Times they are a changin’
Well, wise men have said that those who don’t accept changes are fools. But, when I look at my city, Port Blair or my Islands, Andaman and Nicobar and how it has changed over past years, I get increasingly worried. Until recently, the Islands were more or less hidden from the outside world. This isolation, acting like a catalyst, over the years, has strengthened the bond among the people.
Visiting mainland and talking to strangers in railway compartments, ships or airports, about our Islands and local values were such a great experience. We never had to make up any story, only the truth about these Islands. But slowly know I fear that in coming days Andaman won’t have anything exclusive to tell others as slowly we too are becoming ultra modern, ultra fast and far from values that are close to our heart.
‘Do you need a passport to visit Andamans?’
This is the most common question an Islander has to answer when he/she visits mainland India. And its a surprise to them when they learn that “no, you don’t require a passport to visit Andamans, and it is very much a part of India.”
Well. besides that, people in general have a strange ideas about the Islands and because of this I would carry a picture of a Nicobari Hut in my laptop and show that picture to people and say, “Yes Andaman is very remote, deep jungle full with tribes, we live in tree houses.” The recations i get are great too. Theses days, people, more or less know about Andaman, than what they would know about 10 years back. And yes, there is a sharp decline in silly questions about Andamans.
The funeral march
If you ever happen to see how dead bodies are carried in Andaman, you will surely understand how much people over here, value and care for others. Large funeral processions are held here with a large number of people that culminates at the cremation ground or the graveyard. That’s not all. On roads, vehicles stop and kill the engine till the procession crosses them.
This is because Andaman is a close society and there are always some known faces in the final procession. But being an Islander when we see in news channel that people have to carry dead body of relatives on their shoulders in other states and also when we visit mainland and see how dead bodies are carried in cycle rickshaws by only one person, I often fear that soon or later with influx and entry of large number of outsiders, Andaman will also become insensitive. Of course the signs are clearly visible.
A call for unity
The culture in Andaman doesn’t have a specific name. We call it mixed culture but the sad part is, as there is no specific name or specific rituals, there are possibilities that some beautiful values found only in Andaman will soon go missing.
With ever increasing hate messages in Whatsapp and Facebook Groups about politics and religions, if we Islanders are not careful and united, this local society may lose even this mixed culture forever.This is time to first understand and value our own so-called mixed culture and rise to preserve it. Afterall there is no other religion bigger than brotherhood and humanity.
Sanjib Kumar Roy
The author is the correspondent of the New Indian Express in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.