Photography

In pictures: Green sea turtles, luminous jellyfish and the many other wonders of the Andaman Islands

Pankaj Sekhsaria’s photographs show the natural beauty of the islands while taking an unflinching look at the environmental damage caused by humans.

In 1998, Pankaj Sekhsaria was fast asleep at a beach in the South Sentinal Island in Andaman when he felt a tugging on the plastic sheet he lay on – as if someone was trying to pull it away. He looked around to find a green sea turtle right next to the sheet. “What a shock it was,” said Sekhsaria. “She was trying to move forward but slipping on the smooth plastic sheet. The actions of her flippers trying to move her forward were tugging at the sheet. She was out on the beach to lay her eggs and we had laid our sheets in her path. We got up quickly, pulled the sheet from under her, moved to another part of the beach so that we could sleep and she could lay her eggs.”

A researcher, writer, activist and academic, Sekhsaria has since been dedicated to the conservation of environment and wildlife, with a focus on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. His tryst with the islands started almost 20 years ago and has been writing and reporting on the indigenous communities and environment ever since. He has worked on documentary films and even authored books based on his experiences on the islands.

After years of extensively exploring these islands, Sekhsaria has had many thrilling experiences – he has been attacked by a mother bird and witnessed the hatchlings of a Giant Leatherback turtle make their first voyage from nest to sea. He has finally consolidated his visual documentation of these experiences for an exhibit, titled, Island Worlds… of Land and Sea.

The images of deep blue waters, green forests, luminous jellyfish and giant turtles printed on silk cloth will be travelling to Delhi’s India International Centre from July 22 to August 3 after being displayed in Pune, Chennai and Goa.

Jellyfish at Ross Islan (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
Jellyfish at Ross Islan (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).

“The word and the image have been central to my work,” said Sekhsaria. “But mainly as tools of information and of advocacy – in articles, photo features and submissions made to the courts. In the last four or five years, I felt the need to consolidate this work into more creative, even abstract domains.”

Printed on silk (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
Printed on silk (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).

The idea to print on silk came from another exhibition done in Hyderabad that Sekhsaria had been a part of. The photographs, which showed the entire process of how cotton is woven into cloth, were printed on cotton handloom fabric.

“Silk offers a texture and a lustre that, I thought, would do justice to the sharpness and striking colours one sees on the islands,” said Sekhsaria. “We are so used to seeing photographs on paper or on the computer screen that we take that for granted.”

Printed on silk (Photographs by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
Printed on silk (Photographs by Pankaj Sekhsaria).

In 1994, Sekhsaria was an engineering student at Pune University and visited Port Blair for the first time, to meet a friend in the Navy. He spent the next two months travelling the length of the islands – from Diglipur in the north to the southern-most Indira Point. “I went back a couple of years later on a research project through Kalpavriksh and the Bombay Natural History Society to study issues related to timber in parts of the tribal reserves on the islands. Based on those findings, we filed a public interest litigation in the Calcutta High Court.”

The PIL highlighted timber logging activities inside the Onge Tribal Reserve, which makes up 530 sq km of Little Andaman Island. In 2002, the Supreme Court passed directions for the protection of the indigenous people and the forests of the islands.

Wandoor rain forest (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
Wandoor rain forest (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).

The photographs on display at Island Worlds celebrate the beauty and richness of the islands, while looking at the damage to its natural resources. A photograph of an elephant next to a felled tree demonstrates this well – “The diameter of the log is roughly the height of the full grown elephant and is a stark reminder of the richness and enormousness of the Andaman forests... It never fails to evoke a gasp from a person seeing it for the first time,” said Sekhsaria. “It is amazing how little we are aware of its diversity, and it’s unfortunate that a large section of the settler populations in the islands don’t either. Unless we are aware of what we are surrounded by, we cannot account for the damage that we might be causing.”

In the timber yard at Hut Bay, Little Andaman (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
In the timber yard at Hut Bay, Little Andaman (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).

One of Sekhsaria’s concerns is that there is little acknowledgement of the fact that the islands are located in a seismic zone, where earthquakes and tsunamis are bound to occur. Plus, the islands are home to small and very vulnerable indigenous communities that have been living here for thousands of years. The forests are rich repositories of biological wealth.

“None of these are seen as worth preserving when approving projects and proposals for development here,” he said. “We are increasing the vulnerability of the place and its people.”

A green sea turtle returning to the water after nesting on the South Sentinal Island (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
A green sea turtle returning to the water after nesting on the South Sentinal Island (Photograph by Pankaj Sekhsaria).
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.