A paid holiday, the thrill of a lifetime, heaven on earth, no phrase could wholly explain the luxurious life in Lakshadweep. I have been there thrice. Thanks to Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences. The first time I travelled as a visitor and the next two times I went to work there.
Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Cochin was having a contract with Govt of India in a Public Private Partnership mode to manpower Rajiv Gandhi Specialty Hospital in Agatti, Lakshadweep.
Although kavaratti was the capital, Agatti was more or less the commercial capital as it had the aerodrome. My MBBS classmate Dr.Midilaj is a native of Agatti. The partnership of AIMS started in 2011 and AIMS had recruited Specialists as well as casualty doctors and paramedical staff to Agatti hospital.
In 2011 I travelled with Dr. Renjit Kumar, Dr. Ranjith.T.C and Dr. Muhammed Niaz. Dr. Sreejith was the Orthopaedic consultant there and Dr. Alagu who was the ortho pg worked as a casualty doctor. We stayed there for 4 days. During the first visit, we met Dr. Abdul Rahman who was a localite and an Ayurvedic doctor who studied in Ayurveda college , Trivandrum. A thick friendship had developed between us and its continuing strong by God’s grace.
Though we saw much less when compared to subsequent visits, the excitement of a first timer could not be replaced. Abdul Sir took us to all corners of the island including restaurant at Northern beach where we had our first bath in those pristine waters, Eastern and the western jetty, the south Kalpitti island along the airstrip. We we lucky to meet Olive Ridley Turtle while having coconut and jaggery party at the eastern beach side in front of Ummer Ikka’s House.We had a ride in a glass boat in the western lagoon and also some reef walking in the western side of airport region. We were amazed to see the various kinds of fishes and sea creatures like Corals, Sea Urchins, Clams, Crabs, Sea Cucumbers and many exotic birds. It was the first time we tasted Meera (coconut inflorescence) and the coconut jaggery. It was so refreshingly tasty. We were introduced To KD ikka who ran a tea shop near the Western Jetty. He is a story book by himself.
The tasty lemon tea that he gave was just an apt starter for a deep and intricate relation ship that entwined us. Renjit Kumar sir found time to make and fly kite in the beach. We were lucky to see the local musical art form – Duff mott during one of the nights. We paid a visit to the golden Jubilee Museum which had archeological and navigational specimens and other old archives. We were surprised to see many Buddha Statues that were excavated from many islands in Lakshdweep.The excitement gave me the boost to find the earliest opportunity to come back in 2012 and 2013 to stay and work as Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon in RGSH, Agatti. I stayed for around 3.5 months each visit.
I switched on to the native mode during subsequent visits to such an extent that in the last visit, I wore only Mundu instead of trousers and grew beard without cutting for the entire stay in the island ie nearly 4 months. Oohh! Goose Bumps.
Every staff would be given a cycle if needed. The next best option was walking, in an island where there were 5 autorickshaws and less than 5 cars. The Hospital had couple of ambulances also. The islanders mostly used bikes. My ischial tuberosities took some time to accustom with the cycle by later I thoroughly enjoyed it which I am continuing even in mainland.
Initially the operation theatre was beach view during the setup which later was moved to a better place with all required standard facilities. There was minor as well as Major OT with C-arm facilities. I used to get orthopaedic impants aired from cochin in case of any surgeries. Most of the basic specialties and superspecialties like cardiology, gastro/uro departments were working.
Our OP timings were 9.00 am to 1.00 pm and there after handling emergencies. Patients used to be airlifted from other islands in helicopters. After lunch, the Orthopaedic OPD used to become the internet café where maximum wifi signal was available. My routines were pretty much regular. Morning OPD, surgical cases if any, lunch, little bit of internet followed by short nap. Then Dr. Abdul Rahman and me used to go for long walk. We used to go in his bike to the airport area and then walk 4 km in 45 minutes. Then we would go to the western jetty beach to KD ikka’s tea shop and have nice chai and then sit and chat for hours. It was a buzzing place. Watching sunset is so beautiful. I used to have dinner from Ikka’s shop. Then I would get few of my colleagues in RGSH to start philosophical talks.Special mention to Drs. Resmi, Renjima, Renjith, Thomas…. The list is never ending. It will go on till late night. We used to gaze at the sky and learn about the constellations. I have seen more shooting stars during those few months of stay in Lakshadweep than my entire life. The simple reason was that I never used to get time to lie on the sand gazing the sky. Once I remember sitting there for continuous 16 hours (12.00 noon to 4.00 am) and still not got bored. The place is so rejuvenating. Regular supply of tea and snacks from KD Ikka added the masti. There was once a movie show also on the beach and people from all over had come to watch on big screen in the night.
