Anuradha Rao- A woman living on an island.

I am always excited about an adventure. The sheer thrill of it, makes my heart race. Another thing that I love is history, and old places. The mystery, the stories and visiting the places where the stories unravelled is by far my favourite thing. On the second day of my trip to Andaman I was going to get a dose of both these things. Firstly the 15 mins speed boat ride and secondly visiting Ross Island. I was prepared for this. Though there was a third thing that happened to me on that Island- Anuradha Rao.  She sort of raced everyone to reach the top spot of my “The most awesome people I know” list. She gave me an experience that will remain with me for a very long time.

Speed boat from Port Blair to Ross Island
To reach Ross Island you have to take a boat ride from Port Blair. I chose to take the speed boat. I had never done it before. I had just seen some extremely sexy  women in some action films do it. My boat ride consisted of three stages; ‘I am so sexy’, ‘I am going to die’ and then ‘Shit! i want to do it again.’ The “Im so sexy” stage lasted for the first five minutes when the boat was  just about gaining momentum. As soon as the boat speeded up and we reached right in the middle of the ocean I was kind of sure I was going to die. I had a life jacket on and a life guard behind me but that didnt really seem to help. I closed my eyes and prayed. “God! not yet Im still a virgin.” I opened my eyes instantly,”You are going to die and this is what you have to say.” I decided there was nothing in my control anyway so I should just bloody well enjoy it. So with a mixture of fear,excitement and virginity I started yelling on top of my voice. Yelling, let go of my fear and thats when I had an absolute blast and reached the third stage of “I have to do it again”  and also Ross Island.
Ross Island
Like a good tourist I had researched a bit about Ross Island and had also seen some great pictures. Ross Island was an administrative headquarters of the British when they came here some time in 1858. The place was not just a quarter it was a posh resort. It had everything  swimming pools, tennis courts, churches, bakeries, great bungalows, a mess,a beach, cemetery,etc. It was like a small town with everything one would want to live right in the middle of the sea. The pictures of the bungalows showed an amazing collections of artefacts,paintings,vases,and statutes. There were no fans then so the British had people hired as human-fans for themselves. Basically it was a place where the Britishers chilled after a hard day of giving a hard time to Indian freedom fighters who were held in  the prison at the Cellular Jail(Kaala Pani) in Port Blair. With this little research I was hopeful of seeing the magnificence of the British living.
As I entered the Island there was a ticket counter. At the ticket counter there was a small board saying Private Guide and a number. My father had told me that he had read about a guide named Anuradha Rao in a newspaper and that it would be worthwhile to have her around. Im always skeptical of the guides in India. Though I just called the number anyway. I started dailing the number,there was a weirdly dressed woman standing beside me. She wore a man shirt which she had cut the sleeves of,a man pant which she had folded on her ankles and she held a huge bag that smelled of bread.  As I looked at her, my phone to Anuradha got through, the woman beside me said “Hello” and I knew it was Anuradha. I immediately thought of this being a big mistake.As we finished ticket formalities, Anuradha approached us with a deer right behind her.” Namaste, mein aaj aapki guide hun. Mein aapko har jaankari hindi mein dungi. Mujhe English aati hain par hindi hamari rashtra bhasha hain, toh usse bolne mein kya sharam. Jab aap Paris jaate hain kya vahan ke log french mein hi baat nahi karte, toh hum kyun na hindi mein bolen. Aap ko koi aitraaz toh nahi?” She asked us smiling, showing of her guthka stained red teeth. We shook our head. She spoke to us in Hindi throughout the one and half hours.
Anuradha Rao with her blind deer

