Nicobar father to Nehru coat, sea swallows it all

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By MADHUMITA BHATTACHARYYA in Nicobar
  • Published 22.01.05
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Car Nicobar, Jan. 22: John Richardson is hailed as the ?father of modern Nicobar?. Edward Kutched gave up acres of land for Jawaharlal Nehru?s coat. But on December 26, water was blind to the strength of legend, snatching away precious pieces from Car Nicobar?s past.

Richardson?s presence is still all-pervasive on this island, years after his death. The tribal had been educated in Yangon after being chosen by the missionary Vandappa Solomon from Tanjore. He spread Christianity and Western learning on the island.

The day after Christmas, the tide claimed his 50-year-old son, F.S. Richardson, and grandson John Anthony Richardson, 27, at Mus Village. St Thomas? Church ? where the father preached ? also has been battered. Richardson?s statue outside has been toppled and destroyed, the altar inside has crumbled, the brass cross has been removed for safe keeping.

Blind too was the tide to one man?s generosity. Edward, from Kakana village, was one of the largest landowners of the island. He, along with other tribal leaders of the time, was summoned by Nehru to Delhi. An air force base was needed for which Edward?s land was ideal. Nehru offered him money or anything else he might want in return.

?Dadaji told Chacha Nehru that for the defence of the nation, he would gladly give up his land. All he wanted in return was his coat,? says his grandson Obed, now at a relief camp. Nehru, legend has it, took off his achkan immediately, handing it over to Edward, rose still in the buttonhole.

The legacy of the coat was strengthened in 1988 when Rajiv Gandhi came to the islands and called on the family with the gift of another coat. Not only was the air force base built on Edward?s land pounded into the ground by the tsunami, both jackets were stolen by the cruel water.

The villagers are recovering from these blows. Richardson?s son-in-law Thomas Philip is currently the captain of Mus village. His people, who have lost 18 of their own, have identified higher ground further from the shore where they want to shift. That means leaving Richardson?s two-storey home behind.

?We are thinking of making this into a memorial since he started his life in this house,? says Thomas, standing before the large house of brick and wood, just metres from the sea. But Richardson?s son and grandson are gone forever.

Obed wants his jackets back. ?When I was little, one Christmas I stole the jacket from my grandfather and wore it around the village. Everyone found out, because there was only one jacket on all of Car Nicobar,? laughs the aging man, still reeling from the loss of 37 people from his tuhet (extended family).

The jacket is more than just a memento. It is a symbol of Edward?s deep affection for the Nehru family. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, Edward shaved his head and didn?t eat for seven days.

While no amount of compensation can make up for the birthright that has vanished, the tales will be told for generations to come, keeping the remarkable men and their memory alive.