Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: Five Past Midnight In Bhopal by Dominique Lapierre, Javier Moro

On the jacket:

On the night of December 3, 1984, a cyanide cloud drifted over the streets of Bhopal, India, set loose by a leak in a nearby chemical plant. When the deadly fog lifted untold numbers of the city's residents--perhaps as many as 30,000, by some accounts--lay dead, while half a million others were injured. Dominique Lapierre, a French journalist and longtime champion of India's poor, joins with Spanish writer Javier Moro to recount the terrors of that night, about which the whole truth may never be known. The deaths are but one part of the authors' long, sometimes elaborate tale, which relates how the industrial conglomerate Union Carbide had come to build its vast chemical complex at Bhopal, one meant to be a glory of technology and, ironically, to save thousands of lives brought low by insect-wrought starvation. There are few villains but many heroes in the authors' account, which explores the margins at which good intentions conflict with the profit motive, at which cost-cutting omissions yield horrifically unintended consequences. 

It all makes for a thoughtful and disturbing book. --Gregory McNamee


When I had started dating my Bhopali husband, one of the first instances of foot-in-the-mouth was when I'd said, "I used to think everyone from Bhopal has a physicial disability because of the gas tragedy." implying, how come he seemed all fine. Yes, a hateful thing to say and I am not at all proud of it. If I was him, we wouldn't be married today. But he spoke to me about the tragedy as he remembers which was not much as he was only 3 back then. In my defence, school books don't talk much about Bhopal apart from about this bone chilling tragedy. This was eight years ago. A month after we were married, he bought home this book. 

I'd read it then, cramped with fear, sadness and a heave heart. I am back in Bhopal after three years and my hands automatically reached out to this book. I re-read it, and my heart is still cramped as if bound by shackles. 

This is one rare book. The incident has not been given as much limelight and justice as it deserved; the region not being one of the prime regions of the country. What happened, why did it happened, what didn't happen, why can the Indian political system never bury the Union Carbide incident. I had read this book was banned in India. Understandable. Read it and I promise your heart will cry and your blood will boil. You will be forced to imagine yourself in that situation, because this is not a plot that has been spun but a fact in so many lives. 

A very well-researched book, very factual, yet a link is missing as Union Carbide's management had not given any inputs about the hows and the whys. The book is depressing to a large extent, after all the incident was the world's worst industrial disaster. Their suffering still continues, the least we can do is know what they are suffering. Seriously, do read this book. 

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for a book from my personal collection.]

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