By Arnab Ray (@greatbong)

I have never had a guest blogger here at RTDM. But as of today, I am going to make an exception. I present (fanfare)—-my mother. A little context: My father, a professor at IIM Calcutta is going to retire in February. So on his last LTC, Baba and Ma went to Andaman Islands—both for some peace and quiet (they deserve it for having brought me up) as well as to visit Andaman Cellular Jail—-the place where my grandfather (my father’s father) , Jyotirmoy Ray [his picture in the Cellular Jail museum on the left] spent 4 years of his life [his sentence was for 7 years commutted to 4 as part of an amnesty program] as a political prisoner (He was part of the revolutionary movement in Bengal and transported arms to the revolutionaries). He died in 1991.This post is based on a mail my mother wrote to me after coming back from Andamans—-I have added some things to it based on phone conversations I had with her since then. In all, it’s a joint effort between mother and son—in some places the feelings are Ma’s (as conveyed through the telephone) and the words are mine and in some places both of them are Ma’s (being part of her original letter).With January 26 here, I thought of sharing it with you.

Dear Phuchiburo (that’s me) and Mago (my wife),

Our first stop of the day was the Cellular Jail. The weather in Calcutta was cold but Andaman was hot although it was also officially winter there.

There is a museum Jail1inside in the jail where the pictures of freedom fighters who were detained here are kept. We did not know that Dadu’s picture features prominently there. So when I saw Dadu’s photo on the wall with “Armed Action Case” written on the top of it and his name below, I froze– literally and emotionally. You don’t expect to see your own kin as an exhibit in a museum and that too someone who has been around you physically.

All these times we have gone to so many museums and seen so many people’s pictures and their personal effects but I never ever felt any sort of emotional twitch anywhere in my otherwise very emotional mind because all of them were just “people”– mere statistics to me . Yes they were heroes–noble people whom I respect but who are ultimately strangers—the kind that stare back at you from history books and from the walls of museums. You stop, look at them, feel respect and then move on to the next picture.

But this was different. The man in the picture was someone I knew–in flesh and blood. I called him Baba, I touched his feet, I loved him and I got mad at him for certain things that he did or didn’t do. This was Jyotirmoy Ray, my father-in-law, revolutionary, member of a dangerous anti-British secret society and one of the prisoners of Andaman Cellular Jail.

The same man who also lovingly called me khukuma.

After my son’s marriage, I really came to know what emotional value that simple word “ma” conveys because I call my daughter in law “maago” and nobody knows better than me how much I love her. Same relationship, same love, same hate, same agreements, same disgust, same happy moments. The only difference is that I can’t talk to him now but my daughter in law can talk to me and that is a gigantic difference.

I realized that tears were now flowing down my cheeks. I felt terribly breathless — the impact of controlling my emotions in a public place. Now I know what celebrities in the public domain feel like; not that I am a celebrity but my father-in-law is. I shuddered to look at your father because I knew what was going through his mind.

If this is how I felt, then God knows how he was coping . After all he is his youngest son and the most favorite and pampered of all the three brothers. I really did not want to look at him but my impulse took over. God, he was a mess. I wanted to hold his hand but could not bring myself to because instead of being a source of strength to him, I myself would break down and make a fool of myself in a public place.

Plus he seemed to be lost in a world of his own as he looked at the picture—lost in the memories of his father and his own childhood. So intensely personal to your father was this moment of sadness, remembrance and pride that I did not want to impinge on its tear-soaked purity.

So I just pretended to look at other pictures of freedom fighters who are heroes but definitely not my kin —in order to get a grip on myself and attain the demeanor of an objective museum-visitor. Your father did the same thing for the same reason. We did not look at each other on purpose lest the emotions come flooding back again.

Anyway, we took some pictures and moved on to the next section. This is where the exhibits are. I came to learn that the British authorities made Indians torture fellow Indians. According to them if any prisoner needed any punishment, which was pretty often, then they were to be whipped by Indians—the white man did not want to get his hands dirty with the blood and the sweat. The whipping was done while the prisoner was strapped to a frame by hand and feet so that there was no running around or change of position to lighten the torture. Prisoners’ non-cooperation or hunger strike or failing to fulfill the work quota called for various degrees of punishment as Britishers consider themselves to be fair minded!

The Cellular jaijail3l was built by convicts. It had seven wings spread in the form of seven spokes of a wheel, though unequal in length. There were 696 cells specially built for solitary confinement of the prisoners. A three storied central tower was built at the centre of the convergence of the seven wings. A single guard could supervise all the seven wings from this vantage position. Another unique feature was the total absence of communication between the prisoners in the different wings, since the front of one row of cells with verandah running all along, faced the back of the other wing.

Each cell measuring 12ft by 7 ft had an iron grill door. A 3 ft by 1 ft ventilation 9 ft above provided some light and air. A verandah about 4 ft ran all along the front of the row of cells from one end to the other end of the wing. Each cell grill was well secured with sturdy iron bolt and lock which ran through a rectangular channel on the outside of the cell wall a few feet away from the entrance door. This way the prisoners could not even touch the lock for tampering. Each wing had a courtyard in front with a workshop where the prisoners toiled during the day. There was only one jail4kitchen for the prisoners of the whole jail. The prisoners ate in their cells. The food was passed through a trap door.

