The Last Wave by Pankaj Sekhsaria: a review

I have always wanted to visit the Andaman Islands, and I had written to Pankaj nearly half a decade ago about it, but I didn’t intend to visit the islands as a tourist, especially after the tsunami. The trip however never materialized and years later, today, Pankaj helped me visit the great islands through “The Last Wave”, and I learnt much more about the island than I would have if I were to visit as a mere tourist. Simply put, the book is relevant to those who have been to the islands as it is to those who wish to.
Cover of The Last Wave: An Island Novel by Pankaj Sekhseria,
Published by Harper Collins
The Last Wave’s cover is outlaid on a mellow shade of green, with sights and signs distinctive of the Andamans: a Jarawa standing on what appears to be the Andaman Trunk Road, a fish and a dinghy signifying the basic livelihood of the island, a mugger basking near the base of the book, and between the title and the name of the author rests the flower of Papilionanthe teres. The back-cover, in continuation of the front, shows a Leatherback turtle along the sea, a Narcondam Hornbill that appears to be contemplating its future, and what appears to be the aftermath of the tsunami silhouetted against the colourful design of the book: a reminder of the third deadliest earthquake of the world in the last hundred years.

At 290-pages long, the book is divided into three parts and sub-divided into several chapters each containing a wealth of knowledge skillfully woven with a story of people exploring and discovering the social and ecological aspects of the islands. It starts with a very revealing excerpt from “A History of our Relations with the Andamanese” written in 1899. Every chapter has snippets and facts about the islands, whether in reference to the location, the people of the islands, or its wild denizens – from mangroves and its inhabitants to the virgin tropical forests. It takes one on a trip around the islands led by its main protagonists, with a map guiding the reader of the whereabouts of the stories of the novel. Set in the backdrop of real events, the book slowly and interestingly binds you to its tales – both factual and fictitious, that fiction seems indeed real. Its stories build up one upon another – like brick upon a brick – hinting only subtly where it is all headed – where you know the story ultimately leads to – that singularity event by which the book is aptly titled.

The novel aims to put several pieces together, with the focus on the “first-borns” of the islands – the Jarawas, and the unwarranted, unorthodox notion of the mainlanders towards this mystical community of India. It raises issues of utmost urgency in the real world, and it seeks to answer questions that shall aid in the attitude-shift towards the visitors to the islands as well as those who have simply heard about these people. Although counted in the “fiction” genre, this novel is a startling wake-up call to the real world towards the plight of the Jarawas and other vulnerable communities of the islands.

Pankaj crafts his ideas by showing us both the sides of the coins. The harsh facts lie on the ugly side, and the beautiful and seemingly mystical facts which lie on the beautiful side of the same coin. In this novel, the ugly side reigns over the beautiful – but this is a necessary evil to come to appreciate the beauty of the other side of the coin which lies in its rarity and vulnerability. From the history of the first-borns of the islands, to the local-born and immigrants, to the coming and going of the Japanese and the British, to the changing landscapes of the islands, this book raises issues that are reflective of the mainland India; but in context of this rather isolated ecosystem, it is more expressive and disconcerting. For those with a greater curiosity, the author has also given a list of references at the end of the book.

Beside the vast information about the islands, the personal touch and a sense of belonging comes from the two protagonists of the novel – Harish and Seema, and the other critical characters of the novel. They are the fictitious embodiment of all of us in some way, and this breathes fresh air into what could have otherwise been a factual report of the islands not many would be interested in. And herein lies the best asset of this book: this book is for those who want to be initiated into the web-of-life of the islands: and that must be all of us. Today, the world needs this book; the world needs to know the history, the present, and the out-of-sight yet straight-and-narrow future akin to the Andaman Trunk Road, of our long-lost neighbours of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

A must-read for backpackers, wishful-travelers, as well as budding explorers to the Andamans. 

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You can visit the author's Facebook page: The Last Wave - An Island Novel
You can buy the book on Amazon and Flipkart.

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