Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ross Island : A slice of incredible India

If one were looking for an authentic location for a “horror film” with a period touch to it, they should try out Ross Island in the Andamans. Just a short boat ride away from Port Blair, the place reeks of history and the ruins – of very recent vintage are so kept that they provide an “atmosphere” to the small island and it is quite possible to realistically imagine what life might have been like two handed years ago on the island. 81also to imagine the manner in which with efficiency and vigor, the British colonizers of the time were able to provide for every imaginable comfort of the time in that fairly small sized island.

In fact, although the Andamans are best known for the famous cellular jail in Port Blair where celebrities like Veer Savarkar and many others were imprisoned, the Cellular Jail was only completed in 1906. In 1857, when the Bitish needed to quickly exile the perpetuators of what they called the Sepoy Mutiny, it was to Ross Island that they turned to for setting up the penal settlement where convicts were kept till the cellular jail was completed. In fact the Andaman government functioned out of Ross Island till the Japanese occupied them in 1941 and the National Tricolor under the auspices of the INA’s Azad Hind government was hoisted here in 1943 by Netaji, when he stayed here as a guest of the Japanese commander of the islands.

Today’s visitor of course is greeted by a bunch of ruins but what will immediately strike is the organized manner in which the British administration ran the islands and how self contained it was; and true to character; preserved the class distinctions of the time; a club for the White who is who, a subordinate’s club for the other Whites, and of course a native’s club for those served the white masters – each with their mess, tennis courts, billiards table and all other amenities.

Considering that the ruins are just about iffy years or so old and that the island was a bustling township till the Japanese left, the buildings – a run down church, a cemetery, abandoned offices and buildings (– all the staple ingredients of a Bollywood horror film of the Ramsay Brothers genre are present on Ross!), the buildings look a bit gaunt and haunted. Of course, nature and the saline water and the all pervasive nature of the forests have all played their part – looking at the density of the forests in the Andamans, one would never think that afforestation is even an issue.

Ross Island of course is only one out of the many treasures of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, a place most people may never visit; simply because it is too far from our radars. The government too has not entirely encouraged tourism; with sensitivities around defence installations the indigenous people – the Jarwas and others, and the gritty determination to preserve the last of the truly virginal forests that India has. Infrastructure outside Port Blair and a couple of other centers tends to be patchy and a lot of the travel has to be done by ferries and country boats as most of the islands are not connected among themselves by bridges. But that rustic and rugged terrain only adds to the charm of a place that a large number of us will only read about occasionally in the newspapers and may be in our history books.

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