Saturday, January 30, 2010



Ross Island

Paris of the East”

(Due to community demand from many of my Facebook, Blogger, Blogcatalog, Twitter and Indiblogger friends, I’m reproducing this post after a long time today… Read on & post your comments, please…)

The ruins of Ross Island speak of better days and a long forgotten history.

The East India Company (British) came to the Andaman Islands in 1788 to make it a penal settlement for Indian freedom fighters. Thus, opened a new chapter in the darkest page of Indian history: - "Kalapani". Ross Island, situated 10 minutes (by boat) from Port Blair became the capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and seat of power.

Named after the marine surveyor, Sir Daniel Ross, the Island enjoyed all modern facilities and architectural mastery. Later, when generators were installed, electricity was made available and at night Ross Island was like a bedecked ship and thus was named - Paris of the East.

Important Locations –

The swimming pool was a popular place where the members of the exclusive settlement club met. The principal water source was rain.

The Subordinate Club was meant for non-commissioned and junior commissioned officers. The dance floor was made of teak and the entire window frame and its panes were made of stained glass from Italy.

The Government House - Chief Commissioner's Bungalow is located in the northern peak of Ross. It consisted of 12 rooms, seven to eight of which were bedrooms. The bungalow also included a tennis court, aviary and a palm house. It is said that the Chief Commissioner never closed the doors of the bungalow except for rain and other natural elements.

The Protestant church was built with stone, the window frames made of Burma teak and windows were etched Italian stained glass.

The cemetery is the final resting place for many who died of water borne diseases and malaria. Most of the deceased were young. The youngest was Lawrence, born on September 16, 1863 who survived only for 22 hours.

Some of the other places of interest are the distilling plant, troop's barracks, bakery and the hospital.

The penal settlement lasted until 1942, when the British left the islands and disbanded it. The Japanese also used the Ross Island during the World War II.

On April 18, 1979, Ross Island was handed over to the Indian Navy and on December 6, 1993, the Indian Navy set up "Smrithika" - the Ross memorial. A few buildings have been renovated but the rest have been left untouched, in ruins, engulfed in the roots of giant trees.

Now the Paris of the East is like a haunted island, the ruins telling many a dark story.

Ancient history apart, it is, now an out of the world tourists spot that is being visited by Indian and foreign tourists alike in huge numbers on a daily basis. It’s an exotic and mesmerizing atmosphere at the island with herds of Andaman deer and peacocks seen moving around all over the place in gay abandon. And the Andaman Sea waves kissing and caressing the serene white beaches around the island makes one really feel the existence of paradise on earth.

The Islanders of Port Blair, the present-day capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands shall be eternally indebted to the Ross Island, which stood unshaken as a mighty shield and took the massive brunt of the ferocious Tsunami on the 26, December, 2004 and saved the city of Port Blair.

Had the Ross Island not shielded Port Blair, the city’s entire main market area comprising of the Aberdeen Bazaar, the Netaji Stadium, the Aberdeen Water Sports Complex, the Bus Terminus, the BR Ambedkar auditorium and the historic Aberdeen Clock Tower, to name a few, would have been completely washed away by the Tsunami.

The Indian Navy maintains the entire Ross Island as a Memorial, ensuring that tourism does not disturb the serenity and the historic grandeur of the majestic “Paris of the East”, our very own – Ross Island.

(Stats Courtesy: Young World, The Hindu)

Monday, January 25, 2010



Islands Tourism Festival

Staying far away from the Indian mainland deep in the Bay of Bengal, farther from the country and at a stone’s throw away from Indonesia and Myanmar, the local Islanders of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands had no mode of social/public entertainment, other than the enormously gorgeous natural surroundings and a few under-developed tourists’/picnic spots around Port Blair, the capital.

With the advent of the nineties in the last century, the handful of below-par cinema theaters that ever existed closed down as they couldn’t sustain with the exorbitant operational costs as against the feeble turn out of viewers owing to a petite population in the Islands. Satellite television or ‘cable TV’, as we know it, had already made way into the Islands around the late eighties making the matters worse for their survival.

