I received a call from a scientist friend in Port Blair early November this year. As soon as I picked up my phone, he asked me a question he had asked me dozens of times during the past three years: “When do I see you here?”
As I maintained my silence, he went all out to sell the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as an attractive tourist destination to me. Again, something he had done dozens of times!
“Hold on,” I said. “You haven’t taken to travel trade—have you?”
That got him. “No,…no!” he declined. “But, I am just keen to have you here. It’s been such a long time since we met last time. When do you plan to come?”
“I am looking at a weeklong vacation around Christmas time,” I informed him.
“Why Christmas time…why not before that?” he queried.
‘To tell you the truth, I want to make it before Christmas…at least a week before that.”
“Are you on business? Or, is it a pleasure trip?” he asked.
“Well, let us put it this way…um…it’s business with pleasure!” I mumbled. I couldn’t help letting out a loud laugh.
“Oh! Yeah? What does that mean?” He returned a little curiously.
“That means…I want to make a tour of some of the best islands and do an anniversary story on tsunami while I am there,” I explained.
“Do that,” he endorsed. “But, what is this story that you wish to do?”
I tried to recall the story and narrate it to my friend. “ I heard that there was a family of seven: the father, the mother and their five children—all girls. The father was something of a tyrant. He used to treat his family with contempt. He would return home drunk every night and beat up everyone for no reason. Even his own parents disapproved of his cruel behaviour.”
“When tsunami came, they held on to each other by locking their hands together. They formed a human chain, so to say. They were washed away by the retreating waves. They were still clinging to each other as the waves carried them away. Then, the father grabbed for a tree and managed to latch on to it. The mother lost hold of her husband’s hand in the resulting jerk. The six of them—the mother and her five daughters were washed away. A few days later, a rescue team found all six of them dead still holding each other’s hands.”
“The father survived and he learnt about the fate of his family. When he returned to his parents’ home and narrated this story, he was shocked at their reaction. Instead of being happy at seeing him alive, they cursed him. They beat their breasts as they looked up towards the sky and cried: O God, why did you save him? He is the one who should have died. His wife and children were such angels. They were the ones who deserved to live. Why did you save him—of all the people?”
“I think that was a strange reaction from his parents no matter how he treated his family. But, that taught him a lesson. For the first time, he realized what it means to be a human being. It was his inhuman behaviour towards his family that estranged his own parents. That was a strange message to hand out to one’s own blood at a time like that. The father felt ashamed and forsaken. He left his parents never to return.”
“I think that could make a great anniversary story. Now, if you know this family, I would like to speak to his parents. I would like to find out why they hated him so much?” I concluded.
“And,…write about it?” asked my scientist friend. “I know that family. But, for God’s sake, please drop that story idea,” he begged. “Just change your plans. Don’t come before Christmas. Come in the new year instead.”
“Why?” I shot back puzzled at his sudden change of mind.
“Tsunami was a bad dream for the people on these islands,” explained my friend. “It was a nightmare. It cut them to the core of their hearts. Wounds are just beginning to heal…with the passage of time. The scars are still fresh. Please don’t scratch their wounds and revive their pain.”
“Forget this story,” my friend continued. “There are hundreds of stories littered on these islands. Take a fresh lead. Do a new story. But, please don’t touch this one. Please don’t meet these people. They might have said what they did to their son in a fit of rage. Just leave them alone. For my sake,…just give up this story.”
“I will think it over and get back to you,” I assured by friend as I hung up my phone. And, then, I went into the introspection mode. “We do stories all the time,” I thought. “Heavens will not fall on me if I don’t do this one story. I was overcome by compassion.”
“We do stories because we see the possibility of a story in a given situation. We think we have a nose for news. Seldom do we pause to think as to what our stories do to the people we write about. Maybe we do not have the time to ponder over it. Maybe we have no choice. Maybe we don’t care. It took me an appeal to my sensitivity and sensibility from a dear friend to realize this. After a long thought, I decided I would accede to my friend’s request.”
I decided I would not go to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for that story. After all, the story idea was my own. It wasn’t an assignment. I decided I would not disturb that family. I decided I would not remind them of a tragedy that is past. I decided I would leave them in peace.
I decided to sacrifice my story as a new-year-gift to the family. I decided I would not do that tsunami story at any cost. So, I did this one!