Abstract Thriller Tragedy
The western sky was cloud laden dark. The ocean here is usually calm with only small waves rocking the stationary boat. Rain pattering on the ocean was causing the crystal clear waters to go murky as the freezing land breeze rushed in past my wet ears causing an acute pain in the earlobes. The island on the horizon was almost invisible. I could hardly make out the peak of the mountain which looked like a malnourished acute triangle reclining against the sky. Dusk was slowly rushing in as we could make out from the orange gleam behind the clouds turning grayscale. We had to wait until it was completely dark, that was the only way in.
The Indian Navy doesn’t hesitate to pursuit and fire rounds; these are after all forbidden waters. Occasionally we could hear the navy speed boat engines buzzing relentlessly scourging the Bay of Bengal. Everyone had been silent, eyes fixated towards the island; we had to be sure of the direction as we would ride there at night without light, without our engines as stealthily as possible. My throat was dry, couldn’t make out whether it was fear or just the saline winds. The North Sentinel Islands of the Andaman has remained unexplored even by the Indian Government in-spite of several failed attempts they were met with extreme aggression. The indigenous have stayed on this island for over 60,000 years now, their DNA dates back parallel to the first African ’negrito’ humans. This was an island no outsider ever left alive, the spears and arrows of the Sentinelese have been consistent to protect their sacred land for millenniums. But this was not an excavation, this risk was worth taking, the reward was priceless, all I had to do was to find the tree bearing the 49 faceted “Eye of Lord Shiva”. The rarest Elaeocarpus ganitrus tree grew on that hill, the costliest Rudraksha (Rudra=Shiva, Aksha=eye) which is thought to be a myth.
I remembered the grin on the old crippled Jarwa beggar’s face at Port Blair when I asked him where to get the bead he was wearing around his neck, he said “On the Island of death grows the sacred trees with blue fruits” “
“If you want the one I am wearing the price is my life.”
Even one rudraksha would fetch me about one million rupees back in the mainland and we are talking about trees here. This thought somewhat gave me a psychological boost, I was not interested in the religious aspect of the seeds nor in the lifestyle of these violent tribes who lived like prehistoric hunter gatherers. The money in this project was primal to me, I believe economy is my preferred subject and I intend to make the most out these seeds presumed to be born out of a teardrop of “Shiva-the Destroyer”, myths Hindu children hear from their grandmothers. Even religion costs money and opportunities cost the risk I was willing to take to grow and prosper. This was in my way, a religious blessing.
As the moon became prominent, we started to row slowly. Both Ahmed and I were silent and nervous as the boatman muscled through the ocean towards our invisible destination. On the southern side I spotted a light racing through the waters, the sound made me realize it was a patrol boat. The boatman said “It is going the other way don’t worry, I know the waters here.” For about one and a half hour of severe palpitation and tension, the beach was in sight, the silver sands beaming softly off the abundant moonlight amongst the dead coral reef on it.
The boatman stopped well about 500 meters from the beach. The boatman whispered “Quickly get down into the water and swim, the sea is shallow ahead, you can walk to the beach I presume.”
“How do we get to the hills?” I said
“That is the stupidest question I have heard, I said I know the waters, I never said I have been on this island. Only unfortunate fisherman stray here and I am pretty sure you know what happens to them. You read the news don’t you Sir?” he said hurriedly
“Alright, alright I hear you.” I said agitated.
Ahmed was getting our bag packs, the boatman came closer to me and waved his hand to me. He cupped his mouth and whispered in my ears. “Don’t let them spot you, I’ve heard that they have eyes everywhere on the island, the devils can see even in the darkness of night.”
He stepped back and spoke in a normal tone now “I will come back in an hour. This is a vulnerable spot. If I get caught or worse spotted by these tribes I am dead, so please pay up and I will be here exactly at 1 am. I will not wait more than 10 minutes, so better be fast with your business.”
Ahmed intruded “You are a rough guy aren’t you? Listen up clearly you get half now.”
“Hey, hey no that was not the deal” the boatman nagged.
“I pay the money, I state the deal, I have your photographs on my phone, so if we get caught by the navy while you are not around, I guess they would believe me if I say that you robbed us and left us here to die.” Ahmed said while putting his arm around his shoulder.