She started giving us information about Ross Island’s history, though I was completely distracted with the image of her and her stroking that beautiful deer. She realised that,”She (the deer) is blind from both eyes. Her only sense of direction comes from my voice. She follows my voice. I have trained her that way. She has an amazing sense of smell. With animals its really easy to establish trust, once you establish the bond it remains the same. Its not as difficult as humans.” I smiled I kind of realised this could turn out to be something good. She continued with her information.”I am the 4th generation of this island. I was born and raised here. My parents, grand parents worked for the British. If you expect to see anything from that period here ,you are mistaken. There is nothing of that time left on this island. The Britishers took a lot of it when they left,also there was an earthquake in 1941 which destroyed a lot of things. What is left here today are just some really old trees and remains of the old structures. Also the Indian government did nothing to preserve these structures.” Then she suddenly drifted from the subject.” The world’s most dangerous thing is not nature or animals but us,humans. We are self-destructive and have no respect for the universe we live in.” She suddenly started touching her body everywhere,like looking for something. “Chote, where are you roaming? Come out?” My father looked at me as if Anuradha was nuts. I laughed. “There you are, Chote. Sir meet Chote, he was born a week back. I keep him with myself because the owls will snatch him. He is very young and slow.” It was a cute little squirrel. She took out a small injection filled with milk and fed him. “Hamashe bhooka rahate hain tu, Chote.”
Chote drinking his milk
What was and what remains
“The Britishers gave us a lot of trouble but they were really intelligent people. Andaman will never have a water problem. The Britishers have dug ground water reserves all over the place. They were paranoid about the water. The greatest number of deaths on the islands happened because of water-borne diseases. This bit of information was given to the authorities by me. There is a cemetery a little ahead. I asked the Government to dig it up so that we can find something. They would not listen. So one night I dug up a little with the help of a fisherman. I got some samples and gave it to the defence people to experiment on. Thats when they found out about the deaths due to water borne diseases. Our government needs to be woken up every now and then.” Suddenly she yelled some 10 names loudly. “Its lunch time.” she said looking at us. In 10 mins we were surrounded by two peacocks,a peahen, innumerable kinds of birds, some more deers,squirels and cocks. The sight was unbelievable.It was like I was shooting for Animal Planet. My jaw dropped down some centimetres. She gave me some bread. “It is without any yeast. Breads with yeast kill them. So many tourists have killed my deers like that.” I took some time to sink it in and started feeding them.
The youngest death ever recorded on the Island due to jaundice.The epitaph is worth zooming into.Beautiful words… 🙂
All of them at lunch!
A walk  in the wild,with the wild!
After that for a good half an hour the animals followed us everywhere. I was walking with a peacock on one side and a deer on the other. ” You guys go ahead and see the the Pedar beach. It is down there. The beach was destroyed by the Tsunami. A lot of  film shootings used to happen here. The view is just beautiful. ” We went down and she was right. The view was breathtaking. We spend a few minutes and went up. By the time we came up all the animals and birds had surrounded Anuradha. She sat there eating the same bread she was feeding them. It was like watching a film. It was much more beautiful than the Pedar beach. They sat there like friends chatting and enjoying their lunch. That image will never leave me.
Pedar beach

Time seemed to go too fast. As our last spot we sat on the sea coast of Ross island looking towards the Cellular Jail tower in Port Blair. I asked Anuradha her story. “I was born here with limited resources. My dad didnt do much for me and my siblings. We called him Hitler. We all had to make our own lives. My father died really early. My mother just recently a few months back. I lost all my siblings and their families in the Tsunami. I was saved because I was in the sea on a ship, with the defence people. I knew something was going to happen a month before. My animals told me, they always have an instinct about these things you know. I tried to warn people but they called me mad. A lot of people thought I was mad before the Tsunami now they respect what I have to say  a little bit. The defence people gave me a small room on the island. I live there alone with my animals for company. They are my family. No civilian is allowed to stay on this island but they let me. If not for me these animals would have been either dead,caged or hunted. I have to protect them, just like they protect me. They are all that I have got, anyway.”

As it was time to say goodbye. I hugged Anuradha. She took some time but then patted on my back.” God bless you madam.” She turned around and her blind deer followed her. Finding their way back, to the place which they both call “home”.  Anuradha touched my heart in a million ways. She will be etched in my memory forever.
With Anuradha and the deer.

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