The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 30, 2002

Coral reefs, multi-coloured fish & Andamanese people
Kuldip Kalia

Andamans: the Emerald Necklace of India
by Tilak Ranjan Bera. UBS Publishers, New Delhi.
Pages .xiv + 117. Rs 200.

Andamans: the Emerald Necklace of IndiaSOME incidents become a part of the history and are often quoted as illustrations for salutary impact. One such event occurred in 1949. The then Chief Commissioner, Mr. A.K. Ghosh toured the Kondul Island of Nicobar group, the headman of an area hoisted the British flag in his honour without knowing that India had got its freedom in 1947.

There is hardly any need for re-establishing the fact that Andaman group if islands is in the real sense the 'emerald necklace' of India. However, the archipelago of 572 islands in blue sea of the Bay of Bengal add spectacular and mysterious beauty to the region.

Historically speaking, this island did find a mention in Hindu mythology. The Greek geographer and astronomer, Claudius Ptolemaeus termed it "island of good fortune", whereas the Chinese traveller I-Tsing, referred to it as the country of 'naked people'. Lieutenant Archibald Blair selected it for establishing a harbour but finally the place became a penal settlement.


The most historic structure (now a national monument) is the Cellular Jail. It had 696 enclosed cells for solitary confinement for convicts (mutineers, deserters, rebels, as also hardened criminals) from all over the country who were sent to Andaman as punishment. No women political prisoner was ever deported to this island. Convicts of Chittagong Armour Case, Maniktala Bomb Case, Nasik Conspiracy, Rumpa Revolt of Godavari need special mention.

It was the Lyall Lethbridge committee which suggested effective changes for the penal settlement. It is interesting to note that most of convicts preferred permanent settlement after completing their term. Convicts from different castes, region, religion, language got married and formed the so-called unique society.

During the Japanese period of occupation (March 1942 to October1945) there were many instances of ruthless executions: Zulfiquar Ali (Sunny), a young boy of 20 was done to death for a pretty offence. Major A. G. Bird, secretary to the British Chief Commissioner was beheaded in the public on a false charge of espionage. Convicts were tortured by applying burning candles on delicate parts and even salt was sprinkled over raw wounds.

Shahid Dweep and Swaraj Dweep were the new names given to Andamans and Nicobars by Netaji Subhash when he visited Andaman Island in 1943. A most horrific incident occurred in the midnight of August 4,1945 when more than 700 people were thrown into the sea—the reason for such an act was said to be the food shortage.

Jarawas, Great Andamanese, Sentinelese Onges are four Negtrito bribes of Andamans. They are certainly different from the Negroes of Africa. One should not be shocked at finding naked Negrito aborigines roaming freely amidst well dressed population. Jarawas are considered to be the oldest existing tribes of human race. They are said to be cannibal. Great Andamanese occupy coastal region but Jarawas are yet to give up their tratditional ways in integrate with "civilisation" though no doubt they are less hostile now.

A vast repository of flora and fauna makes the islands most fascinating, unique, wonderful, and sometime mysterious. Many animals, birds and plants are endemic to Andamans. More than 500 species of ornamental fishes and 200 varieties of corals add colour to the marine life of the islands. Besides, there is a variety of turtles, salt water crocodiles, whales in the sea life.

There are many interesting legends about the origin of the Nicobarese, the popular one being that a pregnant women from Burma came to the islands and gave a birth to baby boy. Later, she married him and produced the Nicobarese people.

The coral reefs and multi-coloured fishes have their own world in the Jolly Buoy and Redskin islands and you can hire a snorkel, a tube that you can breathe air through when you are swimming under the surface of the water, to observe the underwater life. Perhaps most of us are not aware the shape of car Nicobar Island is like a "pearl droplet with pointed tip at one end". Surgeon Commander Ranjan really deserves a word of appreciation for his beautiful word picture of the stunning islands.