That cold December night of 1984 will be etched in my memory forever. I was fast asleep under a warm quilt in Bhopal when the phone rang.
My friend RaajumarKeswani, a journalist, living in the old quarters of the town, sounded agitated, a little incoherent and was gasping for breath and coughing.
He said there was a commotion in the street, people were running around and something had happened. “I am having a problem breathing,” he said.
I came out of my house and was greeted by a bizarre sight. It was almost 1 in the night but the normally deserted road was jam-packed with people as far as my eyes could see.
They were walking silently, visibly tired, some of them carrying children in their arms, others supporting older people. Many lay on the footpath. Quite a few were very ill and vomiting. Several others were trying to stop vehicles, already overloaded with people.
About 500 people, most of them children, were feared killed by a poisonous gas, which leaked from the local pesticide manufacturing plant of Union Carbide.
According to official sources, 408 bodies had already reached the morgue of the local Medical College Hospital. “This is not the final figure,” sources said.
(According to PTI over 20,000 inhabitants, affected by the worst-ever environmental disaster in the country, were undergoing treatments in various hospitals here.)
As the rescue operation was progressing in the affected localities, many more bodies were being brought in by trucks and other vehicles. Several people took bodies directly to the cremation and burial grounds.
This correspondent, who undertook a tour of the affected localities on Monday morning, saw scores of bodies on the roadside and other public places. Hundreds of cattle also perished in the worst tragedy of Madhya Pradesh.