Poem | Adil Jussawalla

On the night of 2nd December 1984, a deadly gas began to leak from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The residents of the town, especially the poorer sections that lived close to it, were caught unaware and suffered the most; many died and many more were left debilitated. Over three decades later, the victims are yet to find closure. The paltry compensation which the company agreed to pay was nothing but an insult and even that was not distributed properly. Moreover, the then Congress government allowed Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide to escape from India without being arrested. 

We hope justice is ultimately served in the case. Meanwhile, we are happy to share with you a poem by Adil Jussawalla that captures with rare empathy and precision the pain of all those whose lives were irredeemably affected in one of the worst instances of industrial disasters in the world.

The photograph is from another time
The landscape too is different from Bhopal’s
Twenty years ago, I caught you sleeping
On a heap of clothes, under a vulture’s
Focus, above bleached plain.

Nothing has interrupted death since then
Just as an instrument’s momentary click
Failed to nick your slip, or ever stopped
The slow swell of stomachs in Bihar
Or Ethiopia, however close it snapped

Thinking of others who fell on the way
Their lungs stampeded by air, their lives
Foaming round their mouths, I try to fight
Images of lasting despair regretting
I had no lens to catch your dream nor can

These words. Stand up. You’re past twenty, a man
On a choked path, crying, “This will
Never again happen to us. Our fate
Isn’t poison but courage. Once when I had
Fallen, a dream sustained me. I know.’’

The photograph is from another time
Death, interruptless, can be made to falter
By a vision on the road. If you stumble
On this picture, look and look again, past
The political lie, the expert’s mumble.

The crooked tree above you isn’t dead
But waiting to burst into leaf, guarding your brave
Dream of a shared life and shelter.


The photograph was taken on the outskirts of Poona in 1973, I think. For some reason, after the Bhopal disaster the photograph kept haunting me, and when Mr Surindr Jha, the editor of Science Age, asked me to write something about the disaster, I thought of the photograph and wrote the poem you see. The photograph was a color transparency which time and the weather had damaged. It was hard to convert into a black-and-white image.                             

- Adil Jussawalla

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