Tag Archive: Bhopal

If anyone is thinking about going to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, they should. But be prepared. We have a few tips which might be helpful.

First and foremost, read the volunteer handbook on the BMA website. It’s full of useful stuff!

Getting there. Sambhavna has a ‘H’ after the ‘B’ which you need to pronounce if you want to be understood. If rickshaw drivers and general stand-arounders still give you a blank look, ask for the ‘Peoples Hospital’ on Berasia Road, and turn down the alleyway next to the Reliance petrol station. Or call the Clinic, although mobile phones are very difficult to source when you’re a foreigner in India nowadays.

Don’t think, like we did, that you can walk from the station to the clinic. The map in the Lonely Planet is, as usual, a bit crap – don’t believe its scale! It’s much further than 1km!

When you catch a rickshaw to the clinic from the train station, do not pay more than Rs50. From Pt.6 it should be Rs30. Rickshaw drivers will probably try and sting you (as usual) for up to Rs200.

If you can bring your own laptop, do.  There probably won’t be a computer available during the day, but after 3pm, several become free.

Have patience with the internet, the computers and power cuts. Either you will learn this patience, or you will literally tear your hair out in frustration. Maybe consider taking up yoga…

Because the area is predominantly Muslim and generally conservative, it is frowned upon to wear anything that shows your shoulders. Plus, if you’re a woman, it seems you’re not supposed to ‘reveal’ your bum by not covering it with both trousers/long skirt and long top. I’ve been trying to formulate my responses to this as a blog, I’ll keep you posted…

There is always work to do in the garden. The gardeners are very friendly and it is the kind of job where you can look back in satisfaction at the end of the day and know you’ve completed a whole task (which is otherwise more difficult to achieve).

The water used in the sinks/shower etc is recycled for the plants. Therefore, bring organic body products – e.g. soap and hair wash. You can buy ‘Medimix’ from the local corner shop – but that only works as soap and detergent. It leaves your hair unpleasant.

If you get ill, do not hesitate (as I did) to speak to the doctors. They are more than happy to help. Maybe before that you could consult the gardeners who are a wealth of knowledge on herbal remedies and will surely point you in the direction of various leaves, roots and seeds.

Keep in Shahnaz’s good books! She is a fixer of problems: officially the ‘Librarian’ she does a multitude of things, including coordinating the volunteers. She can always offer work archiving, which is an endless task…

Visit the Union Carbide site. Sanjay can help you out with that for a small fee. He is a very good guide and I would recommend him. Ask Shahnaz for his email address.

If you want help at Sambhavna, you have to ask – otherwise people just assumed you’re getting on with whatever it is that you’re doing. People won’t just offer it, but when you ask there’s usually at least one person who will be able to help. It can be a bit frustrating that no-one really helps, but of course everyone’s busy and if you keep asking someone will eventually have time.

If you have any further questions, post a comment on this with your email address and we will get back to you.


Animal’s People, by Indra Sinha

Another book review for you – don’t worry, we’ll get back to writing about what we’ve been up to in the next blog…

“This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead is entirely coincidental.” This is one of those standard disclaimers that stops people from suing the author. As is often the case, it isn’t really true when it comes to Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People.

Animal’s People is written as though transcribed from real tapes recorded by its narrator. Its ‘Editor’s Note’ explains that “information about the city of Khaufpur”, where the novel is set, “can be found at http://www.khaufpur.com.” It’s a real website: it looks like any other Indian city’s slightly cheesy site, and it comes complete with photos and contact numbers for governors. Thing is, what khaufpur.com is describing is the city of Bhopal, because that is what Sinha’s novel is really about. Kampani (company), factory, absent lawyers, birth defects, respiratory problems, grief, multiple losses, memories of chillies to the eyes and running desperately and all, this is the fictionalised story of Bhopal.