The Andaman & Nicobar administration, under the visionary leadership of Lt. Gen. (Rtrd.) Tirath Singh Oberoi, the then Lieutenant Governor of the Islands, began organizing an annual exhibition in the historic Gymkhana Ground at Port Blair with the name – “Islands on the March” during the late eighties. The intention was to showcase the development activities of various departments under the Administration and also the future projects to be taken up for the benefit of the Islanders with notable emphasis on promotion of tourism in these Islands.

A number of cultural and entertainment programs were organized during the annual exhibition in which the local Islanders including the high-spirited tribal population of Nicobar were encouraged to participate with immense fervor. The tourists visiting the Islands used to have the phenomenal benefit of enjoying the ambiance as well as exploring a great deal about the unique history, cosmopolitan culture and remarkable tradition of these exemplary Islands.

Under the most competent headship of Vakkom Purushotthaman, the subsequent Lt. Governor, one of the best administrators that these Islands have ever seen, the exhibition underwent a conspicuous metamorphosis in the early nineties, with the venue shifted to the police ground near the Veer Savarkar airport and the nomenclature also was shuffled and the event renamed from the erstwhile “Islands on the March” to “Islands Tourism Festival”.

Thanks to the glossy influential leadership of Vakkom, who had earlier been the Speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly for years together, more and more funds began to be allocated for the annual gala and the Islanders were treated for the very first time, with the best of talents & celebrity performers from Bollywood and other high class cultural troupes from multifarious corners of the country, right here in the Bay of Bengal.

It was made sure that the culture, art and tradition of these Islands were promoted by way of the annual gala and that tourism, Islanders’ welfare and development received the premium impetus. The festival was to be used as a potent innovative medium to highlight these attributes of the Islands before the visiting tourists, primarily, and the media at large.

Come the 21st century and the only annual state-level festival in these Islands underwent another transformation, and this time it was for worse, thanks to the change of hands and heads at the administrative leadership, which made sure that the best golden era of development in the history of the Islands came to a screeching halt after Vakkom was replaced by his successors.

The ITF has now been left to nothing but the theater of the absurd fabricated by the infamously inert Andaman & Nicobar Administration... A categorical farce and nothing else...!!! It has, in fact, been reduced to a brazen exhibition of the A & N Administration's paucity of brain and utter indifference towards the local residents of the Islands.

There’s almost nothing to do with the display of development of tourism or the current tourism related activities and initiatives in the grossly neglected pristine Islands, which if potentially utilized could give a gung-ho competition to the neighboring countries like Thailand & Malaysia, which have been doing a tremendously commendable job of promoting their tourism potential in the name of the “Andaman Sea”.

The very first attribute of the only annual exhibition or “Tourism Festival” as the administration relishes calling it, which haunts me, is the very name. Why is it called the “Islands Tourism Festival”, at all, when most of the participants in the various cultural programs/performances & exhibition stalls are invited from the mainland India? I think it’s an absolute thoughtless misnomer!

I mean, if it was truly meant to be an Islands' Tourism Festival; which it is supposed to be at least in the name of organizing something entertaining yet meaningful for the sake of the luckless Islanders of these vulnerable and disaster-prone Islands and the welfare thereof; then most obviously and befittingly, most of the participants/performers ought to be from amongst the Islanders and about the Islanders.

On the contrary, the administration, now invites mostly substandard performers from the mainland India not to present anything related to the Islands’ tourism or the amazing cosmopolitan culture, but to present various other cultural arts and acts that are not related to the Islands’ tourism development in any manner, at all.

Gone are the days, when the Islanders used to be treated with the likes of the famous Bollywood singers Kumar Sanu, Abhijit, Suresh Wadkar, Meenakshi Seshadri, Johny Lever, and Baba Sehgal and so on.

Artistes from South Zone Cultural Centre, East Zone Cultural Centre, Song and Drama Division, Kolkata and many other troupes are invited to take part in the Islands Tourism Festival every year and paid handsomely to the tune of 2.5 to 3 lakh rupees per troupe apart from the free up and down travel fares and accommodation at Port Blair, whereas the Islanders’ troupes are paid to the tune of a measly defamatory sum of 3000 rupees per troupe only.

