent an island from being eroded, they should step forward“. – Tilak
The author’s love for his subjects shines through. The book is a way for Bera to reach out to the international community and remind them that these bow-shaped islands still need attention.
“I am appealing to the international community that if they have seen any such thing before and managed to prevent an island from being eroded, they should step forward. Indira Point is being eroded everyday”, he says. “Can we put up a stone wall, should we build jetties, or plant mangroves? We need scientific inputs and I hope the book gets that kind of response”.