08 June 2014

The Last Wave by Pankaj Sekhsaria

Island Purgatory

The Last Wave is set in one of the most beautiful, pristine places on this earth. Its primary characters are a young man and woman – a gentle, sincere, capable pair. We travel with them through the Andamans, experience its complex environment, its many distinct and exotic communities, learn about its fascinating history, and observe life, administration, ‘development’ and tourism on the islands.
The Last Wave is not a romantic novel only because it has a young hero and heroine who encounter each other in this honeymoon paradise. It is also the romance of its author with a place he loves and has worked for decades to protect, and for whose survival he fears. The novel was launched in Pune yesterday and I felt honoured when Pankaj Sekhsaria invited me to be ‘in conversation’ with him at the event.
I had met Pankaj years ago, I think it was 1996 or 97, to profile him for a glossy magazine called Marwar, a short meeting with a lasting impact. What I learnt from Pankaj about the Andamans in our hour together all those years ago stayed with me, and I passed on the message to whomever I could, whenever I could. The message was basically the manner in which the indigenous peoples of the Andamans were being colonized by the government and and the people of India, and robbed of their culture and dignity. As a people ourselves recently freed from colonial yoke and all too conscious of the loss of our own precious heritage, making do as we are with our veneer of superimposed non-native culture, many like me have felt sad, and helpless to repair the damage that has been done or even prevent the continuing damage.
Reading Pankaj’s book and marvelling at the many situations which he worked in to show different aspects of the islands, I wondered whether he had written it as a means to reach out to more people to share the Andamans tragedy, and some of the questions I asked him at the launch were aimed at finding out whether this was so. What I understood from Pankaj's replies was that his novel was a purely creative enterprise; an attempt to put all that he knew about the Andamans into a fictional setting, and not particularly aimed at creating awareness or social change. However, while I did find it an engrossing story, the biggest value I got from it was the enormous amount of information it has. I also feel that this is an extremely important book for the way in which it entertains readers while giving us insights into different ways of living, and showing us the delight and wealth of being sensitive to and promoting cultures radically different from our own.