“Bhopal” touches hearts

On Dec. 3, 1984, the worst industrial accident in history took place. A pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, leaked a cocktail of toxic chemicals over a city of one million.
Within two days, nearly 5,000 were dead. That number doubled within weeks, and again within a few years. The death toll continues to rise.
Rahul Varma’s play, Bhopal, is a disturbing fictional account of these events at Union Carbide.
The play revolves around four central characters and their plight with the pesticide company, which Varma has renamed Carbide International.
Devraj is the sneaky CEO trying to cover up Carbide’s failings; Sonya Labonte is a Canadian doctor trying to uncover those secrets; Jaghanlal is a government minister willing to overlook anything to bring progress to his country; and Izzat is one of thousands who fell victim to an industrial catastrophe that never should have happened.
Women’s health risks are often either overlooked or sacrificed when developing an ailing economy. This was a major theme Varma investigated from many angles.
Izzat loses her baby to airborne toxins from the plant. Dr. Labonte believes Carbide is behind the deaths of all the animals and babies in the area, and is trying to help Izzat cope. Devraj’s girlfriend, Madiha, tries to prove Dr. Labonte wrong about Carbide by saying she will have a healthy baby.
But Devraj tells her to have an abortion, and admits that Dr. Labonte’s research is all true.
The story that unfolds between Devraj and Madiha is moving. After the gas leak, the pregnant Mediha becomes blind and very sick.
Devraj has an antidote that will cure her, but kill their baby. She refuses to sacrifice her unborn child.
Ultimately, Devraj loses both Mediha and the baby. He covered up his company’s problems, and then fell victim to his own cover-up.
Bhopal lost over half its population to death and emigration. After the gas leak, 25-40% of the pregnancies were lost, and the remaining gave birth to unusually small or deformed babies.
The plant was within 3 km of two hospitals.
The play is fictional – and it is a tragedy the events are not.
Today we fear terrorism; we are afraid that small groups of people could wreak havoc on our lives so easily. But before terrorism there were industrial accidents: Bhopal and Chernobyl are high-profile, though soon almost forgotten examples. These events were as catastrophic as that which occurred September 11, and they too were man-made.
Bhopal takes a big picture and crops it down to a touching story that affects us all.
Playing until Dec. 9 at Teesri Duniya Theatre, Bhopal is worth seeing.
It is beautifully written and well-performed. It will open your eyes and touch your heart.
To learn more about the Bhopal tragedy, visit www.bhopal.net and www.bhopal.org.

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