Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Neela: bhopal, 1984" - A Short Story by Chaya Bhuvaneswar - From her collection White Dancing Elephants - 2018

I first became aware of the amazing stories of Chaya Bhuvaneswar in a news letter from PEN.  It was announced that she, along with four other writers, was shorted  listed for their annual award for Best Debut Short Story Collection. On her website, one of the best and most respectful to readers of author websites I am familiar with, I learned of numerous awards and looked through the glowing reviews.  

Years ago when I first began posting on short story collections I followed standard procedures, post briefly on a few of the stories then conclude with metaphor laden concluding remarks and issue a recommendation.  Sometime ago I moved toward focusing on individual stories.  If I like a writer as much as I do Chaya Bhuvaneswar I post on numerours of the stories.  This seems more respectful of the writer, better for serious readers and for me also.  Writing about a work seems to increase my understanding and helps me recall the story.

Last month i read and posted upon the wonderful title story, “White Dancing Elephants”.  Today I am posting on a very different story, one you may read at the link above.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit it did not know  about Bhopal disaster before today.  On December 2nd, 1984 a gas leak occurred at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India owned by Union Carbide.  It produced the worst in history industrial disaster.  Over 500,000 people were injured by the gas leak.  3500 were acknowledged immediate casualties and up to twenty thousand died with in weeks.  Over 30,000 suffered permanent injuries. (The long legal battle to seek reparations is detailed in my links.) Many were blinded.

“Not for another thirty or maybe a hundred years will the water and land be safe again, as pure and unpolluted as they were hours before. Before the air burned and became a hateful thing. neela: bhopal, 1984  Eight thousand years ago, children huddled with their mothers Eight thousand years ago, children huddled with their mothers in cool caves. Those caves are hidden deep in a forest, miles from here, and would have been so much safer than shantytowns around the factory in Bhopal City, the easily penetrated houses of corrugated metal and scavenged plywood. The walls of those shacks are sheets of plastic with small holes...”

She awakes to find her three brothers dead.  She runs to the forest,trying to escape.

“All three of your brothers, limber and clever boys, were gifted at nosing out delectable refuse, edibles in the garbage. They were like scavenging dogs, little ponies. Long ago they nicknamed you Neelagai—antelope, for your thin quick legs, your skill at finding enough unspoiled food for all of them—and when they pretended to hunt you, none of them could find you here. Other hunters have found you at the edge of your forest: methyl isocyanate, fleet-footed mercury, and Sevin, the most experienced killer, creeping like ground brush."

This is a heartbreaking story, of indifference and greed of the very rich inflicting horrible cruelty on thousands of the poorest people in Bhopal.

The last words are hard to cope with.

I will read all of her stories.

CHAYA BHUVANESWAR is a practicing physician and writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, The Awl, Tin House, Michigan Quarterly Review, Notre Dame Review, story South, aaduna, r.k.v.r.y. and elsewhere. She has received a Henfield writing award, a Rhodes scholarship, and is a frequent public speaker on social justice as well as trauma and recovery. Her debut short story collection, White Dancing Elephants, was selected as the winner of Dzanc Books' 2017 Short Story Collection Prize.  From  the publisher's webpage

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