Friday, August 06, 2010

The intrigue of the islands

A mysterious and fascinating set of islands lie in the Bay of Bengal, ready to give your most adventurous imagination wings…

The British came here and so did the Japanese, but the mystery of the group of islands that is Andaman and Nicobar islands was never quite unravelled. Even after years of studies and observations, practically little is known of the origin and the people of these islands and this sense of intrigue and the feeling of a mysterious air about the place will overwhelm you if you happen to land on these islands – any of the 572 of them cradled perilously in the Bay of Bengal.

There is a sense of the primordial among the flora, fauna and the indigenous people of the islands – the most fascinating bit about exploring the Andamans. Always inhabited by aboriginal tribes, many of whom still live the lives of hunters and gatherers, the inaccessibility of the islands had made them an object of fascination. The existence of the islands had been known for centuries (they find reference in early historical writings of Roman geographer Ptolemy) but the first attempt at an outside settlement on the islands was by the British in 1789. They had to abandon it seven years later because of the inhospitable locals and the immense logistical challenge of connectivity to the mainland.

Oddly, they returned in 1858, this time establishing a penal settlement – the dreaded and the feared ‘Kaala Paani’ or the Cellular Jail. The jail held mutineers from the First War of Indian Independence, even some criminal tribes and refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan apart from other freedom fighters later on. My visit to the jail was a unique experience because a first-hand experience of the conditions there is enough to make your hair stand on its end. You can go around the courtyard, see the cells and the gallows and also look over the horizon from atop the wings. One bit of trivia I got to know was that the sight of the lighthouse and the island imprinted on our twenty Rupee notes is a view from the top of the wing facing the sea. The prison initially had seven wings, with the watch tower at the centre. Today, only three remain (the rest had been destroyed by the Japanese during World War II), and it has been branded a national monument. The Japanese briefly controlled the islands from 1942-1945, a period in which though innocent blood was shed, there was development of the basic amenities, especially in Port Blair.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2010.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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