“Zarina was but one of thousands of babies born after the explosion. Zarina died at 18 days old. Her autopsy report said, “Poisoned in her mother’s womb.” At birth, her heart could be seen through the lesions on her skin. She was too young to utter a word but her silent suffering spoke volumes about the indescribable pain she was in. The idea of the play Bhopal was born that day in my mind, which I regard as an act of creative dissent dramatizing the collision between the forces of destruction and deception and those of resistance, survival and justice”.
So said playwright Rahul Varma in October 2003, in an introduction marking the Toronto, Canada opening of his play “Bhopal”, a dramatisation of the events of 1984 and beyond. Some months before the Canadian opening, Rahul fulfilled a cherished ambition when he saw the play performed to a gas-affected audience in Bhopal itself. You can hear (with RealPlayer) a fascinating documentary account of the play’s Bhopal debut here. Please read on for the full introduction cited above.
The play Bhopal, by Rahul Varma, has shown to audiences in Bhopal and North America over the last 18 months
The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction
Rahul Varma Oct 16, 2003
On the night of Dec 3, 1984 Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India exploded, engulfing the city of one million in a billow of the deadly gas Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC). Men, women and children, breathless and blinded by the gas, died like flies. That night Bhopal became the largest peacetime gas chamber in history. Over 20,000 people have died to date and the figure is still rising.
If one wants to know where the weapons of mass destruction are, they must not go to Iraq, they must go to Bhopal.
Zarina was but one of thousands of babies born after the explosion. Zarina died at 18 days old. Her autopsy report said, “Poisoned in her mother’s womb.” At birth, her heart could be seen through the lesions on her skin. She was too young to utter a word but her silent suffering spoke volumes about the indescribable pain she was in. The idea of the play Bhopal was born that day
in my mind, which I regard as an act of creative dissent dramatizing the collision between the forces of destruction and deception and those of resistance, survival and justice in order to instil an understanding of the human condition.
Given that even after 18 years, mothers exposed to MIC are giving birth to horribly deformed babies, and that the babies are inheriting deformities from their own mothers while still in the womb I have devoted my attention to dramatize questions relating to health of women and children of the Third World, which finds itself trapped by the forces of globalization for day to day “survival” at a disastrous cost or face starvation. The play Bhopal, tells the story of how complex forces struggled to bury the truth, expose it, or shape it to the needs of self-interest, and how an unspeakable disaster ended all speculation. Ultimately, though, it is aboutand forthose without means or influence, whose voices are seldom heard and yet who are made to pay the cost.
Although set in India, I regard it as a Canadian play, by virtue of the fact that Canadian content is integrated into the storyline through Canadian characters, not merely by the fact that the play is written by a new Canadian. The play breaks away from excruciating stereotypes of Hollywood and colonial literature portraying Indians as exotic leftovers from the “pre-discovery” past and the whites as spiritually-starved forlornly in search of God in India. The Canadian character in Bhopal is a non-governmental activist doing peace and development work, which is much closer to the reality of Canadians doing grass-roots work.
Bhopal was first workshopped at the Cahoots Theatre’s “Lift Off” (1998) program under the direction of Ann Van Burik and went through a development process at the Banff PlayRites colony and through Teesri Duniya Theatre’s play development program called FIREWORKS.
When Bhopal premiered in Montreal it drew attention to corporate terrorism at a time when all discussion was centred on 9/11. In 2002 the play was translated into Hindi as Zahreeli Hawa and directed by India’s premier director Habib Tanvir in India. The Indian production was remarkable for Tanvir’s anti-colonial, pro-indigenous approach. His Hindi translation, interspersed with Chattisgarhi and English not only added authenticity but also provided native English speakers and those who spoke Hindi and Chattsigarhi with a common ground for dialogue.
Now Zahreeli Hawa has been re-translated into English and is opening at the Theatre Centre under the direction of Guillermo Verdecchia. While getting ready for the Toronto production, I cannot avoid making comparision between the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that have not been found and proven weapons of mass destruction that were designed in the United States and shipped to Bhopal, India.
I hope that the play plays a role of a peaceful weapon, one that is used to reshape and not destroy humanity.