When i first saw her it was her armlet that first grabbed my attention. Something about her face and her neat demeanor and her long hair combed backwards and styled elegantly into a long plait that reached up to her waist, her pink sleeveless shirt and black trousers that looked stylish but simple came next. She looked like some aboriginal being who has received education and could converse in English and Hindi with the kind of a finesse that puts you at ease and also kindles a curiosity to know more about her. And then as you settle down to hear her request before she took us to the guided tour on the Ross Island, it is then at that moment when you will be amazed at the tremendous amount of confidence that she exuded...some might fidget in their seats with the kind of impatience that is typical of tourists who have limited time at their disposal...but everyone would be stilled into silence and alertness the moment she started with her introduction.
For her introductions touched all aspects starting with history...ecology...philanthropy...tsunami...ending with corruption and betrayal of the Indians and lastly a brief note about herself as the government authorised tourist guide for the Ross Island.
The heads nodded and swayed in agreement and faces frowned in regrets while her narration informed about the plunder and looting of the structures on the island by none other than the Indians themselves.
"I know the names of all those people who took out the bricks, yanked the Padauk wood, Burma teak and reduced this place to the ruins that it has become", she continued with her voice that conveyed much more than only disgust. Her delivery conveyed anger, pain, remorse, pity... and last but not the least some sense of pride and protection that one should have for the heritage that belongs to the motherland and so is meant for everybody.
" Hamare hee apnon ne isko loota aur apna ashiana banaya, yeh bhi nahi socha ke yeh desh ki milkiyat hai kisi ek ka nahin."
But before all this her opening sentence was, " Namaste ! (Salutations) Ross Island welcomes you and before anything I will be saying, I have a request to all you beautiful people who have come so far to see this place...while I take you around please do not interrupt me when I am explaining and please do not look at your watches and signal me to hurry up...for until I am done with my job I can say with experience that there is no way your ship/ ferry is going to move out leaving you stranded here with me. My name is Anuradha and i am your guide for this island tour...Thank You . " All this in a very impressive clear Hindi that sounded partly from Delhi and partly from UP (Uttar Pradesh) .
i was still eyeing her armlet which had figures of our Indian Gods and Goddesses and was both in admiration of the craft and curious about knowing as to whether it was a fashion statement by her signalling her free spirited and spiritual self or was she wearing it just as a talisman of some sort.
And before she could start, i rattled off my curiosity, '' Madam Guide will you mind if i ask you something first."
Her smile with the most polite," Jee puchheye kya janana chahti hain aap ", ( Do ask whatever you want to know) spread warmth in me and unhesitatingly i asked her about the armlet.
She asked, " Have you come alone or is there someone with you? "
i gestured towards my husband who was sitting right next to me and answered, '' He is my husband and i have come with him."
She closed her eyes for a second, opened and looked at me with a smile and answered, '' Just like you have your husband next to you, i have them next to me, for i lost my husband some years back and the last of my family 12 years ago."
She didn't say more and i couldn't ask more for i did not want to delay the tourists as we had just limited time and not the whole day for the island. Rather just 45 minutes before our ferry/ cruise that brought us to the island would depart.
She then turned to face the entire group of say about 20 or more tourists and started with the history of the island with the precise dates, names and all the happenings associated with the dates and the names.
Introductions over, she asked us to get up from our seats and follow her as she took us around the island. Yet another set of requests about not to push each other or hurry up as she would go slow and would allow us sufficient time to take snaps.
Casually getting ready to take us around she then said something in her lifting voice about the creatures on the island, the animals, the birds and most of us doubted her when she mentioned about the exact numbers.
We disbelieved her when she said she could speak to them and they understood her and would attend her calls. She mentioned that they were her babies and all of them were trained by her and till she existed she would not allow anyone to be killed for satisfying human greed.
We thought she was bragging about the deer listening to her, about the myna who would come fluttering and perch on the branch and that there were two of them who were known to her and that she knew the precise hour when they would be around, then the squirrel who although could not be spotted would materialise and will allow her along with others to feed her, also about the bulbuls who are busy making their nests...Oh yes we thought it was yet another marketing skill of an ambitious tourist guide.
But as we moved around the island along with her and as she explained the ruins and the brilliant craftsmanship of the structures, we were proved wrong of our judgement of her.
For while she explained about the iron washers and the nuts that held the structures she did call out to Rani, and the tiny squirrel arrived and stood in a receiving stance to grab the bits of all we had to offer. We had none but our enigmatic guide was prepared. The yellow sling bag that she carried was her food bag which stocked a huge fresh packet of bread and few packets of biscuits and her few meagre belongings.
'' Sonaalee !, Sonaalee ! aa jaaa baccha, Mamma ke paas aa jaa", (Sonaalee !, Sonalaee! come child come to mommy) her voice travelled and a female deer arrived followed by her stag and her calf, and slowly but steadily the rest of the herd grazing around the island arrived too. She addressed them all by their names and they looked expectantly to her with longing and adoration. i was too taken aback to register all their names and so all i can remember is of one among them called Sonaalee.
She explained about the depth to which the island has sunk...or the places that have drifted apart.
