Friday, March 8, 2013

Island Worship?

At Ross Island,  we wandered past derelict and abandoned rooms and buildings, whose brickwork was now superimposed by large tree roots and stems  that had now  taken over. It was awe-inspiring, especially because  the wind roared and the sea splashed all around the tiny island, and every space that men had tried to claim for themselves seemed to have been taken back, bit by bit, but firmly by nature. There were peacocks and deer on the island whom we met in the course of our rambling walk all over the island. There were beautiful views of the sea from various vantage points, old japanese bunkers, a lily overgrown pond and a cemetery.

 We came upon the entrance to an old Presbytarian church whose plinths had been brought in from Europe to provide a sturdy exterior.The church was now  in disuse and testimonial to an older time when men who had travelled afar from home needed sustenance from a faith that they brought along  to the Indian shores. So many highlanders must have felt thankful for the prayer and strength this building had once provided. Strength that had perhaps provided them with hazy outlines of codes and governance. This particular   presbyterain chapel is  in ruins and  has been around for a long enough time.....but in mainland Port Blair there are other churches, and temples, where worship and prayer are a daily occurrence.

In the heart of Aberdeen Market, back on the mainland  an intriguing sign announces the   Police  Gurudwara.  Next to it is another sign saying Police   Temple.  Ram Biswas whose father is from Bengal and whose mother is from Andaman tells us that there is a Masjid too  and drives us  to another lane parallel to the market road, where we get to view three well maintained structures, a gurudwara, a temple and a mosque, amicably situated next to each other. The gurudwara and the mosque are shining white while the upper structure of the temple is a  brightly painted mosaic of colours.  Has  co-existence  been given concrete impetus by the  State  Police? Possibly a good thing to do, in the peacetime in  quiet and tranquil Andaman since faith continues to move boulders by inches  despite all of Marx's announcements to the contrary.

Island Notes


The Andaman Islands provide breathtaking sea-views, and are home to fascinating flora and

Coconuts and palms abound. Along beaches where there are residual mangroves, enormous tree
trunks taper triangularly to great heights. The picture above is of one such tree which grows on
Mundapahad beach.There are several trees on Mundapahad and all along the drive to Chiditop
which have the outline of stretched out icsoceles triangles. This is some evolution skill that the
trees seem to have carried forward from their mangrove pasts. Even the triangulating trunks
communicate a sense of swirling woods.
The picture below is of giant tree long uprooted by a storm that lies on the Mundapahad beach.

There are fascinating creatures on sea and on land . We stayed at a resort called Megapode
Nest. "Megapode" apparently means large feet in greek and is a fowl sized bird that inhabits the
Nicobar islands. Allowing its egg to incubate in the heat of rotting vegetation and earth , the adult
megapode lets the young chick fend for itself from the moment of birth. The craftsmen at Chatam
Mill had fashioned wooden models of the megapode and its chick, which was the only three
dimensional view that was afforded at Port Blair.

Andaman's chosen animal is the Dugong , otherwise known as sea cow. This is a large aquatic
mammal that is apparently herbivorous. Its bulk and eating habits probably contribute to its popular
We also saw a specimen of the coconut crab at the aquarium, the size of a large crouching cat.
Apparently,the coconut crab, the largest among crabs, lives on land and climbs coconut trees to
extricate the fruit, rip apart the fibrous shell, make a hole to drink coconut water and eat the flesh.
It is also called the robber crab and is among the lesser known of the crab species.

Susan Visvanathan December 31, 2012 at 4:31 AM
Great pictures, Ratna, glad the colours were so amazing, given the drabness of Delhi fog, when
sun gives us a sudden halo of surreal light
srivatsa December 31, 2012 at 5:14 AM
Ritu January 1, 2013 at 3:53 AM
Reallylovely pictures and veryinteresting trivia. :

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Burmeen Pakoras

What do vegetarians do when they visit places where  people  draw a great deal  of their sustenance from the sea? This is not really much of a dilemma when there is an abundance of vegetables and fruit, even though sea food is referred to rather appropriately, as fruit from the sea. Goa allowed us to experiment with abundant  fresh pineapple, breadfruit and delicious perada , a hardened version of guava jelly cut into barfi like pieces.

At Port Blair, we discovered Burmeen pakodas. The name seemed intriguing  and as it was listed under vegetarian snacks, we ordered a plate at the Megapode Nest while we  nursed chilled beers and stared into the turquoise and teal  blue waters. Burmeen pakoras turned out to be julien cut vegetables such as carrot, potato and cauliflower, which were dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried with a smatering of fennel seed or saunf for that distinctive flavour. It  established a  connect with the geography and the history,  because Burma itself is not very far away from Port Blair, hence Burmeen pakoras,  must have evolved from  older and  linked food cultures that wafted along  the coasts.?

There is something about  salt  water and air that sets up a yearning for pakoras, so the following day after a long bout in the water, while we idled at North Bay island and waited for our boat to come back for us, we were struck by pakora-lust yet again. We wandered into a small  enclosure with several stalls selling odds and ends  and  stopped to order tea at a make shift  tea stall. It was late afternoon, so seeing a huge mound of still warm pakodas, we  ordered some. Jasmine, who wo-manned   the stall  plied us with a  newspaper cone full and plenty of  hot sweet tea to wash down the pakoras with.
Soaking up the warm tropical December sun, our bellies full of pakoras and tea, we chatted with her. She was from Kerala and  kept a stall at North Bay during the tourist season. Her husband worked  on North Bay itself, so she could add a little money  to the household by selling tea, biscuits, chips, and cool drinks.
The weather is very nice, Jasmine confided, but vegetables are very costly. Most of it seemed to come from the mainland, from Calcutta. Only  green and yellow tender coconuts, small  local mangoes and spice grew in abundance. On our third day as well we stopped for tea, this time near  Chiditop and partook of  giant green batter dipped  chillies and smaller vegetable pakoras.

We met a lot of people in Port Blair from Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala whose  migrant parents had put down roots on the islands.  There were plenty of shops run by moms at walking distance from the Megapode where several salt and sweet snacks and groceries and provisions were being sold. The Megapode Nest  itself served a selection of meals that  spoke of links  between the north and the south of India, with the occasional gobhi manchurian disguised as fritters. Breakfast comprised  iddlis , chutney, sambaar and oothaapam, and bread, jam,  tiny bananas and eggs. Lentils brown or  yellow, chappatis, rice, and vegetables were around for lunch and dinner., along with a selection of mutton, chicken or fish. Dessert was custard,  gulab jamuns, rasgollas in condensed milk and delicious sevaian and rice kheers.

Also memorable were the kulfis that were sold by solo entrepreneurs at tourist spots all over the islands. These were delicious milk lollies, taken out from the deep recesses of a large earthenware jar. When you ordered one, a  stick was inserted into the tiny plastic container in which the lolly was frozen.  Effortlessly extricated from its mould and   handed over,it  filled the mouth with the  cool, sweet,  cardamom- flavoured secrets of milk and memories of an older time.

The most seamless assimilation of the old and the new, which one member of the scuba diving team  brought to my attention was the logo of (AFC)Andaman Fried Chicken, which occupies pride of place  in Port Blair. A grinning chicken dominates the logo in red and white atop imposing glass exteriors. The chicken, remarked the young man, was rather upbeat about its place in the food consumption chain, unlike its melancholy cousin from the KFC chain.