There was a pot (similar to the one in which they ate) which was to be used for urine and stool within the cell that were to be cleaned by the prisoners when they were let outside in the morning for toiling. They ate, slept, wept and plotted for the freedom of their land in those dingy dark rooms with the stench of excreta, blood, tears and sweat and the screams of pain emanating through the walls as their only companions.

In the jail, work in the oil grinding mill was all the more terrible and caused several deaths. The quantity of work they were made to do was not humanly possible. Thus almost every day was a punishment day. The punishment varied from whipping to hand cuffs for a week to bar fetters to solitary confinement. With hand cuffs the prisoners had to eat and drink like an animals. Bar fetters were long iron rods joined from hand cuffs going down to the ankle cuffs. This way the prisoners could not bend any way. If they decided to lie down, they would have to throw themselves on to the ground and thus get hurt in the process. Some of them were fed boiled wild grass and their drinking water was collected rain water with worms in them.

A majority of the prisoners went through these unimaginable indignities and punishments but did not give in. Some committed suicide. Some lost their mind. For some, their body gave way but not their spirit and they went onto a more peaceful place.

Going through all these made me feel absolutely drenched out. Honestly I could hardly move. I did not ask your father about how he was feeling because I knew the answer.

Just like any Indian, I have read about freedom fighters and the freedom struggle. But I never really realized the actual depth of the zeal that drove them even though I knew that it involved my father in law. The incidents were just dates and events you had to memorize and analyze for examinations though it gave you a warm fuzzy feeling to read about the sacrifices of so many. But somehow such emotions only scratched the surface—-it made us feel “patriotic” in the way an Indian victory in a cricket match makes us feel.

However this Andaman visit and the associated experience and emotions touched a chord that ran much deeper. Is this the reason why psychologists refer to the experience of going back to your “roots” as so important a part in the process of self-realization?

If this is the reason they do, then I fully agree with them. Of course I must also add that had it not been for my own association with a freedom fighter whom I loved, I would surely not have this depth of emotion and understanding in spite of my first hand experience.

We went to the ground floor cells. Barring Savarkar’s cells, all cells were unmarked because the prisoners were quite often shifted from cell to cell. This means my father in law was anywhere and everywhere over here.

By this time my brain cells were asking me to stop due to the physical discomfort from the knee problem. (my mother has a debilitating knee condition which has severely hampered her mobility) But my heart was on autopilot—and somehow in this place the consciousness of your own physical discomfort pales in comparison to the realization of what the people here had to endure for years.

I decided to climb up the two floors above. Your father knows my knees’ endurance level so he was surprised at my decision. I told him “I want to show my respect to my father in law in my own way”.

We went two flighjail5ts up looking at those empty dingy cells as if searching for the man who directly and indirectly gave me all I have. The cells were, in a way, frightening—despite the apparent peace and tranquility that reigns today, there is still a brooding sense of pain, suffering and death that hovers over the place like a cloud—invisible yet palpable.

But no there was something else which is even more powerful—a light ethereal wondrous presence that dispels the darkness of suffering.

Hope. The hope that sustained these men (your grandfather among them) despite floggings, torture and subhuman treatment. The hope that one day things would be different, the hope that their sons and daughters would grow up in a land free from foreign oppression. And as your father stared into the dark abyss of a cell reaching out for a part of your grandfather forever lost in these walls, I could not help thinking that somehow your father’s presence here, as a free man and as a professor of a premier institute of higher education of a proud resurgent India, is a vindication of the sacrifices your grandfather and his fellow prisoners made.

It was getting late. We moved away—leaving behind the shadows of your grandfather and his fellow patriots. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness , great pride and a deep sense of understanding of what a hero my father-in-law really is. In a way, it seemed as if I was knowing him all over again—so many years after he passed way.

As we went out of the gates, a bird, catching the last rays of the sun, spread its wings and vanished into the sky. Looking up, I silently thanked your grandfather for everything and I am sure that he heard me all right.

Do visit this place if an opportunity arises. You owe it to him.

God Bless you


By Saji Samuel

You stand there as a citadel

Guarding, as an alert sentinel

My harbour entrance,

You stand up to face

The rough seas of the monsoon

And the wrath of the cyclone

And say, as always,

With your chivalrous flair

Me first – then Port Blair!

I salute you O Ross!

When the Tsunami came roaring

And the waves came swirling

With destruction in the air,

You stood up

And said, as always,

Me first – then Port Blair!

I salute you O Ross!

I remember your glorious best

As Paris of the East

The memories of those years

Are still the very best ...

But you gave it up

Your glory and your fame!

To silently see me prosper

In glory and in name!

As you now say

In your generous flair

Me next- first Port Blair!!

I salute you O Ross!

I salute you O Ross!! 

If You Think About Rarer Diseases At The Outset, Chances Of Making A Correct Diagnosis Is Also Rare.

