“…The fate of the Jarawa, as far as he could see, had been sealed and he wondered if there was anything he could do about it. All he had learnt of the Jarawa was only from the fringes of their lives, society and land- from the people occupying these fringes and the changing landscape around their forests. This fringe was now threatening to overwhelm the core, the original people were on their way to become the had-beens…”
Who are Jarawas? Primitive humans in the islands of Andaman, who are yet to be civilized! They are barbarians and savages who roam around naked in the forest, attacking other civil and courteous citizens of modern republic state called India. The tribal welfare department has been set up to mainstream their lifestyle, so that they can become like us.
Strange narrative it is!
Many of us are not even aware of their existence and here we are talking about mainstreaming them. A random article in a magazine, few readings on Wikipedia and visit of a friend from Andaman informed me about their existence, that’s it, the curiosity ended there.
There is more to the story of Jarawas and Andaman islands. Both Jarawas and the ecosystems of the given islands are at the verge of annihilation, extinction. The original people have nowhere to go other than their forests. There is a feeling of helplessness amongst those who want to preserve both.
The idea of civilizing mankind, the desire to visit exotic places, corruption and expansion of settlements for increasing human population has pushed everything else towards margins. “The Last Wave- an island novel” by Pankaj Sekhsaria is representation of the same hopelessness. A reminder for us to wake up!
The narrative is less of a story and more of a travelogue. One reads about sunset, ancient creature laying eggs on the beach, earthquake which transformed the geography of islands, and conflicts.
“…This was a majestic animal, the undisputed monarch of mangrove creeks, which had survived everything that evolution had thrown at it. A crocodile gliding smoothly, stealthily through inter-tidal waters was the tiger softly, silently stalking deer on a leaf littered forest floor, was the majestic griffon soaring unbounded in the blue heavens…”
Let me make a confession here- crocodile never made me feel that way. It’s probably our conditioning that makes us fearful of snakes, crocodiles and even dogs. I’m not recommending petting them. But do we actually need to be terrorized. Can we not just marvel at their beauty and survival skills?
Yes, very well we can do that. It may also help us to ensure their protection.
Protagonist of the novel Harish after a turbulent phase of his personal life, struggling through existential questions decides to embark on a journey. His wanderlust made him an active observer of very rapidly changing environment of Andaman Islands. He is angry and annoyed with the violence he is seeing around. The beginning of his tussle to find answers is where the novel concludes.
Years ago, I read Amitav Ghosh’s novel “The Hungry Tide”. There are few similarities between the either of the two. Ghosh’s novel after rambling through the intensities ends at a sweet Bollywood like note, whereas Sekhsaria doesn’t given a formal closure to his piece. It stays with you like an unfinished story; it leaves you with more questions and then answers. Will the fate of Jarawas be similar to other aboriginals, either wiped out altogether or forced to be civilized on the lines of modern human being? The jury is yet to clear the air and there are no alternate options visible other than those two.
“…The world he belongs to did not want to annihilate the Jarawas, but it did not seem to know better. That was the tragedy….”
In the times, when the mankind is devastating the natural worlds, destroying the ages old equilibrium of ecosystems, the novel is a must read.