Fiction that tends to border on fact is not usually my cup of tea, but there are exceptions to every rule and books in that genre that end up surprising me. This book by Pankaj Sekhsaria turned out to be one such book, and I thank my friend who not only brought it to my attention but also was kind enough to lend me a copy that he had.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are known to me only by pictures and stories told by a friend who had gone there on her college trip. But perhaps the islands remain a mystery to most of us who haven’t been there in person. I have not read anything about them before, nor have been interested in news from the Islands after the 2004 Tsunami which devastated the island. The Last Wave, in the setting of the Islands, blends together facts and research (as evident from the bibliography at the end of the book and the historical sketch) with a tale of lost love, friendship and new beginnings as well.
When Harish is devastated by Usha walking away from his life, he’s pushed and supported to have a change of scenery. His schoolmate and friend Prasad brings him to Port Blair and the Institute for Island Ecology, where he’s to help Prasad on cover stories for InFocus magazine. He finds meaning to his life there, exploring the local community The Jarawa which is also a threatened community. His observations of the destruction of the community further increase his determination. At the Islands, and giving him company at the institute are Uncle Pame and David Baskaran among others. Seema, a local-born Port Blair girl returns to the Islands and to the Institute for her PhD. Their shared determination to understand the ancestry and heritage of the Islands, as well as some twists in her personal life bring her closer to Harish. But fate plays a card with the Tsunami.
It’s really difficult for a book filled with many facts to keep me engaged from first to last, but perhaps it was because they were so seamlessly placed with the story of Harish, Seema and their personal journeys that this book managed to do so. The narration was such that it was like I entered the book and walked with the characters on the islands, with its rapidly increasing population, the thick jungles and the crocs, the changing scenario from wooden buildings to the concrete nightmare and what not. It also made the emotions up close; the fear when they were near the crocs; or the sadness when a heart was broken, or even the friendly banter between the characters teasing when a letter arrived. I liked the character of Uncle Pame the most. Some parts of the book made me contemplate life itself, in particular the ending of the book as well as the story of Ahmed Mia, which made me wonder if we look for the stories inside us only when it’s almost too late. And I admired the choice of ending, which felt both right and wrong at the same time.
The flipside perhaps is perhaps that there isn’t anything unexpected in how the fiction flows. I could guess the incidents before they happened, which took the shine off the tale a little. But I feel the tale itself is intended to showcase the community of the Islands, the struggles they underwent (and perhaps still undergo) as well as to take the reader back in history to when it began. Looking at that, this book works, and works well.
The copy that I have with me will duly go back to its owner, but I have a feeling that the book will find its way back to my bookshelf and stay there. A fiction rooted in fact that I really enjoyed. I’d say it rates 3.5 or 4 stars for sure.
|Title: The Last Wave – An Island Novel|
|Author(s): Pankaj Sekhsaria||Genre: Fiction|
|ISBN/ASIN: 9789351361916||Publisher: Harper Collins|
|No. of Pages: 290||Price: INR 350|
(© 30th July 2015)