Sunday, January 24, 2010

nina at rubina's

i urge you all to read up on our goings about on nina p.'s blog:

she's been dutifully recording her actions and observations of bhopal and is an update-reliable source.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

reflecting on rallies and fretting about the future...

Damn! This has been a long blog hiatus and so much has happened but the only way to take on the daunting task of our much postponed catch-up blog is to dive right in with a timeline of anecdotes. our trip to the south deserves its own blog for sure but here’s some more detail on the anniversary and our current situation…

-Dec. 2 and 3rd was the anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster (in which roughly 20,000 Bhopalis were gassed to death and hundred of thousands made ill by highly toxic MIC gas escaping the nearby Union Carbide pesticide factory). It was the climax of weeks of preparation by everyone at Sambhavna clinic and various survivors’ organizations, who held numerous press conferences drawing attention to the continued plight of not only the gas disaster victims (and their kin) but those who are victims of the second disaster, soil and water contamination caused by UC’s irresponsible disposal of industrial waste.


On the night of the 2nd we held torched along with hundreds of Bhopalis (primarily women) and echoed the protest leaders in their calls like ‘Insaaf karo!’ (bring justice) and ‘Ham Bhopal ki nari hey! Phul nahi Chingari hey!’ (we are the women of Bhopal we are not flowers, we are flames). The protest culminated in front of the gates of the rotting, rusty old UC factory and the torch flames formed one light speckled organism illuminating the iconic statue of a woman fleeing the gas with her children clinging to her. people shouted ‘ham ek hey!’ (we are one).


On the 3rd the march was longer in distance, more populous and out in the glaring light of day. we passed out neon yellow headbands with ‘justice for bhopal’-themed prints on them to everyone who showed up at the starting point (a busy road shaded by an overpass near the Bharat cinema, called Bharat talkies) and marveled at the effigy (a devilish DOW exec bending backward Matrix-style with 6 Bhopalis- some muslim and some hindu- attacking him with all of the agility and gravity-defying power of extras in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). At 25 feet, the effigy doubled as a photo op and a bright, rally caboose. we marched again to the UC factory. this time taking a long winding route around Old Bhopal, and shouting with vigor ( Alizarin and I through the hijabs- head scarves- we had a lady tie in that bandit style that leaves  only your eyes exposed. ahhh the things that gori goris must do to avoid the scandalizing snaps of press cameras) and chugging water when we got a chance. The rally ended with the ceremonial burning of the Dow man, a series of awards given out by ICJB and a lot of snack eating.  there was unprecedented media attention and the atmosphere hosted palpable feelings of both accomplishment (after 25 years of sustained struggle for justice and prevention of similar tragedies) and urgency (in the face of a continuing and ever-worsening environmental, medical and social crisis). There was also a sense of relief after weeks of planning, working and worrying. we all took deep breaths and sat on the rock piles a few meters from the wall bearing skulls, crossbones and messages of infuriation at UCC/Dow. We shared samosa and popsicles and headed back to the clinic where long time Bhopal supporters were gathered around conversing furiously and eating with their fingers and the buzz of another anniversary HOGEA was all about.  at night we went out to dinner at a nice veg place in MP Nagar with bright red special gobi (cauliflower) and sitaphal kulfi (custard apple block ice cream) and then I talked late into the night with Nava (from Canada) and Rupesh (from Chennai) about environmentalist movements and bollywood and Bhopal gossip.  We went to sleep dog tired and still in shock from the craziness of the day.


After the Anniversary but before the South…


Mostly, we chilled out and hung out a lot with Dina, Rachna and Sathyu. We played a crazy and heated game of pictionary for our last night with Dina  which involved Sathyu and Rachna constantly accusing eachother of cheating, Sathyu drawing a sheep that looked like a fish and Dina dawning her ostensibly homosexuality-inducing nighty to everyone’s delight.  the next morning, we dragged our baggy-eyed asses to the charming Bhopal domestic airport to pick up Joey, who was fatigued but full of stories of the Gujarati family that he was practically adopted by on the plane. For the next few days we finished some writing we had to do for Rachna, showed Joey some crucial parts of Bhopal (Chowk market, the dhabas on Berasia, the mural at UC’s gates and Sambhavna’s garden) and packed up for our big adventure to Kerala….


