CONVICT NUMBER 3807 | PART V
Life in Kala Pani
By Francis Xavier Neelam
Maulvi Allauddin waited at
Aberdeen jetty for the boat to .
He would go to meet the Senior Medical Officer who wanted to examine him for
his painful double hernia. In spite of the truss he wore he was finding it
difficult to go about his work. Ross Island
“How kind these doctors are!” mused the Maulvi. “They are in such contrast to the other officers, especially the native overseers. They would even take up cudgels with the Chief Commissioner some times.”
The boat, pulled by six convict oarsmen approached the jetty. “Hold water. Ship your oars. Bear off,” the coxswain shouted orders. The boat gently touched the jetty. A convict took the head rope and tied it to the bollard, then made fast the stern rope also.
“Assalam ale kum, Maulvi saab…”, the coxswain greeted. “Alekum assalaam Hemraj”, the Maulvi replied. Everyone in Port Blair knew Hemraj for his daring escapade and recapture. They loved him also for his courteous manners. Hemraj gently helped the Maulvi into the boat. “Oars…oars forward…give way…”,.. The boat glided away towards Ross. A gun boomed in the distance; another replied. Slowly a huge, dark ship emerged from behind
, belching thick
black smoke. Ross
“Another shipload of convicts…” the Maulvi thought. His mind went back to the time of his own arrival in the islands. He came in a paddle-wheel steamer, spending many days in the cage-like dungeons in the hold of the ship. It was the 22nd of January 1860. He remembered the date quite clearly, hardly two years after the founding of the dreaded penal colony of ‘Kala Pani’. He remembered getting into the waiting boat, the muster on
issue of convict clothing, living in the thatched barracks, the heavy work of
cutting and hauling logs. The settlement
was just taking shape. There were
working parties everywhere, with stern-looking supervisors shouting
orders. Boats shuttled between Ross, Ross Island Chatham and .
During the first muster itself the Maulvi was made to fall out and present himself before the Superintendent. “So, you are the famous Maulvi, Syed Alluddin Hyder, of
the Superintendent asked. His excellent
command over English, Urdu and Farsi, and his gentle and polite nature won him
friends among the British officers. He
never shirked from work and was always ready to volunteer for any task, being
in peak physical condition. However, the
backbreaking work of those early days and the merciless tropical climate took
their toll on his health. It was lifting
those heavy logs that gave him the hernias; rheumatism followed, and the
eyesight is also failing now. Hyderabad
“Oars…”, Hemraj’s shout brought the Maulvi to the present. He thanked him and stepped off the boat on to the jetty. Supporting himself with a stick he started the climb towards the hospital. “How different is Ross now from those days”, he thought. Convicts in white dress and turbans greeted him. Officers in starched white uniforms walked about. Children played, shouting, on the lawns of neatly laid out gardens. A game of tennis was in progress. The spire of the stone-built church could be seen rising against the sky. English memsahibs in colourful, printed frocks and bonnets walked, holding parasols as their ayahs walked behind them with their children. They too greeted the Maulvi affectionately and enquired about his health.
Maulvi Allauddin paused for a while on the steps. From there he could see the cemetery. The tombstones were clearly visible. Some were ornate, with marble plaques. All those who slept there were known to him. He was present at most of the funerals. The most touching was that of baby Lawrence, the child of Lawrence and Jemima Carthy. He lived only 22 hours…’Sweet Babe, he glanced into our world to see a sample of our misery, then turned away his languid eye, to drop a tear or two -- & die…”. The memory brought tears to the eyes of the Maulvi.
A few more steps brought him to the hospital. The huge brick walled structure was impeccably maintained. Uniformed nurses and ward boys moved about in spotless white uniforms. The patients sat on long benches; some were in chains – the ‘dangerous’ ones. There were Andamanese too, properly dressed!
In the early days there were no doctors -- only a couple of ‘apothecaries’. The mortality rate was very high then, from disease, accidents, attacks by aborigines, murders, executions… He gazed at the grave of Apothecary A.S. Xavier. His wife Alison and daughter Gertrude also slept by his side, in a double grave.
The doctors were themselves vulnerable. There were three buried on the other side, in Port Blair cemetery. His thoughts went to Surg. Maj. Joseph Dougall, the late Senior Medical Officer. It was he who devised the truss for his hernias. Maulvi recollected with nostalgia how kind the doctor was to him, and to all convicts. This led to an occasional row with the Superintendents who felt that the convicts were being pampered by the medical officers. Dr. Dougall found a special cure for leprosy from the oil of the gurjan tree that grew in plenty in the forests of the
Andaman Islands. His favourite among the convicts was Rasool
Baksh, a ‘harmless lunatic’. When Gen.
Stewart ordered him to be flogged for speaking disrespectfully Dougall fought
with him to stall the punishment. Unfortunately he fell victim to typhoid and
died at the young age of 44. Life in
Kala Pani would have been much more difficult if not for the kind-hearted
Maulvi Allauddin reached the outpatient department and sat on the bench, waiting for Surg. Maj. Keefer.
(Next: Part VI – Conditional release)