CHENNAI: It was not serendipity, for Pankaj Sekhsaria’s 20-year-old association with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands culminated into his latest book The Last Wave — An Island Novel. Veering through the tumultuous past of the union territory, The Last Wave… presents a comprehensive picture of the culture and history interspersed with fiction.
Launched in mid-May, the tome is a tale of two lovers, in the backdrop of the turmoil involving survival, culture and a community that is hinged on time and history.
“When you talk about the Andamans, it is usually regarding the cellular prison or tourism. I realised if I had to write something more encompassing, it had to be in the fiction genre,” he says.
Hyderabad-based Pankaj’s tryst with the island began when he was visiting a friend. However, it led him to explore the place time and again, as he began following issues concerning the tribes that inhabited the island, and environmental causes. Working closely with an NGO called Kalpavriksh, Pankaj became involved in research, networking advocacy and legal intervention.
He adds that despite writing extensively about the issues, he felt there was something larger to be unravelled through an alternative genre. “I had penned two non-fiction books based on the islands: Troubled Islands (2003, a collection of his journalist writings) and The Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier: Cultural and biological diversity in the Andaman Islands (as joint editor). There had to be another tale about the island and on the island,” he says.
The 2004 tsunami and writer Amitav Ghosh’s Hungry Tide put things into perspective. “They opened a window in my mind and I began writing The Last Wave” he explains.
The book is a mix of many tales, including smaller stories of the people who migrated to it almost a century ago —like the Burmese settlers who were brought in by the British and the tribe from Chota Nagpur who went on to make the place their home.
“The island has a very disturbing history. Many tribes have made the land their home over the years and have ended up getting into conflict with the indigenous groups like the Jarawas who have inhabited the place for several centuries now. Some tribes have been wiped out completely, while a few have been reduced to just around 30 people,” he tells us.
Published by Harper Collins India, the book is priced at `350.