… Since returning from Kerala, Nina, my achee achee dost from camp Kinderland (our secular jewish, socialism-influenced hippie haven of a summer camp) has come and Alizarin and I have been showing her around, getting all suited up with shalvar cameez and eating kilos of dahi (fresh buffalo curd) with her. we have also planned and started working on several short and long term projects for Sambhavna. We organized and created a clearly-labeled, numbered system for Sambhavna’s 108 photo albums that is chronological from 1984 to the present. We worked on clipping articles from dozens of Indian newspapers concerning Bhopal, medicin and the environment for Sambhanva’s extensive archives. We helped rake and remove leaves from the garden and tied all of the hibiscus plants lining its edges to sticks so they will grow straight after pruning them with thick clippers. Now we are making 20 illustrated signs for the doors of various rooms in the clinic for illiterate people. We are  also making a map of the ayurvedic herb gardens so that people can find the herbs they need for teas and decoctions more easily. In the long term, we have two extensive reports to write on various environmental and health related issues and are working on a graphic novel about Bhopal for kids (in Hindi and English). In short, we have tons to do and shockingly little time to do it. it seems like the end of march and our departure from the new home that Bhopal has become to us is approaching so rapidly now. The only way to console ourselves is to look forward to our trip to Nepaul with Ruth, Sam Hines, Nick Stracco and now Vilte (one of my best friends and most hardcore fellow lithuanian beer fanatics) and to try to take advantage of each day here- soak  up the brigh colors on berasia, smile at the hordes of kids bombarding us with ‘HI!’s and learn as much as we can…Bhopal mahesha!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

oh, did we go south for the holidays?

dede, joey and i finally alighted after 30-plus hours of train paced plunge into the heat (that we now miss so dearly) of the keralan heartland, thiruvananthapuram. our trip began and ended with an indian coffee house; the one outside trivendrum's train station's circularosity beckoned our greasy, train stanky, leftovers-gone-bad-hungry selves with heaping plates of vada and a type of bread we'd never seen before. this mystical, flaky roti (reminiscent of a layer of croissant minus whatever slight crust croissants have) would continue to permeate our trip, but for now all we knew was that these satisfactorily pleasing to the palate breads were parothas.

we ate, we basked in indian coffee house's plentiful sabon supply, then we rose to the challenge of locating the YMCA hotel room we'd booked in advance (relish it now. foresight will not be a motif present throughout the remainder of this blog post).

trivendrum hilites:
-awesome room. the ymca might've been one of the most expensive places we stayed at, but the accomodations made the price seem like a steal. shoot, we probably woulda paid all that just for their hose pressure (indian style, anyone? thanks, joey)
-morning of sight seeing. gorgeous ganepathi temple replete with devotees of all sexes and ages hurling burlap sacks full of coconuts at a coconut backboard for various reasons of prayer: to ensure their doing well on an upcoming test, their relative's good health, a plentiful coconut supply in the upcoming year, etc. we basked in the shade (and bought coconut oil from a stall in front of) a huge hindu temple that we non-practicers weren't allowed to enter, attempted to watch students of some form of concentration-oriented, self-centering, karate-like school fight each other but we got there too late, and feasted on fried banana balls and fresh banana chips. oh we also went to a museum.
-met some cool kids on the beach who told us all about their inabilities to swim. one of them was never given swimming lessons because a couple seers predicted his demise due to drowning when he was born.
-got to visit a much more touristy beach with dede's sister's friend arjun who shared his love for kerala and got marvelously excited when we told him about our bhopal ambitions back in the u.s.

just to prep you now, we should've done more research about which areas to visit because our whole trip ended up being mad touristy.
so our next stop on our way up the coast was ponmudi, a gorgeous hill station in the cardamom hills that was just so unfortunate when it came to lodging. our choices were moldy government guest house or waay overpriced empty resort. needless to say, we chose moldsville. the actual area was breathtaking and it took a bouncy, rickety, hair-pin curve hugging, completely incommunicable, 5 hour bus ride to reach.

we hit the bus to kollam after that.

where we stayed for a night.

i know what you're all really wondering is how this hairy, skinny boy achieved this perfect yogic stance, and i'm letting you know now that i'll get to it. man this post is getting long. i guess i'll just get to it now. we were all trying to do yoga one morning and joey showed us all up. way to go, new york high school gym class.

we went on a few boats, traveled to and from a few cities, and enjoyed a lot of southern cuisine before we reached the momentous event you see pictured here:

joey befriending two men in a toddy shop (toddy is crude coconut liquor) on the most touristy island i've ever imagined, fort cochi. that place wasn't a total waste, though. i got a picture of dede standing under the 'jew street' sign and we got to rent and ride bikes for a couple hours around the island. we chucked rocks at unripe mangos with some kids so they could make pickle with them and savored the most delicious freshly squeezed pineapple-mosambi (green-skinned oranges) juice of all heat-blasted time.

