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Not so dark and bitter

Two years after the tsunami, the islanders of Camorta grieve for their lost families amid a rehab process, writes Subhash Misra.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 00:10 IST

Moses lost 14 members of his family to the tsunami of December 26, 2004. He has one regret. Had they stayed at home in Camorta, they may still have been alive. In December 2004, a few days before Christmas, his tuhet — extended family — went to the nearby Trinket Island to chop wood to make a Cross. Moses remained in Camorta to attend some work. The Cross was taking too long in the making and it was unlikely that it would be completed before Christmas.

Two members returned to Camorta to assure Moses that the Cross was shaping well and they should be allowed to stay put till it was completed. The others remained to finish the job, working through Christmas. But by the time the Cross was ready, it was too late to return. The next day, early morning, the waves came with a vengeance breaking the island of Trinket into three parts and annihilating all that came in their way, including Moses’ family.

Two years to that time, Moses sits in the tin shed that is now his home and looks out into space, wishing for the return of his family with the Big Cross. Where the Cross would have been placed, stands instead a memorial for those who perished in the tsunami.

Camorta Chocolate Cooperative

The view from the Circuit House in Camorta is one of uncommon beauty. From the sit-out, one can see the bay, the long stretch broken only by small ships berthed along the jetty. The road that meanders to meet the jetty is also visible from the Circuit House. Together — the road, the boats, the jetty and the bay — form a warm and serene picture. The urge to go up to the jetty cannot be ignored by anyone. With my local contact, I decide to go up to the jetty. The road comfortably takes me up to the sea, where some small ships are gently bobbing on the waves. Some boats loll around, resting after a hard day’s work. As it begins to darken, I decide to return. But on the return journey, the fork of the road has brought me to the local market. Here, small shops sell items of daily need. On the right side of the road is a slightly bigger shop but also of indescribable facade. The dusty shop-signage indicates that it is a ‘cooperative’ — I am, fleetingly, taken back to the Socialist era.

My guide enters the shop. I tag along. No sooner than I enter the shop, a packet of Ferrero Roche greets me. It took me a while, then, to realise that I was still in Camorta, an island inhabited largely by Nicobari tribals and several hundred kilometres from Port Blair, which is more than 1,000 km in the sea from mainland India. The chocolates were right at the shop’s entry, not only unthinkable but also, one would assume, meaningless for most of the islanders.

However, that was not a stray symbol of luxury; there were a score of chocolate brands not available readily even in the larger cities of liberalised India. The chocolates endeared, as if to whet one’s shopping appetite. The rear of the shop was full of branded white goods — washing-machines, televisions and, did I notice, a dryer or two? Is this real or was I dreaming?

Who are the people who buy this stuff? I’m told by the shopkeeper that his shop only had fast-moving items though it may look a little cluttered.

Next time I need something that I did not get in Port Blair, I knew where to go — not to Chennai but to Camorta Co-op.

The tsunami seems to have compensated people in some ways. A loss of life and tradition has given way to money and material supported by the government’s compensation and NGOs’ thoughtless freebies.

Nesting for sex

“You have not heard of the habba bill?” he asked, amazed. It’s a bird. “Actually, the bird is nothing much except that it is always in a maniacal urgency, flying fast and low. I intend to tame a few. It is their nests that matter — edible — a delicacy’. Then he conspiringly whispered, “it’s medicinal, you know” adding, even more softly, “it is good for sex”. When someone eats the nest soup, ‘sex happens’ — “happens on its own even if you don’t do anything”. I tried to isolate the wink but he was serious. It was difficult to figure out whether sex energised him more or the prospect of making money. I guess, when ‘sex happens’, money is made. Why attempt to try and resolve the happening life after the 2004 tsunami?

Subhash Misra is Programme Coordinator, Unicef, Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 00:10 IST