Category Archives: Resources

The Andamans in History: Francis Xavier Neelam’s serialised account

“It was a few minutes before 6 p.m. on 9th July 1880. The lone sentry on ViperIsland jetty paced up and down the wharf, his rifle on his shoulder, waiting for the second sentry, who will relieve him at six.

A sepoy of the 23rd Madras Native Infantry Battalion was sitting on one end of the jetty, casting a fishing line.

All was quiet on Viper, the “Hell on Earth” of Andamans — no cries of convicts getting flogged – no hangings at the mausoleum-like, three-domed gallows on the hillock right behind the jetty.”

– F X Neelam, ‘Viper Prison Break’ Andaman Sheekha (July 22, 2013)

For the last two years, Francis Xavier Neelam has been writing quiet, stirring accounts of the history of the Andamans archipelago. I came across these wholly by accident – they’re published in a little-known Andamanese newspaper called the Andaman Sheekha.

Quest for Kala Pathar‘ is a short account of trekking to the highest point in the archipelago, accompanying a historian hunting for colonial graffiti.  Some accounts center around the notorious Cellular Jail, a British prison in the islands, where political prisoners, including Barindra Kumar Ghose, Yogendra Shukla and Fazl-E-Haq Khairabadi were sent during the struggle for Independence. ‘Convict No. 3807‘ is about the favour shown to non-political prisoners by the prison authorities. Others, like ‘Armistice Day‘ relate to the role of Indian soldiers in World War I.

The most tremendous series of posts, though, is a multi-part series titled, ‘Viper Prison Break’. Viper Island was the site of an initial small prison, later replaced by the larger Cellular Jail/Kala Pani. When Cellular Jail was constructed on Port Blair, Viper Island, across the jail, became the site of the gallows. ‘Viper Prison Break’, currently at Part 43, is the intensely exciting account of an attempted jail break by seven prisoners, and the attempts of Colonel Cadell, the British Governor of the islands, to secure them. I cannot tell if it is intended to be fiction, or if it is based on an actual historical account, but it makes for entertaining reading in any case. Viper Prison Break is updated on the Andaman Sheekha website every Monday.

 

 

Mahfil

Between 1966 and 1972, the Asian Studies Centre at the (American) Michigan State University published a short-lived journal focused on Indian literature, titled Mahfil. A mehfil, as Wikipedia will tell you, is a “gathering or evening of courtly entertainment of poetry or concert of Indian classical music…performed for a small audience in an intimate setting.” Although Mahfil was discontinued, it was replaced in a more academically acceptable form by the Journal of Asian Literature. Through Chicago University’s Digital South Asia Program, all the back issues of Mahfil have been digitised and are now publicly available,here.

I spent a glorious evening digging through these archives, to find commentary, interviews and translations that aren’t too commonly available. There’s a heavy focus on Hindi literature and writing, but here you can find strange gems like a review of English journals from India and Pakistan, in 1965 and a brief history of Konkani literature, from 1972.