When The Monster Struck

The 3rd December, 1984 was a usual Monday, a weekly off for my first branch at Bhopal. I woke up late, wrote replies to letters received during the week and after despatching the same went to my favourite restaurant at number 10 stop for having my lunch around 1 P.M.

While going back to my home, suddenly I saw people running helter-skelter with their faces covered. I stopped one of them to know the reason. He was gasping for breath due to running and fear, but he hastily murmured, ” गैस फिर से लीक हो गया (Gas has leaked again)” and kept running.

The killer factory plant

The Union Carbide plants were located in old Bhopal, while I was residing in the other part of the city, new Bhopal. This was precisely the reason why I couldn’t come to know about the late night gas emissions till the next morning.

When I reached home, my landlord’s daughter-in-law was standing outside. She asked me, “Why this stampede, bhaiya (bro)?” I told her what that guy had told me.

Then she narrated the whole story that last night around 2.30 A.M., the highly toxic Methyl IsoCynate (MIC) gas had leaked from the pesticide plants of Union Carbide and many people had died and several others had been hospitalised.

The monster looking peacock spider

As her husband was on a business trip to Indore, I asked her whether she would also accompany me while running to a safe place. I still remember and admire her reply, “Bro, I have aged parents-in-law. How can I go leaving them alone?”

This reply moved me, as the whole Bhopal was running to find a safe place, without knowing what is exactly the safe place. People from Hamidia Road were running to TT Nagar, people from TT Nagar to Arera Colony and people from Arera Colony to Arera Hills. That was the end, beyond which nobody could go. I was in Arera Colony, and a bachelor then. So I moved to Arera Hills.

Bhopal lake view

On the hills, it was a different scene altogether. Not only my banker colleagues, but most of the customers were also there, moving with anxious faces. I then realised how this life was precious to all of us. Around 5 P.M., it was announced over radio that the news of gas leakage in the afternoon was a rumour. Then everybody returned to their respective homes.

The dreaded, wintery and intervening night of 2nd and 3rd December, 1984 is still fresh in my mind like all others in Bhopal, when we had witnessed the world’s worst industrial catastrophe in Bhopal, with tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) escaping from the pesticide plants of Union Carbide, converting the whole city into a lethal gas chamber.

That night of panic, stampede, death, anguish and helplessness sends shivers down the spine even now. Bodies and carcasses were lying side by side. Passengers of trains passing through Bhopal junction could also sense the gust of cruel gas. I learnt that the station master, who didn’t allow trains to halt there to save lives of passengers, couldn’t save his own life.

A local friend took me round the city the very next day. We also visited a nearby hospital. The dead bodies were stacked one above the other
in the mortuary like sacks of cements, but it was pleasing to see how this industrial disaster was cementing people with one another.

People, totally unrelated with the victims, had brought stoves, water and edibles, in front of that hospital to cook and serve food and essentials for victims and their families, to help them out in every which way, throughout the day and night.

We also joined hands with the families of two colleagues, who were assisting people there.

The medical shops had opened their shutters to provide digene and other medicines.

A memorial
Protest against Union Carbide and its CEO Warren Anderson

The plight of gas victims even after thirty-eight years, is still miserable. Even now victims suffer from gastro-intestinal and respiratory diseases. In the worst affected areas, some children were born with cerebral palsy, microphthalmia and other defects.

My heartfelt sympathies are with those who have suffered a lot and who are still suffering due to that gas leak tragedy. A big salute to the spirit of Bhopal and its people. I also salute the courage, conviction and perseverance of the victims and their families, and those who are helping them out.

Time’s cover on the tragedy

I don’t want to recall the grim scenes and incidents of that human tragedy, but I can’t restrain myself. In a way, it induces humility in me.

Bhopal has come a long way since then. However, we should attain capability to deal with such disasters, wherever chemical factories are running. But…let such a day (or night) not come 2-12 (दोबारा i.e. again) anywhere in the world.


–Kaushal Kishore

images: pinterest

49 Comments

    1. Thank you, Dhirendra ji, for your kind comment. The scene was really horrible then. Those residing in the most affected areas still bear the brunt of that monster.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Rightly said that Bhopal has come a long way since then. I was born way later after this tragedy, and my family thankfully had no connection with it. To read every year that victims are still suffering and haven’t been compensated as they should be is heartbreaking.

    The Supreme Court has started hearing the case two months ago to review the compensation made to the victims of the disaster. But as the case is, victims will never be truly compensated.

    I send my condolences and strength to all the families affected. 🙏🏽

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The cases are going on right from 1984, but compensation, irrespective of the amount, is not going to compensate the actual losses of sufferers. As you were born there, you must be knowing the actual suffering. The areas like Hamidia Road and Hospital in old Bhopal were worst affected. I’m glad you were not there, but you know the pinch.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Compensation was given earlier, but now this amount needs to be enhanced. But yes, no compensation can compensate the suffering they have undergone.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Kaushal, for reminding us about this tragedy. It was inspiring and healing to read how the entire community come together to help all those in need. The Heroic Bhopal became a symbol of humane behavior and must be saluted for their deeds.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Joanna, for expression of your feelings, that I appreciate. I only pray that such a disaster should not take place anywhere in the world. It’s really so painful.

      Like

    1. I was a bachelor then, and I felt quite lonely then in the night, as during daytime, I could spend time with my colleagues. But it was the biggest human disaster I had seen. Thank you, Suzi, for sharing your thoughts.

      Like

    1. This plant was manufacturing pesticides, and see who fell victims. You are right, number of such plants needs to be decreased. I also came to know about this plant, simply because I was posted there at that point of time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember when this happened but as I was in Canada is seemed like it was a long way away. The images you have described are harrowing indeed. Thank you for writing this. Tragic but it needs to be remembered.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The images are in fact harrowing, but I had witnessed the actual scene, which was more horrifying. My heart goes out to those who are no more and those who are alive, but are suffering. Thank you, Anne, for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always think back to the days before cell phones and how we all lived in content ignorance albeit at our detrement. Now I wonder which is worse, the instant news of foreboding or unexpected disaster. Thanks for sharing your experience

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Everything, to my mind, has its own pros and cons. It’s upto us how we utilise the same. Thank you, Tate, for stopping by and leaving such a beautiful reflection!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, such factories should be ideally opened in outskirts. Union carbide plant in Bhopal was near inhabited areas, and hence so many casualties. I’m glad that everything is now fine in your hometown. Thank you for sharing your reflections.

      Liked by 1 person

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