KD ikka’s life was like a movie with so many told and untold stories and mysteries. A business man who transacts love instead of money. A man who doesn’t keep any account but work like a donkey with utmost service in mind. A man who is full of energy which is driven by weed and drinks. Even though these things are banned, he used to get regular supply. The blood concentration of the poison was directly proportional to the sound of his hearty laugh and the lateral movement on the beach. He used to experiment with the snacks and each one was better than the other, though masappam was the main dish. We used to forget number of snacks that we had in a day. My payment was a monthly lumpsome where neither knew the real account. Love was above business. I have heard about his stories of multiple marriages, travel and living in Andamans, Lonely life in Kalpitti island etc.
The people and the topics changed regularly. What had not changed was me, the beach and KD ikka’s shop.
There were occasional changes in my routines. I bought a fishing line( tungees) and occasionally I used to go to Eastern Jetty for fishing. The passion for fishing slowly began to creep inside me. Then Me and Abdul Rahiman Sir used to go with large nets to fish in the sea close to the beach. We had also gone for fishing in the Lagoon as well as deep sea fishing in Shoukat’s Uncle Kochakkoya’s boat.
Most of the weekends, I used to go for snorkeling. I bought a snorkeling kit from Cochin which I later gave to Abdul Sir before coming back. When new colleagues joined, we used to go for reef walking. I was really playing the host.The corals, various sea creatures, shells and lagoon fishes were well appreciated during those low tides. We used to go many times to the near by uninhabited Kalpitti island. Crossing the Lagoon during the tide change was quite adventurous.
During some weekends, I used to go for very long walks alone for bird watching and Photography. That’s how I was lucky to find a European night jar. This bird has been reported for the first time South of Mumbai as confirmed in facebook by the great Tim Inskipp.
Abdul Rahiman Sir was my walking mate. We used to have long walks either south towards the airport or north towards the lagoon Beach. We used to see processing of Tuna fish and people playing games like Yettu kali, Charatham Kali( like Chess), Uppu thullal on the beach.
Both the years, I was fortunate to be there during the Onam period and we really enjoyed the season with sports, Arts and great Sadhya. Twice I got an opportunity to get inside the Lakshadweep sea ship which was docked in the Eastern Jetty. I met Captain Jerry and he was kind enough to show his cabin and we saw the wheel with the navigational gadgets and periscope etc.
Babuchettan was our ambulance driver and he had a favourite goat. I took out the poet inside him and composed his song about the island and the goat. I even composed few songs written by one of our staff nurses, Reeshma. But one of my greatest discoveries in Music was Dr. Narasimha Nandakumar who came as a resident doctor from Amrita. He was doing PG in Pediatric Surgery. He taught me the basics of music programming using softwares and our friendship has helped me in publishing musical albums.
2012. One of our Bangaram trips and that day, I came face to face with death. 7 of us were enjoying snorkeling in the brim of the depth of Bangaram. Huge fish were encircling us. A wonderful feeling. Suddenly I saw one of us drowning and panicked. Without thinking twice I swam upto him and reached in two seconds. The greatest mistake I did; coming right in front of a person who doesn’t know swimmimg. He grabbed me in panic and that’s it. I was pushed down. It was the real octopus grab. My goggles were lost, I was under him. Water gushed inside my lungs. The only thing I kept was my presence of mind as I knew help would come soon. Or else in the imminent encounter with death, I would have thrashed and slithered away for my life. As Abdul Rahiman sir came near he left me and grabbed him. More help came and he was rescued. I also swam to safety though I aspirated some sea water and I coughed out some blood. The lesson I learned was that you always have to come from behind and below to push the person to safety. We spend few more hours after all this hungama never feeling something of this sort had happened at all. This incident remained a secret for a couple of years. There had already been a fatal tragedy of a doctor and an administrator from Amrita who were claimed by the sea.
The resident doctors were posted for a months and specialists worked for longer period. So whenever new group comes, we usued to arrange beach side barbeque party using fish or chicken. We enjoyed barbeque parties with many groups who got replaced after their tenure was over. I and Abdul sir used to be the common factor in the groups. The hospital also organized regular parties in Lagoon beach with songs and anthakshary.
Dr. Abdul Rahiman and I used to go for Octopus hunting whenever the tides became low. He taught me the art of hunting and we caught several of them in many occasions. His wife used to make roast/fry/curry/pickle and bring it for lunch. The taste was excellent. I lost the number of Octopus that I hunted with Abdul Sir. During one of our walks, we got an opportunity to hunt down a sting ray at the southern tip of the island near the airport.
Whenever the tides became favourable, we used to take new groups to the nearby island kalpitti. It is a small uninhabited island full of shells. Many times we played with Olive Ridley turtles. We educated the public regarding the importance of conserving them and their eggs.
