Love in an Unlikely Polluted Paradise

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Story in a Travelogue

Travelling alone gives me the opportunity to marvel at coincidences, relish sweet surprises and come closer to people whose names are the last thing I have known about them. Much ahead of that I’d learn about the book they’re reading, their most exciting travel experiences, the music they love, the last interesting shack they ate something at, their belief in life after death, so on and so forth. 

You learn to share silences. You do not talk, because you are both staring at the same thing, perhaps feeling a range of emotions; deep and vast and wide and long at the same time. Stunned and pained and moved, all at once. And then you can’t help but hold each other’s hands — tight, giving each other the courage to sail through it. You share a glance, sometimes a sigh and walk for hours…in silence. 

I fell in love. 

In his own words, “Sometimes, you meet people who touch you like a cool breeze on a sun baked skin.”

Bhopal, 2006. A group of men, women and children started walking from Bhopal to Delhi to seek clean drinking water from the Government of India. Eight hundred miles, forty three days and eight days of hunger strike later, the government conceded some of their demands and refused to even acknowledge a few others that mentioned the term Dow Chemicals. 

We were in the middle of a movement — the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh, India). We both were partially involved — showing our solidarity through solidarity hunger strikes, documenting the movement and giving first aid to those who walked and were bruised.

Later, I had the opportunity to visit some of the colonies in Bhopal worst affected by the largest industrial disaster ever. For the first time in my life my hand shook as I drank a glass of water. We both knew it was poison, but drank it nevertheless because we did not want to decline the hospitality. Sensing the tension we were earnestly trying to conceal, one of the ladies reassured me that this is the water they drink every day!

The residents were aware that the chemicals of the Union Carbide Plant continued to pollute their ground water, but were not quite familiar with the terms mercury, 1-naphthol, chromium, toxic organochlorine compounds, hexachloroethane and would vaguely assess the extent of their impact. They of course knew that their children were born with disabilities, the young and old alike would have chest pains and weak bones, that, people were dying.

Today I had to re-look at the list of the chemicals to remind myself of the technicalities. But those many years back, it was the first and the only time that I felt non-negotiable fear for my life.

In the evening we returned and stared at the illuminated city of Bhopal from the roof of our dormitory, for hours.

And then we kissed…in that unlikely polluted paradise. 

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