Eighteen years after That Night, Animal is a young man (“I’m not a fucking human being, I’ve no wish to be one”) bent in half:

feet on tiptoe
head down below
arse en haut
thus do I go

Shortly after the disaster, his spine twisted until he could not stand straight, so now he walks on all fours. We saw that man when we were in New Market recently. His situation is representative of so many people crippled and otherwise affected by the gas leak, and of almost hopeless hopes – he tries to hide the hope that maybe some day he will walk upright. Animal, symbol of the victims of the disaster, is no hapless victim, however. Foul-mouthed, mischievous and frequently distracted by thoughts of sex, Sinha has created an amazing mouthpiece for his tale. Animal’s often scathing view of the humans around him is allowed to also carry a great love and passion for the people of Khaufpur. His ability to hear voices no-one else can hear gives him compassion for people like Ma Franci who is insistent that the “Apokalis” will soon be upon them and can only speak French. Not only that, but it draws you ever deeper into his way of viewing the world, which, while scatological, and while it needs a glossary to explain some of the slang (although some words, like Jamisponding, are left up to the reader to work out – hint, think 007), it has a beautiful poetry to it.

Furthermore, its a celebration of the strength and weaknesses of the people who live in the slum areas here. By addressing himself to the “Eyes” reading his story, and through Sinha’s introduction of an American character, Animal sheds light on many elements of life in Bhopal (sorry, Khaufpur…). It would be silly to say that I now have a greater understanding of life in the bastis, but it has been interesting to apply his logic to what I’ve seen around me for the past three weeks.

Sanjay had taken us to the second, larger waste dump from the Union Carbide factory. By the afternoon, it is a playground for children and pasture for the cows and goats, but in the early morning it is the place that people come to take a dump. This is one of the things into which Animal offers some useful insights –

” ‘You foreigners talk as if the sight of a bum is the worst thing in the world, doesn’t everyone crap?’
‘Not in public, they don’t.’
‘There’s a lot to be said for communal shitting. For a start the camaraderie. Jokes and insults. A chance to discuss things. It’s about the only opportunity you get to unload a piece of your mind. You can bitch and moan about the unfairness of the world. You can spout philosophies. Then there’s the medical benefit. Your stools can be examined by all. You can have many opinions about the state of your bowels, believe me, our people are experts at disease. The rich are condemned to shit alone…’ ”

His views on religion, being in the midst of such a mixture of Muslim, Hindu and smaller traditions, are also interesting –

“If religions were true there wouldn’t be so many of them, there’d be just one for everyone. Of course all say theirs is the only one, fools can’t see this makes even less sense. Suppose people talked of beauty in the same way, how foolish would they sound? Times like this I feel sorry for god’s being torn to pieces like meat fought over by dogs. I, me, mine, that’s what religions are, where’s room for god?”

His cut-the-crap attitude is what guides you through the suspicions, paranoia, trust, love, despair and hope of campaigning for justice in Bhopal.

Read this book. It might break your heart a little bit, but read it.

It is safe to say that there is very little to do in Bhopal. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that Bhopal is a truly horrible place, which is only made palatable by the Sambhavna Clinic, and a surprisingly good book shop (though the organisation inside is rather lacking).

Flicking my eyes across the books, from Harry Potter in Hindi to Lonely Planet Hong Kong, I suddenly saw ‘Noam Chomsky & Ilan Pappe’. There was no title, but when these are the two authors, the title becomes of secondary importance. When I excitedly pulled the book out, I found it was titled Gaza in Crisis – Reflections On Israel’s War Against the Palestinians.

After reading Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and knowing that India is a favoured relaxation spot for post-compulsory military service Israelis, this book was a must-read.

Having now finished the book, I feel all the wiser. Even though much the material pre-dates the Israeli attack on the peace flotilla, the content is still highly up-to-date, with the cut and wit expected of Chomsky, and the historical grounding Pappe always provides.

While the overall message of the book is rather simple and obvious – Israel is a brutal colonialist nation and is only able to hold the position it does due to its unprecedented support by the Western nations, the US in particular – it still provides highly useful information and evidence to add feathers to anyone’s bow in the fight against Zionist myths and propaganda.

Of particular interest to me were the discussions over the desirability of a one-state vs two-state solution, as well as the merits and flaws of boycotts (the latter discussion is further assessed in an interesting article in a recent International Socialist Journal – http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=680&issue=128). While neither author favours a two-state solution as the desirable end goal, Chomsky clearly believes that it is only through this process that what he terms ‘a binational state’ can be created.

While the overall impression of the book is of a rather ramshackle collection of related articles and interviews, Gaza in Crisis still gives an excellent analysis (several, in fact) of the situation in Palestine today, and dispels the cynical hypocrisy of Israel and its supporters.

