The sky as clear as a crystal, we saw small islands of various shapes and sizes, completely untouched by the destructive hand of humans, swiftly pass by beneath us, as we flew over the Bay of Bengal, on our way to Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar islands. Too soon, we landed at the airport, too small a structure comprising just one runway and one gate to be called one. As we joined the group of people who had registered under the same travel agent as us, initial introductions were made, before we were swiftly taken to a hotel and were shown to a handsome and luxurious room(that we did not have the time to enjoy), and were asked to be ready in an hour. Freshening up as fast as we could, we went downstairs, and were immediately herded into a bus, that took us to the port.
A huge ferry, with rickety wooden benches, seating around seventy people and spewing out copious amounts of black smoke, then took us to an island about an hour’s ride away- the Viper Island. This island, named so because it was once heavily infested with vipers, one of the most venomous snakes in the world, was used by the British when they were ruling India to abandon the freedom fighters who were stirring up trouble in the main part of the country. We were accompanied by a local tourist guide who gave an excellent heart-rending performance, explaining the hardships that the brave men endured for their country and all that they had to undergo to get us the freedom that we are now taking for granted. History says that these men were mercilessly abandoned on the island, where they either slowly starved to death or worst of all, were killed by the vipers. Later, after a lot of protests against this horrible treatment, the British built a courthouse and hanging gallows, after deciding to hang the prisoners rather than banishing them to the island. These structures, which after freedom became national monuments, unfortunately were destroyed in the 2006 tsunami that affected this archipelago very badly. Now, it’s just the skeletons of these buildings that still stand as silent witnesses to this sorry tale.
Back on the ferry and back to Port Blair, we next went to the cellular jail, once again built in the period of the East India Company, to torture freedom fighters. Here, they were subjected to a punishment called the kala pani punishment, literally translated as ‘black water’, which denoted solitary treatment. A lot of brave men lost their mind and body in this prison, where they were put to extreme torture. The prisoners were made to perform menial tasks, were set unreachable targets to achieve, and when failed, were put to torture. We attended the sound and light show in the main courtyard of the prison, where they explained the complete history of the prison in detail with brilliant light and sound effects that actually transported you to the torture chamber.
A little shaken with the cruelty, while at the same time proud of my ancestors who had fought and endured so much for our freedom, we went back to the room, tired to the bones, every part of our bodies crying for some rest. We hit the bed as soon as we had dinner, moaning about the fact that we had just a few hours of sleep to catch before we hit the sea again, but looking forward to seeing more of what this beautiful archipelago had to offer us.