Socially distant from the islands

For two months I woke up to the light filtering through bamboo weaved walls, a variety of bird songs and mental silence. I lived at the Andaman Nicobar Environment Team (ANET) research station in Wandoor, a quiet village in South Andaman. Life at ANET was simple and healthy, with limited connectivity to the world outside Andamans. I was one with the islands. My worries, a lot lesser and smiles, a lot more.

Life at ANET

Everyday explorations at ANET

A few days ago, I arrived in Bangalore for what I thought would be a quick four-day trip to renew my passport, attend a friend’s engagement and to download a ton of papers with ‘high speed’ internet. A day before I left the islands, a friend told me to rethink my decision of going to the mainland. Living in the islands, I was largely isolated from the information on COVID-19 rapidly sweeping across borders. At the Port Blair airport, I felt a little pull in my stomach telling me to not leave the islands. I shrugged it off, knowing that I’d run back to the islands very soon.

Bangalore! A wave of human energy, with no sea in sight. The city was quieter than usual but in comparison to the islands, it felt like an electric zoo. Just like that, I was engulfed by a sea of information and soon I got a picture of the life I avoided for two months. All of this sounds a bit too dramatic, but if only I could articulate better, I would tell you how special my experience was in the islands.

Over the weekend, I spent hours scrolling through my twitter feed, absorbing way more than I have in the last two months. Overwhelming!

I have barely slept in the last four nights, constantly waking up to the fear of living in a city under quarantine. I find it difficult to fall asleep without the guided meditation composed by the nightjars, frogs and insects. I am so angry with myself for coming to the mainland and for having walked right into this crisis mentally. My mind screams * take me back to the islands NOW! *

I can’t return to the islands for the next two weeks as travel to the islands has been severely restricted and all flights are cancelled. This is the need of the hour and the only practical solution to protect the vulnerable islands from this full-blown crisis. I just wish I hadn’t come down right now. I wish I’d listened to the rumbles in my stomach!

But, as this frustration slowly recedes, I see the brighter side of being in Bangalore. I know I am fortunate to be at home with my family, unlike many across the world. Millions are experiencing these sudden changes in schedule. Although these surprises might delay my PhD research, I hope to use my time creatively by writing bits of my thesis and processing thoughts through art.

For now, I will imagine myself in the islands by drawing out scenes that I have experienced there. This way, I’ll be closer to a reality I loved and long for.

The sudden transition is confusing, but will surely pass. I can’t wait for the morning chai(s) at ANET while listening to hilarious stories from the field staff, watching birds I-don’t-know-names-of and continuing my research. I miss the islands dearly. Hopefully, I will be back in two weeks – stronger and fully excited!


The view from the breakfast table at ANET, where much thinking and talking goes on 



Dancers of the Sea

There I was, sitting high on the bright orange bow with my legs dangling off the boat. I sat there with a smile on my face as the lilting swell of the sea carried us on her crests. I held on to the bow with both my hands, it felt like a carousel ride in an amusement park. Each time the boat would gently drop down into the troughs of the swell I felt little whirlpools of joy in my stomach, that tickle that fills you with utmost thrill. I couldn’t help but giggle like a little girl.

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Of carousel rides and child like giggles.

The lapuz lazuli waters of the Laccadive sea extended like a sheet of mirrors reflecting and deflecting the sun’s rays.  Through the shards of rays on the glassy waters, I stared at the salmon coloured jellyfish drift away in slow motion and hypnotic patterns of the ripples on the water’s surface.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I saw shimmering blue flying fish glide into the horizon in groups of four or more. What made this all the more soothing was the view I got from the tip of the boat and the tunes of the music I was listening to. I felt like I was the composer at an orchestra directing these intriguing creatures to emerge from the waters in synchrony from either side of the boat. Although, I know they do this to evade their predators underwater.

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Watching the flying fish glide to the horizon.

The games I was playing with the sea made me forget about the other people on the boat. All I could connect with was the big blue sea ahead of me.

I took long breaths and marveled at the beauty of the monotonous sea.

I was suddenly woken from this trance. I heard Muhammed Ali, our boatman call out the magic word – “Dolphins”. I immediately looked in the distance. I saw them, a pod of seven spinner dolphins (Stenella longinostris). They were swimming with their gorgeous grey undulations shining against the sun.

Then the show began. One of the dolphins emerged right out of the water vertically, twirled in the air and then dived right back into the water with all its might. The somersaults were so graceful to look at against the shine of the sun.


Somersaults and spins.

The pod got quiet and within a few seconds, I saw their sleek silhouettes disappear.

We waited patiently in the hope of seeing them again. But they were nowhere to be seen. The fishermen on the boat told us they might have swum away. I was really hoping to get another glance of these magical creatures.  After all that waiting, I gave up on seeing them.

When suddenly.


They appeared right beneath my feet, like unreal beings in the water, pirouetting in synchrony. There were six of them right beneath my dangling feet. I could feel the splashes of water on my feet, splashes from their gentle whipping tails. They were racing with each other and our boat, appearing and disappearing.  It was some sort of game for them, there were six initially and then there were just two swimming, one on either side of my feet. At the end of it, there was one which swam ahead of us and soon disappeared.


First glimpse of the dolphins.


Bow riding in synchrony.


It was all a scripted fantasy. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to freeze time. I could feel the vibrations ride through my nerves. My facial expressions were changing every second while watching them enjoy.  I was squealing in joy.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my palms on the orange bow. I took a mental image of it, those few minutes. It’s weird that I know how all my senses reacted that day. I love that when I close my eyes now I can immediately transport myself to that day, those few minutes and I can experience it the same way.

Etched. It is now a permanent memory.