We put our snorkeling masks on and dived into the ocean and swam towards, the dark outlined land. After a while the seabed rose with a coral reef, we could walk now but the waves were making it difficult to walk straight we were constantly being pushed forward and the sand below out feet was moving backwards pulling us in every time a waved pushed us. Somehow we reached the vacant beach with saline water in my nostrils, clothes heavy as if boulders have been tied to us. We emptied our pockets, sand poured out; there was sand everywhere on my clothes, in my face. The forest lay where the sands ended, not quite far from where we landed. The only sounds we heard were the chirping of crickets and far of baboons screeching. The sky was brilliantly lit with millions of stars, masquerading momentarily amongst the translucent clouds was the waning moon. We made our way through the trees.
The forest was suddenly bursting with a spectrum of sounds, the forest felt alive. Though we could not see what made these sounds, I had a pretty good feeling that something was jumping from one canopy to other as we moved following us through the overgrown path, an ape maybe. I had a rough idea where the hill may begin from the topographical maps but almost everything about this island has been concealed. Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I walked swiftly, yet silently with Ahmed following me. We only had small LED torches to show us the way but, we decided not to take the chance. The plan was to reach the hill where the trees grew, and bring back as much as we can and leave without being noticed by both the tribes and the navy. We had nothing to protect ourselves otherwise. The situation was tough, the temperature inside the forest suddenly dropped drastically, we could feel or maybe it is just our wet clothes which gave us that feeling.
Further ahead, after walking for hardly 15 minutes we stopped, we could see fire gleaming from among the leaves. My heart pounded twice a second, I gestured Ahmed to be quiet, and we lay down on the ground and crouched towards the light. Through the leaves we could see the tribes were cooking pigs. I had heard earlier that the Andamanese people had been successful breeders of pigs for centuries. There were three men near the fire, chopping the meat off with a blade while the other was washing something in a pot, the third one was putting sticks in the fire. They were hardly 4 – 5 ft tall, dark skinned like Africans and had hair like them. I could relate them to a photo of African Pygmies I saw in an encyclopedia once. They wore no clothes only a bow made from bamboo stem slung around their backs diagonally from one shoulder to the waist. The women and children were near the hay roofed huts a bit further inside. By now we knew it was a village, a small area of the forest had been cleared to make this establishment, as we looked properly we could see the dark foothills behind the farthest huts.
I whispered into Ahmed’s ear, “We have to go around; we are very close to them”
“But what if this is the only way?” he retaliated in the same tone.
“Let us just get it done, we have come this far let us not mess it up.” I said grunting at him.
Suddenly a liquid splashed on Ahmed’s face, he almost screamed in surprise, I covered his mouth as tightly as I could both of us were breathing heavily in excitement and fear. Amongst the leaves I showed him it was the one which was washing something, he had come to empty his pot. But the fear subsided as he turned back and walked towards the fire as soon as he was done with his business. We moved slowly following the light as our boundary to try to find a way round. We could hear the sounds of the village as we moved, seemed pretty much like a normal village, people talking, children giggling. We just hoped that no one found us out here then it would be hell for us. We would die tonight.
We reached the foothills after almost an hour, the forest here was denser and somewhat quieter. There was a deep fragrance of vegetation. We were almost there for the first time in the entire journey, I felt joyous and Ahmed too was smiling now. There was no road to the hill, it was just a slope, but climbable. We grabbed on to the trunks of trees as we pulled upwards ahead towards the top. Both of us were exhausted but at this moment we wanted it to be over soon so gave our best. Ahmed was the one who recognized trees. Every time we stopped to catch our breath I asked him “So, what do you think here?” and he nodded his head in negation. I lit the light of my watch it was already quarter past 12.
Finally we reached the top of the hill. The sight was breathtaking, it was plain sea all around with the stars gleaming in the sky. The wind blew on my face cooling the sweat droplets. I was lost for a moment.
“I don’t see any ganitrus over here man.” He said rubbing the sweat off his face
“We must have missed it on our way up, the guy said there is supposed to be hundreds of them on the hills.” I said in desperation.
