Cannibal Isles - Time Travelling in the Andaman Islands
2003, published by Nthposition, London (www.nthposition.com)
pages i-iv, 1-180, including selected sources and index, there are no illustrations
soft cover 15 x 23 cm (6 x 9 in)
ISBN 0 9546268 0 X
This is a travel rather than a scientific book. Like any good travelogue it contains a great deal of interesting historical and ethnological information in easily digestable tidbits. It is a good read and is small enough to carry around. Indeed, it is light enough to be read with one hand while - wait for it! - sitting down and holding on to your backpack against thieves with the other.
The cannibal-tag of the title is misleading. The Andamanese have always been accused of it but there is no evidence whatever that they have never been cannibals. I must mention this here even if I know that I am being a nit-picking fuddy-duddy. Cannibalism sells books so let us be glad that books are being bought.
"Cannibal Isles" despite its title is written in excllent and fluent English. If you are curious about your destination but do not want to carry an entire library with you, take this book, along with Mukherjee's , and you'll be better-informed than 99% of the locals when you arrive at Port Blair. Tomory is strong on local conditions and atmosphere as they are today, giving great tips on how to deal with local bureaucrats and hotel keepers (who are often one and the same, physically as well as in their attitude). Tomory is an old India hand who knows his stuff. The story of how he got his ticket in Calcutta for the boat to Port Blair is highly instructive for advanced students on how you can get what you want from petty local bureaucrats. He has discovered a fundamental secret of the Indian bureaucracy but you will have to buy the book to find out. My lips are sealed.
The description of a Soviet-style culture-speech on p. 17 against malfunctioning loudspeakers onboard ship is hilarious. Everybody who has ever been to a communist country will recognize the scene. While India's embarrassing "tilt" toward the Soviet Union just before the latter's even more embarrassing exitus is ancient history on mainland India. In the Andamans, on the other hand, the Soviet atmosphere of incompenensible speeches, bureaucratic bumbling and "paranoid security crap" (as someone calls it on page 7) still survives.
There is a fascinating description of historical piracy in the Bay of Bengal and its connections with the "legal" navies operating against them. There is material for dozens of action movies here that neither Holly- nor Bollywood have tapped into yet. Unfortunately, there are no references anywhere in this book as to where the author has unearthed this and other interesting historical material. This reviewer, for one, would have liked to follow up those piracy leads.
A few inaccuracies occur, such as calling the Akar-Bale tribe Aka-Baie throughout (the tribe had a few alternative names but Baie was never one of them). That Tomory unquestioningly accepts the horror stories of "Kalapani" and the Cellular jail irritates but is understandable - these stories are sacrosanct at Port Blair, if not historically accurate. For example, the claim that "nobody has ever returned from the Andamans" is made several times. In fact, there was an official repatriation program for rehabilitated prisoners in the later stages of the penal colony and a few convicts actually escaped successfully. Reality, as always, is not so simple. Tomory also accepts without question the version current at Port Blair of Subhas Chanda Bose and his raising of the first flag of Indian independence in 1943 - under Japanese tutelage. There is no hint of the mindbogglingly convoluted events surrounding this early declaration of Indian independence in the Andamans. That the stamps prepared for Bose's future India were printed in Germany is mentioned - but not what sort of Germany it was that printed them.
For a good travelogue these are minor errors and ommissions that do not detract from the value of the book,.
If you are interested in the Andamans and/or want to go there anytime soon - put this book on your reading list.
The Andaman Association
Last changed 30 March 2006