Once I had a crazy idea of cleaning the island and I got out on a Sunday with few large sacks thinking of cleaning the airport area. To my surprise all my sacks were full with empty plastic bottles in the first 200 metres walk on the beach. Every other minute I had to jump into the water and scratch my body to satisfy the sense of itch as I was walking through the bushes and insect were having feast. I understood it was not at all an easy job.
I was lucky enough to witness the Lakshadweep school games that came to Agatti in 2012. It was a unique feast for the eyes. Children brought out their great talents.
I was invited by the prominent members of the island speak for meetings related to social awareness and health education. I had the privilege to be invited as a speaker for the School arts fest in Senior Basic School and I also took part in the presentation ceremony. The Local Jawahar arts and sports club conducted a blood donation campaign and I was the one who delivered the keynote address. It was a function inaugurated by the deputy collector.
There was a Half marathon competition in Agatti and I thought of competing for it. Practice started. Only then I realized running was not my cup of tea. I could walk and walk for any long but I became really tired after running around 5 km. One of the border security force guys won the meet. I realized that I could be a marathon walker but not runner.
It was quite exciting to get my family to Agatti. My parents, Roshin and Jonathan came in 2012 and Roshin’s parents came in 2013. They thoroughly enjoyed the stay. My parents stayed for 2 weeks and Roshin’s parents stayed for 4 days. Roshin was here for a month. As she was doing PMR PG, She was posted as Resident Junior doctor in Agatti hospital. While they were here, We attended our cook Fathukkka’s son’s circumcision party. We were fortunate to see the local cultural activities as well as relish the local delicacies on that day.
While my parents were here we did a Bangaram trip and I got a rare opportunity to stay in the guest house in Bangaram. Usually all the Bangaram trips were just day trip and I don’t think any Amritiites stayed there. We travelled in Kochakoya’s boat. On the way we caught a 17 kg King fish(Kuluval) and Kochakoya made Fry, Curry and Chandy( Coconut, Salt, boiled minced fish) along with coconut rice.
KD ikka was running his teashop in a condemned boat cabin which was lying on the beach near the western Jetty. Near to that he planted trees and moulded them to shape of tent with good shade. He then decided to shift the cabin near those trees that he planted and he asked the help of us. The native including Dr. Abdul Rahiman along with me one day did the job. It was quite tedious and required expertise. Coconut tree logs were kept and shifted by the rail road technique. He gave Biriyani treat to all those who helped him. Me and Abdul sir were left behind as we were busy and Ikka was pleading behind us to accept the treat and the Biriyani was awesome. He had regular treats with Appal(octopus biriyani. The taste is inexpressible.
In my whole stay in Lakshadweep I had done around 80 surgical procedures, including patients from other islands. Althaf was one one them from Minicoy. He later took me around during my one day stay in Minicoy on the return to Cochin.
There were few islands around Agatti. Among them, Bangaram and Thinnakkara were inhabited for some time of the year. Parali 1 and 2 were uninhabited. Parali 2 island was Abdul sir’s ancestral property. There was a Parali 3 Island which was submerged decades ago. Stories say first inhabitants came to Bangaram first (Banna kara – Vanna kara) and Thinnakkara island was where they had food (Thinna kara). Walk from one island to another was possible during low tides. The journey was mesmerizing. We had done quite a few trips and we had gone in boats like Ganjularsh, Safeenath Naja, Sulthanulhindh.
I was time for me to leave. I had one more in the wish list; Scuba diving. Sikander was a scuba trainer and with his help, I did 2 sessions. First I did it in shallow lagoon learning all the technique and symbols. Then we went to the deep around 15 metres. I was such an alien feeling. I was totally in a different world. So many different types of fishes including a shark which was swimming around 20 metres in front of us. I proudly live to say that I have swam with the sharks.
The hospital staff had given me a surprise of conducting a grand sendoff party towards the end of my posting. There were lot of cultural programs and many hidden talents were unleashed. I had the opportunity to compose our physician Dr. Mayur Hathis’ Gujarati song which I sang that day. Finally the party ended with a grind and everyone joined the dance party.
Every time I used the ATR flight to and from Cochin. I had actually seen islands like Androth and Kalpeni from the flight and also the famous Pakshi Pitti island inhabited by birds. I thought I would book ship for my return Journey in 2014. I booked MV Kavaratti which was the largest and scheduled the trip so that I could see Kavaratti as well as Minicoy Islands. It took 3 hours from Agatti to Kavaratti. I saw the capital of Lakshadweep from the ship. I could not get down there. I could see a lot of flying fish and dolphins in the sea. The view was mesmerizing. An overnight journey across the 9 degree channel took me to Minicoy, a place with language and culture so different than the other Lakshadweep islanders. They were closer in many aspects with Maldives. Althaf took me around the whole of Minicoy including the beaches, desalination plant, the lighthouse the colonies and villages etc. His house was a 200 year old mansion which was featured in Ramu Kariat’s 1977 malayalam movie Dweep. I met Abdul Rahiman Sir’s daughter Lukmana who was studying in Navodaya school. I reached back Cochin in an overnight journey.
