Tragic Tales

Mwatima Issa, Express India, June 23, 2008
A dialogue between Raghu Rai’s photos and a play by Parnab Mukherjee juxtaposed to bring home the unforgettable horrors of the Bhopal gas leak and its implications
Continuing their cultural activities with social messages that dessiminate awareness among common people, city-based NGO Lokayat recently organised a play titled A dialogue between Raghu Rai’s photos of Bhopal Gas Tragedy and curated performance by Pranab Mukherjee and friends on June 19. Rai, being a great photographer, is well- known for his deep emotional and spiritual images that rely heavily on optimism. After bearing witness to the Bhopal disaster, Rai, along with several other people, saw a very different phase of Indian history – that of pain, despair and pessimism.
Mukherjee, an excellent theatre performer presented a 14-minute non-verbal play which transformed the entire backdrop to the time of the tradegy through 30 of Rai’s Bhopal pictures and by sharing emotions which attached them emotionally with the pain of the tragedy victims.
The prominent feature of the play was when Mukherjee explained about how a street play is made from scratch and put together the works of Rai into a play. He said, “The only way to feel the pain is to represent the pain and not to imitate pain.” In his performance, Mukherjee presented each movement and experienced the pain of each victim presented in Rai’s photographs – from an aborted foetus, the burial of an anonymous child, the multiple heart surgeries to the human skeletons coming out from the cemetery they were collectively buried in.
24 years after the Bhopal Gas tragedy, which killed thousands of people, the victims are yet to see the changes in their life as they are haunted by the memories of the tragic day. The whole purpose of the play was to let the people know that even though the incident happened in the past, people are still living the same tragic life the memories of which they tried to erase, but in vain. Making the message clearer, Lokayat presented 30 black and white images and each of the pictures presented more than one story of the victims. Sunil Verma, a social activist and Bhopal tragedy victim, who committed suicide two years ago, inspired Mukherjee’s play. Mukherjee said that Verma’s story summarises the whole Gas tradegy and the implications that it has had.
“I must have performed more then 20,000 autopsies so far. No relative of a gas victim can get a compensation claim for a death without my certificate and it has been a nightmarish experience especially those initial first days, when we hardly came out of the morgue,” said Dr Sathpathy, the forensic expert at the State Government Hamidia Hospital, who lived through the disastrous night.
Alka Joshi, Lokayat convener stated, “There are more than 60 of Raghu Rai’s photographs on Bhopal Tragedy. There are some which were taken two days after the tragedy, some after twenty years and we have mixed them all together today because when you look at them you can’t differentiate between them as they are all telling the same story even after so many years.”

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