Cochin. February 21, 2011: Ok cool. So you’re on facebook now. Looking through albums, commenting on them, liking status updates, staring at your profile page for minutes together, sometimes hours. You’re just there. Like me. And damn are we lucky or what! Lucky that we have our asses firmly rested on a chair, palm sweating on a mouse, eyes fixed on the screen and our minds wandering aimlessly.
I love my life.
Bhopal. February 18, 2011: The city wakes up late. It’s 8 am, the windows are closed, streets empty, and there’s silence in the air. The night of December 2, 1984 is not one that the people of Bhopal want to wake up to, ever again. Sadly, they’re left with no choice. They sleep with nightmares from that fateful night still haunting them. They close their eyes only to see dark yet vivid images of their loved ones falling dead on the streets. They’re woken up by the sound of their five-month old crying, whose body they found amidst the debris that lay scattered. The poisonous gas that engulfed the city 26 years back continues to do so. In Bhopal, there hasn’t been a dawn since.
My visit to this city has left me feeling uneasy. A sense of restlessness crawls into me every time I sit back and yawn. What I feel, what I see and what I do, seems to go all the way back to what I saw there. The ‘gallis’ of JP nagar made me feel nothing less than despondent. Ask me if it was disbelief, helplessness or disrespect to myself that troubled me more? And I wouldn’t know. One question, however, haunted me throughout. What the hell was I thinking when I cried last night about how sad my life is. When I freaked out on hearing that my salary hadn’t been credited? When I yelled at my mother for not “understanding” me. What the frikkin hell was I thinking? Truth is, I wasn’t even thinking. Coz if I were, I’d have had a zillion reasons to feel good about. And that I realized right there. In Bhopal. When I met the victims of the Gas tragedy.
They were there, in front of my eyes. Mothers who couldn’t stop crying as they spoke about their baby they left behind, when they ran to save their lives. Girls in purdah, with mehendi till their elbows, who peeped from their little huts to catch a glimpse of us - the “shooting waale”. Kids who knew nothing. Who struck a pose in front of my mobile camera to give Shahrukh Khan and Hritik Roshan a run for their money. They stood there with silent questions that hit me right in my face. And as one among the zillion witnesses across the world, I knew that I owed them an answer.
Two decades since, the threat continues to linger. Kids are born with alarming defects. Their brain outside the skull, deformed bones constantly at war with their mind, refusing to give them a reason to stand. Flaking skin that peels off bit by bit as they smile. Eyes that see nothing but darkness. The tragedy screams into deaf ears. And it doesn’t end with what’s now. Pregnant women do not know what to expect. They don’t pray for a boy or a girl. They pray for a fully-formed baby. Nothing more. Nothing less. But they know that everything that’s granted will still leave them weeping in distress.
Where does the voice of the people of Bhopal sink into? Why aren’t they heard? Is anybody even listening?
The water the people of JP Nagar drink, remains contaminated. Fresh water is a need that’s ‘waiting’ to be considered at the court. Wrong drugs are still being administered. Death continues to loiter. And the people of Bhopal still find reasons to be happy.
Is this a tragedy we can afford to forget? Is it nothing but a thing of the past that can be brushed away with a shake of the head or a deep sigh? The Government continues to turn a blind eye to the world’s worst hit tragedy. While no compensation can make up for the memories they’ve lost, and will perhaps never find, it could give them the strength to build a better future. All this, if we make sure that the disaster’s not forgotten.
Bhopal. The heart of India that stopped beating 26 years back.