“This is just stupid, it has been a waste of money and time and the risks, we could still die here.” He grunted stamping his foot on the ground. I felt equally depressed; it’s a kind of feeling when all you aspire for slips away like a handful of sand among the waves. My eyes suddenly fell on the village, a group of about 20 men with arrows and spears were gathered around the edge of the village pointing towards the top.
“No, No this cannot be good Ahmed, I think they know we are here”. Ahmed quickly walked to the place I was standing; he stooped to look at little figures pointing up at us.
“We need to climb down fast, the other side maybe; the boatman will be here by 1 am, let us make haste.” I said looking into his eyes. I wanted to stay alive.
We started descending down the hill, from the other side. This was difficult; there was gravel on this side not much vegetation. Ahmed climbed down ahead, I followed him. The slope was steep. There were a few trees near the foot of the hill. My heart paced, I somehow kept turning back in fear, and we were being pursued. As we almost reached the bottom my foot fell on loose gravel, I slipped landing down on the forest floor, a bit of debris fell on me. Ahmed came back to pick me up as I lay on my back. I smiled at him and pointed towards the sky. The tree underneath which I fell had blue berries hanging on the branches. And beside me on the forest floor laid “The Eye of Shiva”. The rudraksha was almost the size of a large marble, textured brilliantly. It was a moment of unexplained joy but it was short lived. We could hear voices on the hills.
I got up fast, Ahmed turned on his torch and we started to scavenge the forest floor, we found about 15- 20 seeds, we filled our pockets with whatever we could find while running towards the beach, my watch read 1: 10 am, we were already late plus we had to swim around to the other side. As we reached the beach into the open, arrows rained from the sky piercing the sand, I ran as fast as I could into the waters, did not look back even once. The waves were difficult as I was swimming against the tide, no idea of which direction I was going, I almost got drowned twice by gigantic waves, when I came up my bag pack was gone. The tribal men, the Sentinels had lined up in the beach screaming frenetically showing spears to me. I suddenly noticed Ahmed was missing. I haven’t seen him since we reached the beach.
It started raining, a storm was coming lightening illuminated the skies sometimes and as I looked back while swimming, I could see gleaming black bodies running up and down the beach. I could see the boat ahead floating, this gave me hope, I swam faster, till I climbed on board. I fell down and coughed hard, the water near me was still getting pierced with arrows every now and then. To my surprise the boatman was missing. It did not matter now, I had no energy even to row, I was both shocked and relieved at the same time. The sky started to dance in circles; I closed my eyes everything melted into darkness.
I dreamt of drowning and when my eyes opened, looking over me was dressed in army clothes. He spoke to me in a deep tone “So, what exactly where you doing trespassing forbidden waters? Do you know the law Sir?”
I spoke weakly “Sir we lost our way, in the storm, our boatman was killed.” He nodded his head,
“We only found your wallet on you, a tourist I presume, anyways please report to us once before you leave, we will talk about it” he said while exiting the door.
As I walked out on the road of Port Blair disappointed of everything all the seeds have been devoured by the sea I came back empty handed losing Ahmed, I had no idea of what to say to his family, and probably I won’t. I felt hungry someone tapped be on the back.
As I turned back it was the Jarwa beggar smiling at me “So, did you find one sahib?” he said.
I nodded my head “Give some alms to me, I am hungry sahib.”
“Just bugger off already having a bad day don’t make it worse” I said.
He tore off the thread from his neck with one hand and stretched his other hand towards me and said
“The price of the one I was wearing is Rs 10, please I am hungry, and I don’t want to die”.
His eyes were glistening, I took out a ten rupee note from my pocket, and he pulled the note from my hand and placed the Rudraksha in my palm. He slowly got lost in the crowd. I stood speechless looking at my palm the 49 faced Rudraksha. The symmetry was so unique, the 49 grooves on the body I counted again and again as I walked down the road.
“This is the real thing man, this is rare and beautiful. So, how much will I have to pay you for this one?” the jeweler asked me rolling the rudraksha and looking it through his magnifying glass.
“This one?” I said snatching it from his hand. He looked up at me in puzzlement.
“The price is my life.”