Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Endearing Tale of Maadhoo

Recently, I had the good fortune of visiting Maldives for a couple of days. I think the pristine blue water, the white sand, the web of islands and the friendly people will be etched in my memory forever. However, this post is not about ’The 10 best things to do in Maldives’ or ‘The Awesome Maldives vacation’. It is a small story of my visit to one of the local islands. A story that has bothered me since the time I got back from there.

On the second last day of our trip, our hotel had organised a lovely day-long barbecue picnic with a bunch of tourists from across the world. It was a bright, sunny day and after almost an hour’s journey via a ship, we reached the beautiful island of Maadhoo. The sight of the island was a mesmerising one – crystal blue water surrounding a green covered, white sand island called Maadhoo. On arrival, we were informed that we had the whole day to laze around, swim and explore the island. The only other vital information shared was lunch at 1pm and departure at 5pm.

Now, Maadhoo is an uninhabited island, also known as the Picnic Island since the hotels and resorts in the neighbourhood vicinity frequently organise day trips with tourists. You could walk for kilometres just chasing little crabs, lie along the beach and take a bath without being bothered about any prying eyes or any vendor trying to sell you knick-knacks. Sigh! It was like a little world of our own for a few hours. We even covered the entire island walking from one tip to another. It was that small and beautiful.

The beach is extremely clean and despite being a tourist spot, without any trace of rubbish or tourist remnants. I was actually thinking how the uninhabited island managed to remain so clean. Also, cursing the deplorable and dirty conditions of our beaches back home in India. While walking on the beach at one of the tips, I and my husband were chatting away in Bengali. Suddenly, we noticed that a guy was cleaning the shores – throwing away algae and stuff. Listening to our chit-chat, he approached us and started a conversation in Bengali informing us that he was from Bangladesh. For a moment, I thought ‘There is no respite from Bongs in any part of the world we go. Is it?’ Then on further enquiry, he informed us that he stayed in that little uninhabited island along with six other men. Six of them are Bangladeshis and one local guy. My first reaction was ‘Isn’t the island uninhabited? So what do you do here? Is there electricity? Where do you stay?’ He answered that he had come to the island almost two years back in search of employment and had not managed to go back since it was too expensive an affair to head home. He had spent more than a lakh Taka to come to Maldives in search of a job. His job is to keep the island clean, clear rubbish, tourist remnants etc. He sends his salary back home every month and dreams of visiting Bangladesh soon.

Now, we encountered a lot of Bangladeshis during our stay in Maldives but this man’s story touched a chord somewhere. Imagine, staying in an uninhabited island with limited electricity, three meals a day and a meagre salary in the hope of returning home someday! Imagine, not being able to escape the monotony of the sun, sand, trees and water day after day! Imagine, hoping against hope that your destiny will change some day! The sadness in his eyes while narrating the story cannot be explained in words.

Often after coming back, while trying to sleep after a tough day, I wonder ‘What would those seven guys be looking forward to day after day? How do they sleep in that secluded island surrounded by water all around? Do they ever fear of an upcoming Tsunami or the fact that they may not be able to go home for the next few years? Do they ever think of running away from that island?’

The thought just makes me appreciate my life better. It was quite a humbling experience and that point in the island from where you could see water and only water all around will stay with me forever.