It was a beautiful time in December when I first landed in the Andaman Islands. The Bay of Bengal view was enthralling: undulating mountains met the sea and merged infinitely into the sky.
But reaching our four-star hotel, apparently the highest category in Port Blair, disappointment kept getting heaped on, from the illogically high cost of rooms being over $300 per night, even more than five-star hotels in mainland India, to bad hotel upkeep to lack of hygiene and cleanliness. I could barely sleep the first night even in this beautiful paradise, my body was itching. It was just better to go in front of the window to enjoy nature’s beauty than experience the hotel’s facilities.
The next morning, we suddenly came upon an unusually beautiful scene. Swaying in the sea breeze were hundreds of rows of huge white sheets hung on clotheslines stretching hundreds of metres. The sheets were neatly wedged into two intertwined tight ropes on two edges, while the other two edges were cleverly suspended in an amphitheatre of green grass that sloped down to a serene pond filled with lotus leaves. Around the pond were a few large rain trees that made the sun rays play hide-and-seek on the stark white drapery.
This vast mesmerising scene on the road’s bend reminded me of the famous environmental art I saw in New York in 2005. Created in Central Park by artists Christo and Jean Claude, their art had bright saffron-coloured fabric covering 37 km of the park with 7,503 gates of five metres height. This married artist couple specialise in constructing visually impressive artistic works using reams and reams of fabric. They had wrapped the whole Parliament House in Berlin using 1,00,000 sq m of fireproof polypropylene cloth and Miami’s Biscayne Bay with 6,03,850 sq m with pink floating fabric. Theirs is a vanishing art. “It takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain,” says Christo.
The hanging white clothes we were crossing comprised a truly stunning sight, but, of course, it was not an officially declared work of environmental art. It was Port Blair’s dhobi ghat (washerman’s enclosure). The large pond had flattened slabs of rock. Men facing away from the water, but legs inside it, were vigorously bashing huge white double bedsheets on stone slabs. They would take the cloth from large bins that were caked with white chemicals from