A place which I truly miss, a place I really want to go back and live, a home away from home, a place where home felt heavenly; Lakshadweep, It is indeed a heaven where you feel homely.
Birds Seen (Local Name)
|1.Common Fowl||9.Common Sandpiper (Poochutty)||17.Black Naped tern||25.Barn Swallow||33.Brown Shrike||41.Lesser Frigate Bird||49.Variable Wheatear|
|2.Common Duck||10.Marsh Sandpiper||18.Ruddy Turnstone||26.European Night Jar||34.Grey Heron||42.Brown Noddy||50.Isabelline Wheatear|
|3.Turkey||11.Median Egret||19.Lesser Sand plover (Kunudu)||27.Bar tailed Godwit||35.Pond Heron||43.Common Kestrel||51.Wilson’s storm petrel|
|4.Indian Rock Pigeon||12.Cattle Egret||20.Kentish plover||28.Greated Short toed Lark||36.Common Tern||44.Lesser Kestrel||52.Northern Pintail|
|5.Oriental White eye||13.Great Egret||21.Greater Sand plover||29.Little Stint||37.Lesser Crested Tern||45.Common Redshank|
|6.Whimbrel (Koluvayan)||14.Little Egret||22.Tree Pipit||30.Indian Golden Oriole||38.Eurasian Spoon Bill||46.Common Green shank|
|7.Pacific Golden Plover (Chevaranchi)||15.Common Hoopoe||23.White Wagtail||31.Sand Martin||39.Black Shouldered Kite||47.Greater Crested Tern|
|8.House crow||16.Common Swift||24.Yellow Wagtail||32.Indian Koel||40.Drongo||48.Rose Ringed Parakeet|
Fishes Seen/eaten (with Local Names)
|Lion fish||Grey Snapper||Matti|
|Butterfly Fish||Fakkikadia||Red Snapper||Chammeli/ Pulariyam|
|Trigger Fish||Karatti||Blue and Gold Snapper||Manjan|
|Surgeon Fish||Nei Thala||Coral Fish||Pacha Chala|
|Angel Fish||Sardine||Vai Chala|
|Parrot Fish||Balala, Pheesam||Sand Dab||Lammam|
|Stone Fish||Honey comb Grouper/Rock Cod||Chammam|
|Puffer Fish||Powder Blue Tang|
|Box Fish||Thombu||Yellow fin Tuna||Poovan Choora|
|Needle Fish||Oola||Skip Jack Tuna||Mas Choora|
|Clown Fish||Dolphin Fish||Avanoose|
|Seer Fish||Ayakura||Rainbow Runner||Chameen|
|Jack/King fish||Kuluval/Maduthala/ Vangada||Gerrus Punctatus/ Silver Biddy||Porachi|
|Flying fish||Parava||Sail Fish||Olameen|
Other Sea Creatures Seen
|Sea Cucumber – Black, Brown||Kavadi||Clam|
|Star Fish||Cuttle Fish – Kanava||Corals|
|Snail, Shells||Octopus – Appal||Sea Anemone|
|Crabs, Hermit Crabs||Sea Urchin||Kalpitti Kol|
- Masappam – Samosa with dried minced tuna filling
- Bread Fruit Bonda
- Sweet potato Bonda
- Bread Bonda
- Banana Bonda, Pazham pori
- Meen dosa – fish filling
- Ittadicha Androth Biriyani – Fish/Beef/Chicken/Octopus
- Meen Idi Ada
- Kilanchi with Banana Milk Curry
- Ada With Tuna Curry
- Dweep Unda – Rice, Coconut, Jaggery ball)
- Meera – Coconut inflorescence Juice
- Aval Milk – rice flakes with milk
- Meen Chandi- Salt, Medium tender coconut with minced boiled fish like
- Sail fish/King fish/Needle fish eggs
- Kakka Peera – Mussel with coconut mince
- Mas Idiappam
- Fish Cutlet
- Fish Roll
- Chicken Kilikoodu
- Island special Egg puff
- Keenath( Minicoy Dish)
Islands of Lakshadweep
1.Agatti. (Language – Jazzari)
Uninhabited Islands around Agatti
Bangarum, Tinnakara, Parali 1, Parali 2, ( Parali 3 – Submerged), Pitti – Bird sanctuary, Kalpitti, perumal Par
2. kavaratti (Capital). Uninhabited Islands around Kavaratti – Pitti, Suheli
9. Bithra . Uninhabited Islands around Bithra – Cherbaniani, Byragmore
10. Minicoy( Language – Mahal)