Saturday, June 12, 2010

''Gas is leaking from the plant. Run for your life" - a first hand account of Bhopal's night

I was then a resident of old Bhopal, just a couple of kilometres from the Union Carbide plant. Around midnight on December 2, 1984, after finishing a story for The Sunday Observer, I went to bed. Before I fell asleep, I felt a sharp pricking sensation in my throat. I thought I was going to catch a cold. But a few minutes later, I was coughing and had difficulty breathing. I then heard loud sounds from outside. Looking out of the window, I saw people running. And then I smelt a very strong, foul odour. I moved back to the bedroom to find my wife coughing too. I realised there was something terribly wrong.

I immediately shut the windows and switched on the fan in spite of the December chill. I asked my wife to sit under the fan and called the police control room. When someone responded, I could hear him gasp for breath and cough. “What’s happened?” I asked. “Sahab, Union Carbide ki gas tankee phoot gayee hai. Dam ghut raha hai. (Sir, a Union Carbide gas tank has exploded. I am suffocating).” He barely managed to speak in between bouts of coughing.

So it has actually happened, I told myself. Had my prediction come true? I first wrote about such a probability—of things going horribly wrong at the plant—for a local weekly magazine, Rapat, in September 1982. Then I wrote another piece on it for Jansatta, which ran with the headlineBhopal jwalamukhi ki kagaar par (Bhopal on the edge of a volcano)’. No one listened to me then, and today everyone, it seemed, was going to die. Me too? Never before had I felt so gripped by panic. I looked at my wife, who was speechless with fear. Like me, she also knew about the deadly gas.

Within seconds, the fear of death was overpowered by a stronger feeling—the urge to help people who still had a chance to escape. I picked up the phone and called my friend N.K. Singh, who was then the Indian Express correspondent. He lived far from where I was, in new Bhopal. “Run,” I implored him. “Gas is leaking from the plant. My time is up, but you still have some. Run for your life.”

From Raajkumar Keswani's article in Outlook. More Here

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