overall cochi/ernakulam was...decent (even though dede and i hobo showered in the stall spigot of a public bathroom there after we'd been booted from our hotel room). we had our hopes set high for bombay. now all we had to do was figure out how to get there. christmas (which we spent in ernakulam, goin all-out on multi-course meals and bombarded by gangs of kids ringing bells and wearing masks, each led by their own stick-thin costumed santa) season travels to bombaby are impossible, to say the least. and thanks to our greivious lack of prescience, we ended up taking two busses to cover the distance from ernakulam to bombay. based on our experience of travel through karnataka, we'd all come to the conclusion that there is not a single paved road through that state chock-full with roopa pride.

so finally...BOMBAY.

the city of the salvation army guest house that has housed bed bugs for decades and tripped out french guys and the museum arranged to and containing japanese perfection and the great old guy with the antiquated glasses shop and the most curious little fruits with husks and the texture and shape of grape tomatos but flavor of a persimmon with punch.

there were new years effigies, a disapointing jain temple, a calm afternoon in hanging gardens, a discovery of the innermost workings of the tower of silence, a baby in the window who waved our problems away with a mechanical wobble of his head, the best chicken in the world (or so joey claimed), out loud sessions of the great indian novel, a night at the gym with ayesha and dinoo dearest, 3 idiots, tons of british-influenced architecture, and the most delicious street food that has ever so much as tickled my nostrils. i'm sure there will be another post devoted entirely to bhel puri so no worries over explanations now.

so concludes 2009.

and dearest bhopal, there's no feeling like home.

from 2 december to the new year

So our blogging has simply gotten more and more sporadic and inadequate over the last month. Its one of those situations where you don’t do it for a few days and then it just spirals and suddenly its been nearly a month and some epic, dare I say life-changing shit has gone on and then been covered up with a few weeks worth of quotidian dabbling leaving a vast and daunting gap to be recounted.

The last time we wrote was before the anniversary. We were swamped with work and yet in one of the most exciting and dynamic atmospheres with roughly 20 volunteers around Sambhavna performing various tasks, sharing meals, philosophizing over latenight chai and cigarettes and above all frantically trying to prepare for the anniversary to ensure that the media attention and public support the 25th was generating would be utilized most tactfully in order to further the aim of justice and radical change in Bhopal. By the time the rallies of the 2nd and 3rd approached, Alizarin and I were extremely excited and apprehensive .

On the 1st we went to the Chingari Trust’s annual awards where they honored more than 25 female activists from all over India who are engaged in various grassroots movements for environmental justice, many of whom were up against corporate giants like Coca Cola. Alizarin and I crouched on the stairs near the entrance to the hall with Biju (a panchakarma therapist at Sambhavna/friend/arch ping pong enemy), Nava (a Canadian volunteer stopping in for the anniversary while doing some awesome research on biofuel engineering in Orissa) and ICJB workers who walked in and out, as usual tending to constantly ringing cell phones. It was amazing to see so many women on stage showing mutual appreciation for eachother’s work and solidarity in eachother’s fights. I also got to learn more about Rashida Bi and Champa Devy Shukla’s stories. Both are activists for justice in Bhopal and founders of the Chingari trust , which provides physical therapy, hearing aids and essentially special education for hundreds of children who were born with congenital malformations or issues like cerebral palsy as a result of the water contamination in Old Bhopal. I learned that prior to the 1984 disaster, Champa Devy had been unsuspectingly washing her family’s clothes in the solar evaporation ponds behind the Union Carbide factory, where UCC routinely dumped chemical sludge. Both women lost family members and faced so much hardship because of the disaster, and yet they became liberated as union organizers and activists and are now largely the backbone of the Bhopal Survivors’ movement.

I want so badly to convey the ongoings of the torch rally on the night of the 2nd and the larger rally on the 3rd but there is so much to say and I fear I can’t find the words at this hour to attempt a portrayal of so many things that at this point are ineffable. In the next blog I will be thoroughly describe them both, but for now I’ll just say that I was honored to get to walk in solidarity with the people of Bhopal and chant “Hum Bhopal ki nari hai! Phul nahi chingari hai!” (we are the women of Bhopal! We are not flowers, we are flames!) with them. I learned so much and was so uplifted by their determination. After seeing and focusing on the suffering that is so prominent in Bhopal, truly the site of an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it was emotionally confusing and enlightening to see such a dramatic display of the other side of the situation, the unwavering strength of the struggle for the justice deserved.

