A picture of Sunil hangs in the Yaad–e-Haadasaa, the Bhopali people’s museum commemorating the disaster, which Sunil inaugurated in December 2005.
In Bhopal and in villages and cities around the world, trees were planted in memory of our friend Sunil Kumar.
Dharmesh Shah writes from Chennai, “We had a very small yet remarkable get to gether to remember sunil today at a local school in Chennai called simply, The School. The children living on campus there planted trees and have sent notes in memory of Sunil ‘Bhai’ (Sunil brother), that’s how the children refferred him).
When I read the write-up about your story, I was surprised when you
called yourself ‘mad’. You have helped so many people, and have done
so many things to help the survivors. I don’t think you are mad. I
think you are brave. I have planted two plants in our campus in memory
of you. Anusuya, age 12
After hearing about you, your family, and your struggles, I felt sorry
for you. I have planted a plant in my campus in memory of you. Rubini, Age 14
I felt sad after hearing about the difficulties you have faced. I have
planted a plant in my campus in memory of you.
-Jagadesh, age 13
I have read an article about you, that your family died because of the
Bhopal Gas Tragedy. I felt sad that everybody died because of this. I
have planted two plants in my campus in the memory of you. Shreyas, age 11
I found it extraordinary that you took care of your brother and
sister, despite your own sadness that the rest of your family was
dead. All the many initiatives that you have taken in your life, like
not being willing to accept pay despite being utterly poor, speak of a
remarkable integrity, and compassion. I believe that integrity is the
biggest sanity. So what if you heard voices in your head? We all hear
different voices in our heads, the voice of money, for instance, which
pushes us sometimes to cause so much harm. If only madness did not
have such limited definitions!!! I have planted two plants in our
campus, and am glad that you have been relieved of the suffering which
you experienced. Ambuja, age 15
Sunil’s younger brother Sanjay (right), and his friend Shahid Noor, plant a tree outside the Yaad-e-Haadasaa museum. Shahid, like Sunil and Sanjay, was orphaned on “that night”.
Rahida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla and women from the Bhopal Gas-Affected Women’s Stationery Union (BGPMSKS) plant a tree for Sunil.
At the Sambhavna Clinic, in the garden where Sunil often worked as a volunteer, a banyan tree is planted in his memory.
Lot Valley, France
Each of us chose a tree for Sunil: an apricot, an orange, a lemon, a banana and an olive. Their scent and fruit will always remind us of Sunil. We will send pictures of the trees when Maude comes, meanwhile, here is the spot where they were planted, near the river, in the walled garden by the weir, love from Vickie, Indra, Tara, Dan, Sam.
Jack holding the pear tree we planted in memory of Sunil. May his memory be kept alive as this tree grows strong. Nig, Ro, Gena and Jack.
We placed in the AID garden at 5011 Tecumseh Street, College Park, Maryland. It is a bush of the Pieris which gives clusters of white flowers in spring. It is located in a good neighborhood as the closest tree to it was planted by Medha Patkar when she visited us a few years ago. Unfortunately, I do not have a camera. Take care, God Bless you all and may the future bring Peace to the vicitims of the tragedies which seem to be piling up even after 26 years, Satindar M. Bhagat.
[Dan and Steve, who is wearing the same NO MORE BHOPALS tee-shirt Sunil wore when he died.] Steve writes: Both Dan and myself knew Sunil. I shared the flat with Sathyu and Sunil, who cooked us up many a dhal batt. One of the easiest folks to sit in stillness with. I will miss him much when I return to Bhopal next. In my heart he remains a star. Steve and Dan.
Ryan writes: When I told my father of Sunil’s death, he was aghast. “Nooo,” he said, lamenting the fate of a man he’d never meet. “How could that happen?” I told him it happened all too often in the stricken bastis of Bhopal, where long-lasting scars from “that night” – both physical and mental – continue to fester. When I asked if we could plant a tree in Sunil’s memory, he quickly agreed. He even had one in mind – a golden privet, an ornamental renowned for its beauty and color. He thought its golden glow would be a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much of himself, despite everything Carbide’s gases took from him. We planted the privet in a quiet ceremony at our home in mid-Michigan, creating life to remember the life that Carbide’s cruelty snuffed out, even 22 long years after first claiming the majority of Sunil’s family. And although we cannot replace Sunil or the beauty he brought into the world, we can remember him, and ensure that his loss – like the loss of all Bhopalis – is not forgotten. Love from Ryan.
Sameera plants a beech sapling for Sunil in our garden. Farah writes: the one thing that I’ll never forget about Sunil was his laugh – like a motorbike starting up on a cold day. He always greeted everybody with a smile and you couldn’t help returning it. Tim writes: aside from Sunil’s rogueish humour, that created an undercurrent of hilarity whenever he was in the room, what struck me most deeply about him was his ferocious integrity when involved in gas disaster related work. Even during some of his darkest days he would agree to revisit his myriad sufferings in order to help international film crews or journalists fill their copy. When doing so, he had to fight against a kind of self-protective resistance to exposing himself, but it was always the needs of ‘the greater good’ that won out. Though the various journalists invariably carried ‘first world’ expense budgets, Sunil, barely a few steps from destitution, would blankly refuse to accept interview fees that could have kept him in food for months. I like to think that he taught the reflective among them about much more than Bhopal. Love from Tim, Farah, Sameera and Seff.
Javier Moro (co-author of Five Past Midnight in Bhopal) writes: I am sending you a few pix of the planting of Sunil’s tree in Dr Pilar Munoz’s garden in Madrid. Thanks to Pilar’s generosity in offering her garden, we could plant a Gingko biloba in memory of dear Sunil. Sebastian, who just turned 3 years today, is putting some earth on the base of the tree. Much love from all of us to all of you at Sambvana. Javier, Sita, Sebastian and friends.
I was so moved when I first read about Sunil – only a couple months ago now – that I could only sit and cry for quite awhile before I gathered the strength to share the story and plan something in his honor. I wish that I had known him in person and could extend my empathy for what he suffered thru. I read somewhere that when it’s all said and done [life], we all suffer more or less equally. While I think that there is some truth in this, I think that unrequited injustice on the scale at which Sunil suffered must be so impossibly difficult to bear. If the tiny injustices we live with on a daily basis has the power to turn us into cynics, what then, can very large injustices – and unacknowledged ones – do to us? I think Sunil had the answer to that.
On September 26, 2006, I planted a young tree from an acorn of a very sacred valley oak I found growing on the grounds of Marywood – the Dominican sisters’ retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. Here is a picture of the mother tree I took a few months ago. I planted this tree for Sunil with the hopes and prayers that there will be no more Bhopals and I vowed on that day to join those who open their eyes and do not turn away from the suffering that we cause by our greed, unchecked desires which is eating our planet. In peace, Pete Veilleux
More pictures and tributes will be posted here as they come in.
For the Bhopal Medical Appeal and Sambhavna Clinic fundraising appeal to help people with mental health problems, please see:
The life and death of a mad Bhopali child
“Oh little brother”, Terry Allen’s moving memories of Sunil
Goodbye, dear Sunil, an obituary, written by Bridget Hanna and staff at the Sambhavna Clinic.
Donations to the Bhopal Medical Appeal to help Sambhavna open a new mental health department may be made at www.bhopal.org/donations.