By Dr. Sudip Chakraborty

Unlike chest pain, abdominal pain often doesn’t receive the seriousness it deserves &   diagnosis is quite often delayed. With a wide range of causes, right from benign conditions like indigestion to extremely dangerous diseases like pancreatitis and cancer, abdominal pain always is a tough nut to crack. This list is by no means complete because of word limit. Gynaecological causes will be addressed by respective specialist.

1)            Always watch out for associated danger signs like unnatural blood loss from any orifice, passing black pasty stool, significant unintentional loss of more than 10% body weight in less than 6 months, difficulty in swallowing solid foods, nocturnal pain awakening the person from sleep, progressive swelling\lump in abdomen etc.

2)            On the contrary  vague  pain of long duration  without much loss of weight or change in appetite, pain reducing after passing motion, associated stress or having a personality of anxiousness or an obsession that daily complete evacuation of bowel is a must for good health doesn’t  usually has anything serious causative factor.

3)            Pain just below lower right rib margin, increasing on deep breathing, often radiating to back and associated with fullness and early loss of appetite, may be due to gall bladder stones.

4)            Sharp pain in and around umbilicus with nausea and vomiting, partially relieving on leaning forward position could be due to pancreatitis. Common in alcoholics and in patients with gall stones.

5)            Gastric pain is very commonly heard but honestly it is nonspecific and I always try to know what exactly one means by that. Many a lives has been lost by attributing symptoms to gas. Right from gall bladder & pancreatic stones to stomach cancer, patients can have symptoms similar to GAS. Explaining associated symptoms especially in high risk groups like smoker, alcoholics, elderly patient and having family history of above diseases, should be carefully looked for.

6)            Pain due to hollow organ pathology like bowel and ureter (tube connecting kidneys to urinary bladder) is usually colicky which means it comes and goes in waves. So colicky pain  in either side of back or front of abdomen associated with urinary problems like blood in urine, difficulty\increased frequency or blockage of urine is usually suggestive of genito urinary disease, commonly kidney stone here in Islands.

7)            Similarly colicky pain associated with vomiting (bilious or feculent) progressively increasing abdominal fullness, not passing stool or wind, could be due to intestinal obstruction. Patient having pain over lower right side of abdomen with localized rigidity along with vomiting & fever can have appendicitis.

8)            Pain of gastric\duodenal ulcer is usually around umbilicus or above, related with meals either aggravating or relieving it, often waking him at night, may be associated with vomiting often self induced to relieve the pain temporarily.

9)            Pain along with yellowish urine and eyes, generalized itching, nausea, swelling of legs and abdominal distension, reddish spots in body, altered sleep pattern, easy briusablity suggests liver as the culprit organ.

10)          Rarer causes are actually not that rare unless we specifically look for, of course after one has exhausted the common causes first. Like abdominal migraine( instead of headache, patient having abdominal pain) and Celiac disease which is due to allergy to wheat and its products, presenting as  recurrent loose motions, loss of weight, frequent oral ulcer, feeling of indigestion etc. Never thought I could see above patients here but have more than 20 such documented patients now.  

Dr. S. Chakraborty

Just finished my second reading of the book; The last Wave, written by Pankaj sekhsaria. It was some journey, nudging to introspect and the smooth flow of events simultaneously makes it unputdownable.  It’s a perfect way to catch today’s multi-tasking youngsters attention to teach them a lesson on history & anthropology by interlocking with a love story, a tragic one though. Years of research on these islands by the author, makes the story highly believable and above all identifiable by islanders like me. Never did it sounded preachy or any agenda to be driven, its just a well written ficton but always hovering around  real events. At the end its open for subjective interpretation but surely one peeks inside many a times to get some answers.

The last chapter on Tsunami surely undresses the layers of wound that we islanders harbour. Somehow I feel the untouched ones among us has forgotten it or else how could we > forget such a powerful lesson it taught us? That our fate is interlinked and the materialistic things we value so much, is at the mercy of nature, should be paramount in our mind space. The impermanance of life at a snap that Tsunami showed us, should have actually made us value human relationships more. On the contrary post tsunami & the riches it brought, has only  eroded our values & togetherness and we are aping more of mainland culture now.

Finally the book forces us to question whose land is it anyway? The tribes with more than a thousand year of existence or us? Surely we can live amicably but just like the movie AVATAR, aren’t we shoving down their throat our way of life & exploiting their resources which they protected since ages?  For sure their thousand years of existence makes them more knowledgeable about the islands and survival here. Need to learn from them and not place them on the brink of extinction.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of Lt. Gen. (Retd) A.K. Singh, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM as the Lt. Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, I wish to extend my sincere gratitude. Within a year of your posting as the Lt. Governor, you have understood the challenges faced by the islanders. Sir, you have touched our lives in many ways and inspired us to move ahead, no matter how big a hurdle that lies ahead.  The Tsunami of 2004 had shattered our lives. It has been ten years after the heart breaking incident and yet we were not able to come over it. Your visit to our remote islands and your positive approach towards life and commitment to your job has greatly touched us. We are confident that you will lead the islands in the right direction. On behalf of the Tribal Council, I would like to extend all our support in your mission for a holistic development of the islands.

Ayesha Majid

Chairperson, Tribal Council,