And on top of it all, the participation of the local indigenous tribes is drastically thinning, year after year, despite the fact that the buoyant Nicobarese tribe is immensely talented and their cultural performances are a real treat to watch for anyone from anywhere in the world. The proud fact that Full Birth, one of the Nicobarese tribal youth has been India’s National Cycling Champion, seconds my contention.

The only silver lining in the cloud in this year’s ITF, which began on January 7, 2010 and wound up on January 15, 2010, was that the “Andaman and Nicobar Administration, after a long hiatus, have come out with a comprehensive tourism policy document, which seems promising, but the distrust that it has created for decades may be the toughest stumbling block in its implementation”, as reported by the Light of Andamans.

“The Tourism Trade, as the press statement claims to have been involved in its preparation, seems to be totally indifferent towards the approach of the tourism department. Their univocal feeling further shows how the whole system runs and also the people behind it. Without a total change in mindset, nothing drastic can be done by the policy.” - (LoA)

“The Tourism Policy is not going to bring about any miracle overnight. Small steps that one takes towards the goal define how the projects and dreams are going to come true within the timeframe. The website of tourism department is in shambles. It was last updated a decade ago. The information it contains are obsolete. The Island Tourism Festival it features was held in 2002. Do you really need a policy to update the information on a website? At the same time, hundreds of small and amateurish websites developed and hosted by small tour operators and auto rickshaw drivers is the face of Brand Andaman on the internet. As Vivek Rae, CS mentioned in his speech at the inaugural function of Island Tourism Festival, the media campaigns are all spontaneous reactions without any strategy.” - (LoA)

In a nutshell, the fact that these serene historic coral Islands have an encouraging coastline of 1912 sq km and umpteen number of striking virgin beaches to complement it with, there are stupendous prospects of development in the field of tourism and other related sectors, but the issues, nevertheless, remain unaddressed, plainly because there's a supreme lack of intent on the part of the doers - the brazenly sluggish administration.

And to add to the long-standing misery of us Islanders, the political leadership whom the Islanders themselves elect, are either squarely incompetent or too busy trying to make sure that they don't miss out on their chunk of fortune. And that has been the customary response, of their glorious predecessors throughout the entire country, to coming to power for a full five years a term.

Well, where are we heading…?

Monday, January 18, 2010



I’ve been a ghazal (popular Indian music form) maniac ever since I came of age and saw my erudite father listening to them on All India Radio and one of those, resonantly sung by the great maestro, Jagjit Singh, is still vividly etched in my mind, especially because it’s about childhood, and that is…

“Ye daulat bhi le lo, ye shohrat bhi le lo,

Bhale chheen lo mujhse meri jawaani,

Magar mujhko lauta do, bachpan ka saawan,

Wo kaagaz ki kashti, wo baarish ka paani…”

Aah… Sigh…! Such beloved is childhood for every person that invariably everyone regards it as the golden period of one’s lifetime…

A child’s smile illumines your mind no matter the state of your mood. The child is unaware of all responsibilities and sorrows but not all children are blessed with good times. There are countless children who are bread earners of their families. Even babies, malnourished to great extents, serve as the source of earnings at streets for many poverty-stricken parents. It is the need of the hour for NGOs, govt. and common masses to come forward and contribute for their cause.

India is a developing nation and as in most of the developing nations of the world, in India too, a number of factors remain unnoticed, non-amended. The most important of all is the welfare of the underprivileged strata of the society. There are a number of poverty-stricken families who cannot support their children and hence leave them on the roads to beg or to earn as wage workers. These children are the building blocks of our nation; they are the future of our country and, hence, how can we let them impact our country’s future!

I strongly reckon that those who are not entitled to luxuries of life by birth need not stay in poverty the entire life. Children from economically backward families do not have to face the brunt of harsh life; they just need our support. There are a number of children who are encouraged to drop their studies early in life and work as laborers. A number of times, we do see such destitute children around the traffic signals, many others working at construction sites or factories just for some meager amount of money.

I often wonder… Wide eyed, under-nourished children standing dusty by the side of the road while Mercedes and BMWs zoom by them Will this continue to be the unpalatable destiny of India, my dear friends? Will the underprivileged continue to be left behind, while the prosperous enjoy opportunities and luxuries like never before?? Will juvenile voices asking for a better future continue to be unheard???