Since the anniversary, things have been very different. More laid back but still chalk full of new ideas and ever-multiplying plans for projects. We finally had a proper birthday party for the 3 november birthday people (me, Diana and vikas) at Sathyu and Rachna’s house. We’ve also gone to chowk with Diana and Rachna and ordered fancy suits, gone on walks around neighboring bastis, and talked to the guy who fixed Alizarin's shoes who collected newspaper clippings of uncommon animals (like a chicken with four legs. We brought him a clipping of a dog with 2 legs that walks like a person the other day.)

Then Joey arrived mid-December and we left our home away from home for the south. We started with a 2-day train to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivendrum), the capital of Kerala. By the time we got off, we were in dire need of some stretching out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

kam kam lekin khush khush

 It has been so busy and full of work but i have been in such high spirits while doing it! every day i look around bhopal on a walk in the clear fall sun or on the back of a bike with 2 people and just think how lucky i am, how fortuitously the linkages of people and events in my life have come together to get me to this point, to this place the magnificent and hilarious Bhopal, India. a place where time and fact and language are all flexible in the most unthinkable ways- where life flows by, sicknesses like malaria and dengue come and go, projects fade in and out in waves of work and interest, the consistency of the dal (soupy with oil flotillas on top means the canteen lady is trying to make a larger profit, thick and lumpy with visible tomato and chili chunks means khushi eclipsed thoughts of profit and love went into it) fluctuates and fruits come and go in the unexpected swoops of seasons...

 for a month every cart bore mosambi (thick skinned green oranges) and within a few days a full transformation occured-- now mosambis are rare at best and guavas (or GWAWAS if you wanna emulate the local accent precisely) sit in piles on every other cart where burqa-ed mothers pick carefully through, hunting for the ripe white ones that are soft almost paste inside (but often victims of hordes of camouflaged worms we've heard).  The guavas are abundant on the trees around Bhopal so any kid can pick one off a tree limb with a little hoisting, slight bending of a leafy branch and one big lunge. all indian children seem united by their love for the hard green guavas that look just like avocados until you gnaw through the first tough layer into the tangy white core studded with tan seeds.Little girls with pigtail braids folded into bunny ear loops and pressed plaid uniforms bite them while walking home from catholic school. a girl who begs on the street with sunstreaked, tangled hair and a tattered dress and bare dusty feet balances a baby on one hip and munches a little green guava in the other hand, a treasured treat in the middle of a long fall day. south of the clinic, near the mosque that blasts the call to prayer 5 times a day through our open windows, boys and girls in the industrial area of town stand in clusters outside of the buildings packed from floor to ceiling with garbage (empty bottles, greasy cardboard scraps, ripped black plastic bags) pressed into cubes and stare into space and chew hard green guavas. alizarin and i eat them before lunch with vikas and diana, passing them around like a joint, each person getting a big juicy bite and handing it over to the next in the circle with a full mouthed giggle. 

we live in this place where people bake cakes in their pressure cookers. and where people insist on keeping secrets that everyone knows about while everyone else pretends not to know. and where coffee is just sweet sweet milk with the slightest brown tinge. and where there are rules for when you can drink water with food (e.g. no water with greasy food like puri and no water after eating cucumber, guava) because otherwise your stomach will get upset. and where neem or tulsi (holy basil) or coconut oil can apparently cure anything from dry hair to mosquito bites to infections to malaria to coughs. and where people insist that eating with your hands makes the food taste much better. and where goats where ripped turtlenecks and where the idea of wearing one anklet not two in absurd. this place is pure chaos that somehow fits and pushes onward. its like the traffic. to the untrained eye the traffic appears to be a hellish race with every vehicle pursuing its own route with no regard to laws or patterns, undoubtedly about combust, but really the the roads contain a massively complex community that functions like a petrol-powered bee hive, tons of rushing with constant communication and coordination making a group of individuals into one intricate organism. bhopal is unraveling in front of us and we can trace the paths that we follow through the city like mice in a maze-  memorizing the classic route from berasia road, past chowk market (where you can find chappals next to electrical appliances next to safron flavored ice cream scooped into a bright orange cone), around the corner where a series of dark, smoke-blackened shops begins (complete with old men crouching on their haunches enjoying the beedis tucked in their oil stained fingers and boys with coal smudged faces dodging the streams of sparks that fly off spinning wheels as they cut metal pipes) to furniture row where you can find any kind of chair, cabinet, bed or couch you could possibly need, past the soap and chemical row full of shops piled high with bubble gum pink chemicals in 3 gallon jugs to the looming stone gates that bring you to the open, lakeside spaces of new bhopal. and then back. bhopal is unfolding with all of its passion and absurdities and its moments of pure glee in the form of a bright new coat of paint over the mud and dung walls of a house, or a genuine smile from woman selling bloated yellow papayas. There are also those moments when you look around, full of love for bhopal and its people  realize the pain that is still lurking even 25 years after the gas, still  torturing so many via ailments or continued poisoning from the water and you feel this horrible tugging sensation inside, pulling out tears of anguish. you think- who could ever do that to these people- they must not know, not understand, must truly blind themselves. anyway this is what i'm thinking about as we zoom around bhopal and reflect on this mystery of a city that has become our home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

crows, Eh-spray paynt caines and gulab jamun....