Our shower leaks (yes, at the Sambhavna Clinic we have our own shower, the whole situation is slightly absurd…). This is annoying the part of me that can’t switch off the part of my brain which notices the constant dripping noise, but there’s something that makes this drip much more significant. This is the reason it upsets me. The water in our taps is sourced from Kolar Reservoir and is therefore free from contamination, if not necessarily clean – you drink it filtered. In the midst of mass contamination, much cleaner water is dribbling away down our drain.

I know that Josh already mentioned the lack of both “non-contaminated” and actually clean water in Bhopal in his most recent blog. However, having just read an appalling government report from 2008, approved and financed by the Department of Gas Tragedy, Relief and Rehabilitation (Madhya Pradesh), plus having found out that as recently as November 2009 the State Minister from the same department announced plans to open the Union Carbide site to the public for general tourism with the statement “this is to help people get rid of the misconception that chemical waste inside is still harmful or that chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities”, I wanted to expose some abysmal research, some outright lies, and generally expand on the whole issue a bit more. In other words, this is a rant that for once isn’t by Josh…

The report is called An Epidemiological Study of Symptomatic Morbidities in Communities Living Around Solar Evaporation Ponds and Behind Union Carbide Factory, Bhopal. Let me break down its argument for you. It basically claims that there is no connection between the “toxicants alleged to be found” on the Union Carbide site and people being chronically ill in the surrounding areas. This is due to the toxicants’ “absence in the groundwater”. Despite the fact that all studies after 1996, both governmental and non-governmental, have found that the groundwater is contaminated, these researchers claim that “no cause effect relationship between toxic substances present in Union Carbide premises and morbidities seen in the study area could be established”. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2009 highlights that in the soil, surface water and groundwater, they found the pesticides carbaryl (trade name Sevin) and aldicarb (Temik), mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium, dichlorobenzene, trichlorobenzene, hexachlorobenzene and hexachlorocyclohexane. You can probably guess from the names of the latter that they’re not good news – together, the group can cause liver damage, damage immune, neurological, reproductive, developmental and respiratory systems, mess up your brain, screw up your digestive system and generally make people ill. That’s a shortened version of the list. The World Health Organisation doesn’t have a guideline for ‘Total Amount of Pesticides’ in its drinking water guidelines, opting instead for a chemical-by-chemical analysis, but presumably an average of 0.006 ppm, which is 12 times the Bureau of Indian Standard, is a tad high?

I hasten to add that 2009 was not the first time that these chemicals had been found – sevin, for instance, was detected in groundwater in 1994. However, according to the Epidemiological Study, all problems are basically because these people are too poor and too stupid to not get ill. They blame “filth, water fecal contamination, mosquitoes and flies”, which will certainly play a part in people’s ill health, but they absolutely deny any link between the cocktail of poisons in the water and ground and the continued suffering of the people.

Their most astonishing claim is that “it has been observed that some of the local groups are spreading misleading information among the residents of the study area that the toxic substances present in the water are damaging to their health. This statement repeated time and again made the people believe that they are sick and the cause of the sickness is contaminated water.” What a brilliant get-out clause! Put it all down to the placebo effect, and blame the local activists! Presumably the Madhya Pradesh government is part of this damaging smear campaign falsely accusing the water of being contaminated as well, since they had all groundwater pumps in the area painted red in warning? And the Supreme Court must be in on the propaganda too, since they ordered that clean water be provided to the residents of affected communities in 2004? I’d like to add here that the Madhya Pradesh government ignored this ruling until there were two marches across the country from Bhopal to Delhi to demand that they provide water. Josh has already explored how ineffective that has been. In fact, the study itself points out that the Sambhavna Trust did an investigation in 2005 that showed 881,500l of water would be required for a community based on UNESCO standards of water consumption (50l/person/day), but only 151131l were provided by tankers (730369l shortfall). Presumably no more than a fifth of the required water can be being provided even now, with 30 minutes every other day if you’re lucky..? Never fear, though, because the Bhopal Municipal Corporation claims to provide 45.3l per person per day, so it must all be alright! I also presume that as the Bhopal Municipal Corporation consistently claims they provide this amount of water, the people only think they don’t have enough because of these damned activists.