Well, children have the right to study and enjoy their childhood. However 50% of school age children in India are not in school even today after 62 years of our nation’s celebrated independence. It is estimated that there are anywhere between 10-20 million children working as laborers in hazardous industries and being exploited when they should be learning and playing.

Education is the key to unlocking our children’s future, the key which will allow them to lead a dignified and financially independent adult life.

Well, my dear friends, I just received a heartening e-mail from the Indiblogger team informing me about a grand initiative by one of India’s most trusted and credible NGOs, ‘GiveIndia’ which is taking part in a competition on Facebook to win a US$1 million grant. The winner will be the NGO that gets the highest number of votes from Facebook users. The prize of $1 million will help put or keep 40,000 children across India in school for one year!

The project details from the Give India’s Facebook page are as follows:

GIVE Foundation will use the $1mn grant to for educational sponsorships costing $43 per child per year thus providing access to education to more than 20,000 children through our partner NGOs. All partner NGOs have undergone due diligence, and are highly transparent and credible organizations. They are located across India and provide access to education to underprivileged children, including the girl child, tribal children and children from remote rural areas.”

However, so that your vote Counts and goes Further we will take the balance of about $90,000 and run a matching campaign that raises an additional $1mn from individual donors. This balance will also help meet the operating costs of running this program, including costs of project monitoring, and tracking including regular quarterly updates.”

Each, $43 sponsorship will provide books, school bags and uniforms to the children as well as the education i.e. teachers’ salaries and other costs to ensure a quality education.

More than 20,000 children will be educated for a year with the grant support. In addition over 20,000 children will be educated for a year through matching donations raised from individuals, thus ensuring that in all, more than 40,000 children are educated.”

The program aims to make the underprivileged children of India self-reliant and independent by providing them a mainstream education. It is a movement to strengthen the future of the nation, an attempt towards a better life.

Each child we help is one less child that has to work for a living; one less child that has to experience illiteracy; one less child that has no hope for the future.

We believe that there are enough people who want to see this happen, enough people to ensure that we get 40,000 votes that will in turn help to educate 40,000 children. One VOTE = one CHILD!

As the magnificent ‘sher’ (an Urdu verse) goes…

“Ghar se masjid hai agar dur, chalo yun kar lein,

Kisi rote hue bachche ko hansaaya jaaye…”

Voting in the competition is for one week only, from Friday, January 15 to Friday, January 22, 2010. I’m sure; all of us put together can make a big difference in the next 4 days!

The link for voting, where you can also see more details of the competition, is… 

My best wishes are with the ‘Give India’ team for their admirable endeavor! Gung-ho!!! My dear friends, I have, obviously, voted for it at Facebook, already; when are you voting for the noble cause…? J

Follow MrGladPortBlair on Twitter

Thursday, January 14, 2010



“Child is the Father of Man”

"My heart leaps up when I behold

A Rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the man;

And I wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety." - William Wordsworth

Raised in Vancouver and Toronto, Severn Cullies-Suzuki has been camping and hiking all her life. When she was 9, she started the Environmental Children's Organization (ECO), a small group of children committed to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. They were successful in many projects before 1992, when they raised enough money to go to the United Nation's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Their aim was to remind the decision-makers of who their actions or inactions would ultimately affect. The goal was reached when 12 yr old Severn closed a Plenary Session with a stupendously commanding speech that received a standing ovation and stupefied the entire world for about half an hour.

And if you’d like to see for yourself how a 12-year-old made world leaders take notice, watch Severn’s speech… Please, do take just about 10 odd minutes of your time to listen to this unforgettable epic of a speech, NOW…

Today’s young people, my dear friends, have a lot at stake in worldwide climate change negotiations. After all, they’ll inherit either a bleak future if we don’t take action or a happy & secured planet if we seize the opportunity to develop clean-energy solutions and do whatever it takes to remedy the ever burgeoning threat of global-warming and environmental degradation.

To stress the importance of decisions made by today’s leaders for our youth, the United Nations recently recruited young people from around the world to speak at climate talks in New York in September, 2009.

