At Ross Island, we wandered past derelict and abandoned rooms and buildings, whose brickwork was superimposed by large tree roots and stems that had now taken over. It was awe-inspiring, especially because the wind roared and the sea splashed all around the tiny island, and every space that men had tried to claim for themselves seemed to have been taken back, bit by bit, but firmly, by nature. There were the peacocks and deer we met in the course of our rambling walk all over the island. There were beautiful views of the sea from various vantage points, old Japanese bunkers, a lily overgrown pond, and a cemetery.

We came upon the entrance to an old Presbyterian church whose plinths had been brought in from Europe to provide a sturdy exterior. The church, now in disuse, was a testimonial to an older time when men who had travelled afar from home needed sustenance from a faith that they brought along to the Indian shores. So many highlanders must have felt thankful for the prayer and strength this building once provided—strength that had perhaps served them with hazy outlines of codes and governance. This particular Presbyterian chapel is in ruins and has been around for a long time…but in mainland Port Blair there are other churches, and temples, where worship and prayer are in daily practice.

In the heart of Aberdeen Market, back on the mainland an intriguing sign announces the Police Gurudwara. Next to it is another sign saying Police Temple. Ram Biswas, whose father is from Bengal and whose mother, from Andaman, tells us that there is a Masjid too, and drives us to another lane parallel to the market road, where we get to view three well maintained structures, a gurudwara, a temple and a mosque, amicably situated next to each other. The gurudwara and the mosque are shining white while the upper structure of the temple is a brightly painted mosaic of colours.  Has co-existence been given concrete impetus by the State Police? It is possibly a good thing to do, in the peacetime in sleepy and tranquil Andaman, since faith continues to move boulders by inches despite all of Marx’s announcements to the contrary.

 

Ratna Raman

Ratna Raman

Ratna Raman is Associate Professor of English at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. She is a regular columnist at Hard News and also writes the blog In the Midst of Life.

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