Guest post by Nitya Prakash Mohanty
Crackle. Crackle. Popcorn? Hunger clouds my thoughts. I flash my torch at the slippery rocks below to compensate for the yet to rise the moon. Hundreds of molluscs scatter on my approach. The surrounding sea and the distant calls of spotted deer remind me that I am far away from home and certainly away from popcorn. The lights of a ship blink in the distance as I turn a corner to the smell of fresh fried fish. Camp sweet camp. I put down a red floater I had found washed onto the beach, the other one in the pair missing, and proceed to my tent. By the time the camp light is turned off, it would have been the time for people in cities to switch on their television after a day’s work. Here, on the uninhabited islands of Andaman in the Bay of Bengal, things are a bit different.
Islands are known for the oddities of life forms they display and to me, the oddities of humans they beckon. The appeal of islands does not end at the isolation that they offer, but the simplicity of life that comes with it. People who choose the island life come in for a shock every time they set foot on the distant mainland, where life bustles along at 20 rupees for water and with a food chain as a symbol of development. These disenchanted souls find some perspective in the Islands, where footwear is not bought but found washed ashore, where the All India Radio replaces the 100 TV channels package and where the tides are as important as electricity. While the rest of the world tries to drown out the rest of the world with its headphones and blinkers, here, camping on an island, it is all about listening and observing.
Camping in an uninhabited island like Cinque can be quite uneventful sometimes. Strangely, this does not bother anyone. Uneventful nights are filled with arguments on the make of the ship on the horizon and uneventful days are made enjoyable by an intensive search for usable items washed ashore. On one such search, my quest for the missing red floater of the pair I found earlier proves futile but my companions find a fish net on the beach. I can see the satisfaction on their faces. Well aware of their inclination towards fishing, I expect at least a few species on my plate for dinner. Things take an unpredictable turn as we reach the camp and the net is cut in half. Before I have the time to lodge my displeasure at this barbaric infliction on the nylon made provider of food, it is transformed into a pair of something better. Hammocks! Forgetting the safety of the tent for the night, I make myself comfortable on a hammock, with a thermocol for a pillow. The night sky becomes increasingly darker as the wind rocks me to sleep.
I wake up to a gradually increasing noise in my ears. I look around and then look up. A Coast Guard chopper is above us, doing a headcount. Non-threats they decide, having judged from the way we have set up camp out in the open and our non-fishermen and non-tourists appearances. Routine stuff. The sun is quite high up in the sky for six in the morning, shining bright on us, ten longitudes away from and forty to forty-five minutes earlier than the mainland. We proceed to the forest to sample for lizards, carrying the last of our fresh water in two bottles, intent on making it back on time for the boat which is supposed to pick us up. By the time we are back, the boat has docked. We quickly pack up our tents, bring down the hammocks, make sure there is no plastic left behind and are ready to leave. The tide is coming in, the radio plays its morning program and we finish loading the boat. The captain is about to start the noisy engine when one of my companions, who had gone to fetch the anchor from the beach, runs towards us shouting. He looks as if he has found some long-lost gem, maybe buried in the sand by the invading Japanese army during the World War II. He makes it to the boat before his lungs give up and say, “Here. Weren’t you looking for this?” A pair of red floaters dances in front of my eyes. It’s a perfect match.