I providentially hunted down a recent interview of the blessed young girl who stunned delegates with her passionate speech at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, by Andrew C. Revkin of The New York Times. That young person was David Suzuki and Tara Cullis’s daughter, Severn, who now has a master’s degree in ethno-ecology and lives with her husband and brand new baby on Haida Gwaii.

The Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro resulted in the first climate treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The effort under way at the United Nations is intended to breathe life into that pact with a fresh addendum to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, with all of its limitations and flaws.

Mr. Revkin spoke to Severn about her experience 17 years ago and about the lessons for young people today. Here are some excerpts from the interview for you to fathom Ms. Suzuki’s reflections on the value and limits of having youth weigh in on such deliberations…

“Q. Your speech was powerful and seemed powerfully-received. What was your feeling right afterward and for the next few days or months?

A. After giving the speech I remember having this intense sense of completion. I knew we’d been able to achieve our dream and mission of speaking to the world leaders at the U.N. At that time there was no formal means for children to have a voice at the summit, so we’d slipped in between the cracks, worked hard and used any contacts we had to get five minutes at the plenary. I knew we’d shocked the plenary audience with what we had to say. After two weeks of being on the conference grounds, meeting street children, learning from people from all over the world about environmental issues, me and my friends felt angry, and justified in our anger at our world leaders. I remember feeling very calm, very confident. I hadn’t pulled any punches. I knew that we had achieved what we’d set out to do, and had played our part in the huge effort of our community of friends, family and activists to execute our plan.”

“Q. The framework convention on climate change was finalized there. Did that feel exciting, triumphant? As you’ve grown up and watched the world stick pretty much with business as usual, what’s been your feeling?

A. I remember at Rio Centro there was definitely a buzz, and the sense that important things were happening. But I had the righteous sense that the adults were making all kinds of back door deals, and were making it far more complicated to justify inaction. That was the first summit that I’d attended. In the years after I attended several more international summits, and this sense has only increased. Of course, I’ve grown up since then, and I know that making change in the world isn’t as simple as just speaking to the world leaders. I don’t hold my breath waiting for them to save the world.”

“I feel very proud of the fact that now there is a formal means for youth to have a voice; I like to think that ECO made a contribution towards that by speaking at the Earth Summit in ‘92. Youth are now recognized as having a stake in the decisions. However, sometimes I worry that by incorporating them into the system, the youth voice might be lost in the complexities of the U.N.”

“And they are treated as just another stakeholder — given only a few minutes to speak at the end of a conference — yet youth make up half of the world’s population! They are the ones with everything at stake. But then seeing the youth demonstrations at the COP gatherings, and hearing their powerful speeches, I am proud that they are there, to speak truth to power.”

“The shocking thing about the speech I gave at Rio is that the exact same speech could be given today. I think that the power of youth remains to cut through the complexities of the negotiations and remind the decision makers of really what it’s all about — the whole reason why the world must get together.”

“Remind these politicians of their own children! Even today, though many would say that we have gone backwards since the Rio Earth Summit, I still have to believe that it is the love people have for their children that will steer the world in the right direction.”

Ms. Suzuki, with the passage of 18 years, has now moved from childhood to motherhood. She recently completed a master’s degree in ethno-ecology and lives on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia with her husband and their 2-month-old baby.

Read the Full Interview

Thursday, January 7, 2010



The Indian Air Force's base on the Car Nicobar Island was devastated in the Tsunami five odd years ago from now, on December 26, 2004. One hundred and sixteen IAF officers and men, their wives and children died in the horrendous disaster. Little remained of the air base, which was established as India's southernmost defence post, a sentinel against the unseen forces lurking in the regions nearby. The morning of December 26, changed all that.

In true military spirit, the IAF personnel worked night and day to ensure that India's southernmost Air Force station in the Bay of Bengal was operational again, ‘Combat Fit’ to be precise, just three-and-a-half months after the unbalanced ocean, turned ferocious by man’s inhuman treatment to Mother Nature’s blessings, claimed 3,513 lives in Andaman and Nicobar reducing the base to a wasteland of rubble and corpses.

On April 14, 2005, the Car Nicobar Air Base resumed operations once again. The runway was repaired, navigational aids and the basic infrastructure was put in place. The operational capabilities of the station were back to normal and the station was once again ‘Combat Fit’.