Wooooow (as our friend Dr J would say)! Its been so long since we have blogged! Even this catch up, in which I will try and undoubtedly fail to sum up the last 2 weeks, must be brief cause its almost 11 pm, my laptop battery is at 32 percent and its cold out here on the stone ground outside of my machhar net and cozy sleeping bag that makes me look like a content glow worm.

Since Rachna, the coordinator of the ICJB ( and Sathyu's wife and essentially the strongest woman of my life (besides you, mom), got back from the Bhopal bus tour in Europe things have been crazy here. Every day Rachna gives like 10 interviews with local, national and international reporters (look out for Sambhavna on BBC, CBC, Al Jazeera, AP, etc.) while getting tons of work done and giving us tons of work to do. Alizarin has been slaving away on Photoshop making placards, I have been scanning and typing documents, we have been sketching and painting and printing and building and reading/writing about the disaster (for a slideshow we are preparing chronicling the lead up, disaster and aftermath) and so much more. Its been insane. Luckily, this place embodies that balance between serious commitment to one's work to improve the world and the pure hilarity that keeps your mind and body alive and happy! We work work work then laugh with kids, zip around with 3 of us on a motorcycle in the clear fall sunlight and learn grotesque hindi dancemoves from videos of hritik rochan and do yoga and cook spicy dinners (dal, chapati, chaval, curry aloo and fresh GUAVA was our last brilliant creation) and keep smiling all the while. then we go home or back to our computers or projects and get back to work. Its great. 

Another important thing in our recent lives is that we have had the privelege to work as apprentices of sort of an amazing professional muralist, Janet Braun-Reinitz. Janet is a riot at 71 years and 5 feet she is constantly seeing the beauty in lines and colors and spouting stories  rich in detail and walking about in red platform heals over little white socks leading up to paint-splattered overalls and puffing out her new york accent while chain smoking pall mall reds. in short, she's brilliant. most of her murals are in NYC (she lives in Bedstuy, Brooklyn) but she has them all over the world from Nicaragua to Rome to Pensicola. we've been helping her sketch out and paint a beautiful bright mural about the disaster and the corporate crimes of UCC and Dow and the survivors struggle for justice on a wall across from the abandoned UCC factory. we've now been featured in the Bhopali newspaper for this (me and alizarin both concentrating on painting within the lines) and have been recognized aournd the neighborhood a few times as those artists from the paper!

I have to go as I'm running on reserve battery but today was great! finished a secret building project, got about 1/2 way done with a hip-high crow sculpture (to be explained soon), ung out with ICJB right hand man Vikas and learned about Hindi and village life an then topped off the night with ridiculous bollywood esque dancing and lots of sweets (GULAB JAMUN seconds yum!) at a wedding of SAmbhavna's accountant. I love this community and feel so (i hate to say it cause its so damn corny but here goes) blessed to be apart of it! Bhopal zinda bad!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

grooveshark classics

most overplayed songs in our bhopali life...
'girl' and 'sex laws' by beck
'hello operator' and 'you don't know what love is' by white stripes
'be healthy' by dead prez
'hey ma' by cameron
'oh yoko' by john lennon
'country cousins' by talib kweli
'single ladies' by beyonce as well as our own cover, 'all my muslim ladies remix' based on the call to prayer.... basically think beyonce and replace the lyrics with 'up in the mosque, on this namaz, doin my own little thang, call me to prayer, hijab on my hair, soon as that old guy starts to sang. a-a-llah a-a-a-a-allah'etc.
'L.E.S. artistes' by santogold
'grillz' nuff said
'i've just seen a face' 'two of us' (shout out to our rickshaw driver who had to hear us sing that to console ourselves on the way home from dropping ruth at airport) and other beatles jams
'April 1992' by sublime (whistling that shit daily...driving everyone insane)
'todi milli geya' by sharukh khan from the hindi movie Kuch Kuck Hota Hai (our fav and apparently the pachmari driver's too cause he played it like 20 times)