Book reading sessions are often led by the authors, who read parts that he or she is close to, from the book. Then there is an applause.
But this session which took place on Saturday evening, at the American Corner, St Francis College for Women, Begumpet was slightly different.
It was more engaging and interactive, where the author, Pankaj Sekhsaria of ‘The Last Wave, An Island Novel’ while reading, also shared his experiences.
Pankaj, who spent more than two decades working as a researcher and campaigner in the Andamans did so through the experiences of a colourful cast of characters – Harish, whose lost love pushed him to find a direction in life and hence heads to the Andamans, Seema, a local born, Uncle Pame, a ‘Karen’ (an ethnic group in the Andamans) boatman whose father came to the islands from Burma in 1920’s and the indigenous Jarawa community.
While the Andaman Islands are home to four major tribal groups, Pankaj picked the Jarawas to play a central role in his novel. This is because they have been at the heart of a controversy.
“In 2002, there was a Supreme Court order to close the Andaman Trunk Road as there are a lot of historical and contemporary evidences of its negative effects on the island’s ecology and people. There was a lot of protest from the people who were using it,” informs Pankaj who was one among the campaigners that fought for its closure.
There is also a tectonic shift in the behaviour of the community who were in voluntary isolation until recently. Apart from this they are amongst the most vulnerable. “They would kill those who entered the forest with bows and arrows but off late they started coming out of the forest unarmed for reasons we know nothing about,” says the author.
While ‘The Last Wave’ is Pankaj’s first novel in the fiction, it’s not his first attempt at writing. He has written extensively on the Andaman Islands in numerous publications and has also penned two non fiction books. The shift to fiction he says, was to tell the story of the islands through a good story line rather than mere facts and numbers.
It also had to do with the frustration he felt as a campaigner after the Supreme Court’s orders for the trunk road’s closure were ignored.
Pankaj’s sensitive understanding of the region and the history of its indigenous people and settlers promises to offer many insights. One can say that the book seeks to highlight the challenges faced by tribal communities and sensitive ecosystems.
Besides, there have not been many stories told about this place which is so fantastically rich in so many ways. “Element of hard-work and discipline is what that is required”, says the author to upcoming writers as he feels, the more one writes the more it gets polished.