A TRAGEDY RETOLD
Dominique Lapierre talks to Jayanth Jacob about his
forthcoming book on the Bhopal gas disaster
The Hindustan Times 28th January 2001

Remember Hasari Pal, the hero in the City of Joy that is Calcutta. Not a random pick, but a specimen of the same, struggling and strutting in a stifling life. His death or failiure against the oddities is not the over-powering success of social Darwinism, but the crowning glory of human unwillingness to yield and exist. Again watch out for Dominique Lapierre, the man who took the country by storm with Freedom at Midnight, is ready with a book on another cataclysmic moment. ready for publishing by march 15 in Italy, France and Spain is Midnight in Bhopal, co-authored by his Spanish nephew journalist Javier Moro (publisher Robert Laffont). The English edition will follow this.

What is the new book about, a tragedy repackaged after a long time?

It is more than a tragedy retold. I was requested to take up some philanthropic measures for the gas victims and I came down and fell in love with Bhopal. I want to put Bhopal on the map for many reasons. It's a wonderful landscape with amazing people and rich cultural heritage. The gas tragedy happened to be an event of epicenter, I think.

When we delved deep into the subject we were startled by our findings. no doubt the tragedy was in the making  for a long time. Union Carbide had already lost interest in the plant. The plant was up for sale when the tragedy occurred. We found that even corroded pipes of the plant had been remaining unchanged.

Regarding security measures, many lapses could be detected. When the gas leaked, many people were running in the direction of the plant. They were absolutely clueless about wind direction. The authorities could have installed the equipment placed at the top of the company showing the wind direction, in the nearby areas as well. It is an epic story of the gas tragedy. I and Moro came here in 1997 and interviewed many people who had a first hand experience about the accident. Moro came again in 1999 to Bhopal. We also met the engineers who designed the Union Carbide's Bhopal plant. But our attempt to meet Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson did not bear fruit.

It seems that your profession, journalism was not an end but a means to write what you call 'realistic documents'?

Journalism for me is the primary thing. In my soul I am a journalist. But such historical moments for my works are really chosen.

Chosen for?

Success. Nothing wrong in longing and trying to be successful.

As a writer you had a fatal attraction for India, why?

India has a rich cultural heritage which firms up my faith that all that is given is not lost. A country that teaches you many things besides leaving you transfixed with wonder about its cultural richness. If Freedom at Midnight is the confirmation of my love affair with India, City of Joy is the overwhelming response from an overflowing heart. It's the city where I met Mother Teresa who taught me its drops that make an occasion and inspired my humanitarian work. It was a treasured personal experience.

How is it to write?

Writing is all about hard work and sweat. As a writer I always think from the viewpoint of a reader. How will he understand the subtle nuances I incorporate into my writings. How he will follow the sequence in my book. I recreate everything for the reader with an association with three things, colour, noise and smell.

How was it working with Larry Collins, a give and take approach, a bond cemented by ambition or a smooth journey where sameness dominated consensus?

It was great working with him. But we had minor differences on many things but I think the end result was always a better book for the reader. especially regarding the women characters, mapping their mindscape, their  emotional parlance, we used to differ with each other.