There were no frills, no luxuries and there was every possibility that the officers would continue to fight extreme adversities like they had been doing those past three and a half months. The amenities were very rudimentary but they knew they were working in unusual circumstances 1,300 km from the Indian mainland where the geographical location and the destruction of infrastructure had torn life and affected communication.

Picked up from different air bases in India, they were sent to Car Nicobar immediately after the Tsunami to rebuild the air base from the dust.

Sergeant Y S Sinha, one of the few officers who were still posted at the Car Nicobar Air Base on a second extension until last year i.e. September, 2009, narrated some of his unforgettable experiences to me while I was at Car Nicobar during the Child Led Disaster Risk Reduction (CLDRR) project for the welfare of the Nicobarese tribe, sponsored by the NGO – ‘Save the Children’.

He said that for a first time visitor to the base, the sight could be shocking. The destruction was so overwhelming that just imagining what it must have looked like when the waters raged in on December 26, left you numb. In fact, the scale of the devastation on Car Nicobar Island became most evident only on entering the Air Base because en route all villages had been flattened reducing them to an empty ghost land with sinister boards reading 'Erstwhile Perka, Erstwhile Small Lalpathy, and Erstwhile Malacca.' The Erstwhile, indicated where the villages and their inhabitants once stood and lived.

In fact, the homes in those villages did not have much concrete and were made of wood, so they were completely washed away. Hence, only a few pillars could be seen in the debris, the rest had been flattened,” said Sergeant Sinha.

The Air Base, on the other end of the island, was a full-fledged helicopter station with a huge infrastructure. Around 700 staff and personnel lived there with their families. It had two schools, VIP guest houses for the Air Chief Marshal and other visiting dignitaries, a shopping complex and homes for the Station Commander, officers and airmen.

The concrete rubble, the partially destroyed structures and the 160 acres of land lost to water ingress here had to be seen to understand the quantum of destruction.

After clearing the debris for six months after the disaster, what remained was a chilling reminder of the tragedy. Cars lay in mangled heaps, homes seemed to have been blasted into unrecognizable shapes - second floors flung upside down, blackened trees lying in gigantic tangled piles. A refrigerator flung out of someone's kitchen was now lodged in the branches of a tree.

The author at the 45 feet tall, huge fuel tank lying in Malacca village, where it was thrown by the Tsunami from its original location a kilometer away within the Air Force Station’s premises at Car Nicobar. It was packed with fuel when the Tsunami had struck. Such dreadful was the impact of the Tsunami which was traveling at the speed of about 700 km per hour, the speed of a jetliner from the epicenter of the massive under-water earthquake.

The very first priority was to get the runway working for relief activity and the men made use of whatever came their way - even axes to chop the wood and manually pushed it off the runway.

The 9,000 feet runway originally measured around 3,000 feet when it was constructed by the Japanese during their occupation of the island between 1942 and 1945 during the Second World War. It was taken over by the Indian Air Force in 1956, post independence.

As Sergeant Sinha told me, about forty-five tons of epoxy was used to repair the runway. The repairs began everyday post 4 pm, after the flights for the day ended. The work went on through the night till 4 am. The epoxy needed three hours to dry and the flights resumed at around 7 am.

The Air Base lost 116 officers, men and family to the tsunami. Those who survived were immediately evacuated, given a month's leave and subsequently transferred to other stations. The base was no longer deemed a family station and new officers and men were sent to replace, rebuild and carry out the relief operation Operation Madad (help).

The officers and men got down to clearing the debris, disposing the bodies and spent all their waking hours bringing some semblance of order. The officers and men used to consume rice, dal and vegetables from a common kitchen. Pilots who flew down as part of the relief activity sometimes stayed on to work for a month or so and would feel sad about leaving. The first break from work came on January 16, 2005 when everyone went for a picnic.

At the peak of the relief effort, around 5,000 men were pressed into service. Around 10,000 residents were evacuated during Operation Madad from the Car Nicobar Island. The IAF flew around 226 sorties till January 26, 2005.

As the crisis grew, Heroes were born!

Tributes to the Bravado of the Heroes of Indian Air Force!!!