Gesticulating with the help of her hands and explaining about the island cracking into two when the fault caused one part of the island to sink low while the other remained, she explained that the portion where we were standing was once that high. She pointed towards that part of the island that looked like a hillock to help us gauge the height.
All this explanation as we passed a pond like structure and she calls out ," Kaalee ! Kaalee ! aa jaa baccha mamma aa gayee." ( Kaalee! Kaalee ! come baby momma is here.)
And what do we see, a paddling of ducks that were wading in the pond turning and moving to where she stood. And one of them who was all brown was Kaalee. While the other huddled quite close to her but stayed in the pond it was Kaalee who actually came out of the water to be very near to her and looked at her mom with longing. She then gave me a piece of bread to feed Kaalee, while she kept talking to the others and throwing them pieces of bread and biscuits. Affectionately reprimanding them and calling them terrorists.
i asked her why she called them terrorists, she explained how they terrorize her when all of them start quacking all at once demanding her attention. Sometimes their quack quack caused headaches as they would not relent and would be very possessive about her.
And with the expression that conveyed fairness she said, '' I have other kids too apart from them but these are the most demanding and very naughty.''
The 45 minutes on the island happened just too soon and i could not know more about this free spirit who had many kids, and was an integral part of the island. Not much than that her name was Anuradha. And her final words to us was, '' Thank you very much and have a memorable stay at Andamans. Before saying goodbye i would make yet another plea, and that is that please do take care of your parents if they are old and invalid. Do not turn away or dump them in some ashram. This is my humble request for if it was not for their love and unconditional love all of you would not be what you are today. You would not even be standing on this island here with me. Please please do remember to at least love them back."
As we bid our goodbyes one by one, some lingering a wee bit longer to hear more of her, i found it too difficult to go next to her and bid my goodbye.
For i wanted to be with her and know her story...
i wanted to know more of this mysterious lady who was alone but not lonely.
- who was regardless of the situation she was in and was living life to the full ;
-was living according to her own wish and beliefs unconstrained by the society's conventions...fearless ;
-who looked detached and yet so passionate about her feelings towards the Island and it's creatures who were members of her warm loving family ;
- who was finding courage even when everything was so unsure ;
- and was having no qualms about reminding us about our duties...towards our motherland and towards our own biological parents.
She knew that we needn't be told because we were educated and smart enough but even then just like that last bit from our parents and loved ones when the train starts rolling from the station, she chugged along with her goodbyes and sound words of advice.
My passage to yet another island on the cruise was spent in silence with her thoughts and the movie Australia. Also about the writings of Paul Coelho.
The aborigines in Australia have a belief as shown in the movie 'Australia' that they can sing someone to them. Through their chants and songs they are able to sense, reach out and even make things happen. Like the video clip in the beginning of my post showing Nulla that aboriginal boy stopping the flock of cattle, ' Them fat cheeky bulls' (as he called them) from running him over the cliff, through his singing. His grandfather watching from a nearby cliff and chanting his own to stop the bulls.
Then i had thoughts of free spirited female characters in Paul Coelho novels, who are born somewhere, raised elsewhere and lived their lives unfettered by any attachments navigating some land where destiny might have placed them.
Somehow what i read about the female archetypes in one of his book came rushing in.
Normally a woman can be identified with one of the four classic archetypes:
- The Virgin...not about the sexual virgin but one who through her independence searches and learns to face challenges alone.
- The Martyr who finds self knowledge through pain, suffering and surrender.
- The Saint whose sole motive for living is to give without asking in return.
- Finally the Witch who justifies her existence by going in search of complete and limitless pleasure.
She could be a witch too so far as keeping me entranced is concerned.
The way the creatures of the island answered her calls one could say that they were trained by her. But isn't that something amazing. In this world when reaching out to the same species, sometimes even to the same gender seems to be getting more and more complicated, isn't it wonderful that one is able to reach out and connect. Even if these could be the ones who do not have the same sentences as ours.
i don't really care or wish to know what others thought but for me Anuradha was totally mind blowing.
And if she was not camera shy i could have taken a clear picture of her to keep with me forever.
In any case the biggest shutter of them all is in my heart.
And even now i see her, with a faint floral fragrance perhaps of her hair oil , her casual, simple yet stylish attire, her joie de vivre which made her an instant friend of one and all, charged with an energy and passing on this energy to all around her, roaming the Ross Island and monitoring her babies. Also enlightening the tourists about the headquarters of the British in the Andaman Islands. How the house was built with reinforced fittings of nuts and bolts and screwed with washers with a difference. For even the circular washers that looked like discs were made of iron.
The residence of the island Commissioner, and office, the bakery, the church and the tennis courts, she would be moving around and explaining.
How they prepared sweet drinking water in those huge steam boilers that were bought all the way from England and how it was distributed to all parts of the island in three canals.With the help of a twig and markings she would be showing all. Her kids following her and answering to her calls much to the amazement and the thrill of her new bunch of guests.
Anuradha ! in you i saw that the extraordinay occurs in the lives of ordinary people.
And i am singing you to me through this post of mine.