While on a trip to one of the Andaman Islands a few summers ago, we went to a beach to shoot some aerial footage. Courtesy of a technical malfunction, that exercise ended with an expensive drone lodged in the branches of a towering tree near the waterline.
This particular tree was at least three times as tall as any I’d seen before. Its trunk was so wide that two people couldn’t hold hands if they stood around it. There was simply no way any of us would have been able to climb the tree. We required some local help.
The challenge was that not everyone was happy to see or hear about drones. Given how remote this particular island was, it seemed safe to assume that they wouldn’t react kindly to such a strange gadget.
I found myself in quite a predicament.
Left with no other choice, I eventually sought the advice of a few locals to figure out how we might recover our ‘toy’ from the top of a giant tree. I did my best to avoid focusing on what it was or how it ended up there. The recurring answer I got was that the only people who could climb that particular tree were the Nicobari tribe who lived in a settlement on the other side of the island—a people who preferred to be left to themselves, and often didn’t take kindly to uninvited visitors.
So now, I had to find a way to meet the Chief of this settlement, because his permission was the first step towards receiving any kind of assistance from any of their ‘climbers’. As luck would have it, I met a coconut merchant on the side of the road, who introduced me to a person from the Nicobari village. After much coaxing, I was able to convince him to take me into their settlement with him.
When I was granted an audience before the Chief, I told him the story of how “something” of ours was stuck on a “big tree”. I made the story unnecessarily complicated, while conveniently avoiding mentioning the “D” word, even when pressed for more information. A small crowd had gathered by now and they spent some time discussing my situation. Unfortunately, their verdict was that they could not be of any help. “Our men can climb the tallest of coconut trees, but we cannot give anyone the dangerous task of climbing this other tree”, he said.
My last ray of hope had vanished. But, I felt a certain sense of relief for having managed to get through all this without upsetting anyone or highlighting the fact that we had been using “that” thing. Or, so I thought.
Just as I was leaving, the Chief called out to me again. He said, “By the way, if you find anyone who can climb that tree to recover your drone camera, ask them to also come here. My son was flying his drone the other day—and it also crashed into a tall tree.”
My jaw dropped, and then I was in splits! They must have thought me to be such a fool for assuming that they would not know what I was truly talking about. We city folks often believe that we know more than those who remain rooted to more traditional realities. The truth, however, is that the joke can often be on us.