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Right off the bat, this book’s review for a travel magazine needs to be consumed from a responsible tourism point of view, while setting aside the military, political and legal aspects it goes into. External security does need to be balanced with ecological preservation, and experience has shown that increasingly in the world and especially in India, the armed forces do much more than local pressure points for environmental causes.
Tourists are permitted to visit fewer than 20 or so of the 306 islands that form the Andaman & Nicobar Islands; about 40 are inhabited. The narrative varies considerably from oral lore, British history and post-Independence positions; the truth lies in the eyes of the beholder, and no one narrative can claim to hold a copyright on future plans. This book does appear to be missing the woods for the trees—it is only on a handful of islands that the armed forces have any sort of serious presence, some of which are known to seafarers whose ships ply for whatever reason in those areas. Environmental adherences that I know of are so strict here that every bit of plastic, soft drink bottles for example, have to be accounted for.
It is also not fair for this book to club settlers, many of whom are second and third generation, as “colonizers”. A quick word with friends there led me to this—the book is woefully out-of-date. “Newer” people in the islands have as much a commitment to the future as the“original” settlers there—who also came from somewhere else at some point in history.
Sadly, therefore, many of the essays do appear to take on a very myopic view of the way things were, without updating readers on the huge changes in responsible tourism now in position, though a lot always needs to be done. An opportunity to balance an otherwise informative book was lost by the assemblers. If you are looking for a book that tries to explain the fine print on one side of a complex jigsaw on the Indian Islands in the Bay of Bengal, then this book provides a lot of material, though newer updates are available online.
If, however, you are looking for in-depth information on responsible tourism on these islands, then it may make a lot more sense to use the ferry/ship to get there, and learn along the way by talking to regular travellers onboard as well as reading the many nautical and other guides to these islands.
Flux is part of nature, and more so in coastal areas as well as on islands. If you want to appreciate the real beauty of these islands and the forgiving manner of nature, some gems lie scattered in the essays here as a sort of “before” versus present-day realities. My personal favourite is the section on “Environment, Ecology & Development”—mostly because the essays provide information on the position 10-20 years ago. Research over the last few days with friends who live there and sail those waters and would be neutral, tells me that matters have hugely improved.
This book tells you a lot about much that was wrong in the islands. A visit as a responsible tourist will tell you what things are like today, and help you come to a point of view of your own on the before and after of things.
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