Sometime later two of my friends and I had organised a fashion show for our college festival and our (over) enthusiastic publicity had resulted in unmanageable crowds. Somebody announced that there was a gas leak in the area and the crowds cleared. Bhopal disaster had affected everybody.
The thought that the very air one breathed could be poisoned was terrifying. One could avoid drinking water, one could escape fire, but what does one do if the air was poisoned? We even looked at our own windows and wondered if they were poisoned-air proof. One heard of bloated bodies – human and cattle which couldn’t be taken out, of burning sensation and bleeding eyes, blindness and dead children and animals. An entire town was dead or dying. It had seemed impossible then that those responsible for something so horrible would go unpunished.
Is it possible to write about a tragedy like that and make the reader smile, empathize and cry at the same time? Indra Sinha’s ‘Animal’s People’ does that. Shortlisted for Man Booker Prize 2007, the book is a hundred times better than Kiran Desai’s ‘The Inheritence of Loss’ and Aravind Adiga’s ‘White Tiger’. Unlike the other two books, Animal’s People seems to love the people it talks about. It does not justify murders or glorify poverty or victim-hood. I feel this book is more about India than any other book I have read recently.
There’s humour, affection, and characters you can believe in and the language is the language that the victims use… I don’t think the book would have been half as interesting without the ‘namisbondjamisbond‘ (Names is Bond, James Bond)
A young resident of Khaufpur (Horror-ville), grotesquely deformed ‘Jungli Jaanvar‘ or ‘Animal’ is a victim of the ‘Kampani‘ (Company, Factory). When he describes himself, does the lack of punctuation convey something… ?
head down below
arse en haut
thus do I go’
So he sleeps in the factory (yes the same factory!) and doesn’t want other children coming there, because (amongst other reasons) he didn’t want to be seen until “Shit was done.“
“No bird songs. No hoppers in the grass. No bee hum. Insects can’t survive here. Wonderful poisons the Kamapani made, so good it’s impossible to get rid of them, after all these years they are still doing their work…“
Animal’s character is based on Sunil.
Sunil’s parents and three of his five siblings were killed on ‘that night’. He woke among corpses en route to a pyre. Aged 12, he worked 18 hour days to provide for his younger brother and sister. He was kind to other children, helped form an organisation of orphans and threw himself into the survivors’ struggle for justice, becoming one of its best-loved characters.
And how does he support himself?
- Case against boy known as Animal, section chaar sau bees.
-Where is the accused?
-Your honor he is here.
- Where? I don’t see him.
- Right here, your honour, in the dock.
-Don’t be silly. I am looking at the dock, there’s no one there.
-Your honor, accused is of unusual stature.
By the the end I wanted to meet the characters …though their language was a concern Last I remember feeling this way was about Five Find Outers as a kid. Now if an author can bring to life, characters battling with sickness, hunger, injustice, unclean air, water and growing pains and jealousy of a love sick adolescent and still keep them lovable – the book deserves a read (actually lots more).