Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The title is an homage to a beautiful song “The Island”, written by Paul Brady
The poem was earlier published in "Courageous Creativity".
This narrative was born of a long-forgotten memory of my experience with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. It came back to me transformed by the process of forgetting and unforgetting.


The evening sky was darkening
Lights popped up a few at a time
And then lit up a hundred neons or so
In a lovely necklace around the other side of the lake

A flock of late grazing water birds
Flapped noisily away westward
To their roosts perhaps a few miles away
Cutting a sharp dark chevron
Through the pink and inky sky

The first wisps of mist floated above the marsh
The hum of traffic clearer than ever
It would be a while before it all quieted down

At eight bells would ring loudly
In the temple at the water’s edge
And on the loudspeaker we would hear
The Brahmin’s daughter singing the aarti
And we’d feel comforted for all our worries of the day

Dusk nightfall is when you are forced
To face your life exactly as it is
The sunlight abates so shadows can come out and posture
Making themselves known to the one who is an ingénue every evening

I watch the patriarch dilute his angst
With rum and water as always
A woman’s work is never done so his wife busies herself
With dinner children and the family pet
By and by families shut the doors to their home
Turn out the lights and sleep

Who knew of what was to come
That across the lake was a leaky pipe
And no warning to go with it

That pipe would cost thousands their lives
Their loves their health their livelihood
Death crept out of the factory on a million fingers and toes
And did what one could never have imagined

We awoke to the rancid taste of the air
Coughing and wanting to vomit
Then we put the family in the jeep
Some wet towels over our faces
And drove to a higher elevation

We drove past flesh and bones and spirits broken or otherwise
And human hearts beating with human passions and human histories
All deaf mute disciplined by the sole desire to survive this unnamed terror
Families together families missing some in the madness of the exodus
No one drove too fast or cut in line and people walked four across in perfect lines
We had never known, most of us, the feeling of not knowing if we’d live another day

Suddenly “Life” was a whole new concept
“What Mattered” and “What Did Not Matter” bartered some subsets
I was happy to be alive

We came home hours later to the horror of the tragedy
People had died all around us
Across the lake where the train station was
Hundreds lay as if in deep sleep
Three miles away we felt guilty to be breathing
The television showed some of the aftermath but we learned
More from listening to the BBC
On account of censorship

My father worked on the town’s recovery
And came home every night drained sad beyond speech or sleep
He who had hated the enemy for not showing up for a fight
At the northern border among picturesque Himalayan ranges
Where he had been a few years ago
Was fighting a war he hadn’t imagined nor imagined hating so much
Or wanted so much to win

Counting bodies far more in number
Than the media was reporting
Fully cognizant that some of the misery
Could have been prevented
If not all
If only …..

December the third would become burned in my memory
A metaphor
For sadness beyond comprehension
For the surprise that being alive can turn out to be
For the fork in the road that takes one away from oneself
And brings you back to you
Mortal flawed beautiful as anything in Creation
What of accidents and of harm we wreck on ourselves?
Will we ever outgrow Shaanxi Congo Chernobyl Bhopal Hiroshima 9/11?

- “They say the skies of Lebanon are burning” –lyrics of “The Island” song by Paul Brady
- Bhopal Gas Tragedy on Dec 03, 1984

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