What is more disgusting about the study is that they cite the fact that only a small proportion of those they referred to hospital actually went as proof that they must have not really been ill in the first place. “Out of 150 or so referred persons only 24 visited the hospital”. Obviously they must be making up their complaints if they don’t go to the hospital when referred: why else would they not go? It probably has nothing to do with the fact that few people have the time to visit a clinic if they are having to work a 12 hour day to have enough money to eat, or that people do not have the money to pay for treatments from other hospitals nor for that matter the money to get to hospital in the first place, or that government hospitals have a rather bad reputation here… It’s just these pesky activists duping the stupid locals into telling the valiant researchers that they are ill when they aren’t. Well, I say “they” as though each individual was asked, as you might expect would be the case in a scientific experiment. It wouldn’t be the case that researchers would ask a young boy questions about his mother’s menstrual cycle; that would be absurd. How should he know? If that was standard practice in a study such as this it would probably discount much of what they concluded, right? In any case, “investigators have notice [sic] that the water in large quantity is being wasted” so that’s probably the main problem. If only these stupid slumdwellers would learn, eh?

Sarcasm aside, I just thought I should vent my rage that bullshit like this can come out of supposedly prestigious medical colleges (Ghandi Medical College, Bhopal) – it so obviously serves simply to cover up the stark realities of life here in Bhopal. The most appalling sentences are those which describe the Union Carbide site itself as an idyllic paradise – there are people “enjoying bath [sic] in piped water supply… The area around the evaporation ponds was lush green with local wild grass and buffalos cooling off in the rain water lodged in the solar evaporation ponds”. I wonder whether the researchers would have been happy to “cool off” in the evaporation ponds. More likely they went home to cool off in under their air conditioning after washing themselves thoroughly and changing their clothes because they had been near so many poor people.

This study very clearly demonstrates the ongoing collusion between supposed ‘professionals’ and a government which has consistently secured the interests of itself and of corporations over the interests of its people. In an interview a few days ago, Sathyu said that he thinks the campaign has gone beyond convincing people that there is contamination on the site. Since the CSE report, which hopefully succeeded in setting the record a bit straighter, I really hope he’s right.

Visiting the Union Carbide site

Having spent almost a month in India and the majority of that at the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, my thoughts are confused. What strikes me most is the poverty and powerlessness of the people. This may be highly unoriginal, but it is one thing to read about it and another to be surrounded by it. People live in abject poverty. In Bhopal, it is all the worse due to ongoing consequences of the gas leak and Union Carbide’s subsequent negligence.

Last week we went to the Union Carbide site and on our way there and back we walked through the communities who live a throwing distance from source of the greatest industrial disaster ever. A site that 26 years ago leaked 40 tonnes of MIC and Phosgene (better known as Mustard Gas), as well as at least 18 other toxic gases, killing thousands of people. It is impossible not to feel a cocktail of emotions as we walked through the bastis (local communities). On the one hand, you have to have absolute admiration for these people. They continue to fight come what may. But the problem is, they don’t have a choice. They fight, because the alternative would be to die: something which has become all too normal in these areas.

Resting in the shade on the way back – we stupidly decided to go to the factory during the hottest part of the day – we chatted to some local residents. The government states that the communities around the factory now receive “non-contaminated” water. For those that don’t know, Union Carbide dumped all its toxic wastes in its virtual back-garden: in other words, on the doorstep of thousands of people. They claimed this was totally safe as they put what can best be described as a massive tarpaulin under everything. However, unsurprisingly, this did not work and so deadly toxic waste leaked into the soil and groundwater, leading to the solar evaporation pond (a smart way of saying liquid toxic waste pool) now commonly being known as the ‘Death Lake’. The government currently holds a fundamentally contradictory policy, but the important part is that they toe the corporate line, claiming there is nothing wrong with the ground water or soil. They therefore have not attempted in any way (other than by collecting some of it together in a big warehouse on the site) to clear up the toxic mess. Saying this, after mass public pressure they now claim all the communities now receive “non-contaminated” water. It’s called “non-contaminated” rather than “clean” water because the civil and sewage lines often get mixed leading to obvious consequences. How the government can say any of this when they simultaneously claim the water was never contaminated is confusing. However, from talking to the communities we discovered that the claim that “all communities get water” in reality means that they are meant to receive half an hour of “non-contaminated” water every other day. This week they hadn’t received any. As a result, they go to the old groundwater pumps which years ago were painted red by the government to indicate their contamination, and pump for hours to get the poisoned water to drink, cook and wash in.

As the old women were telling us their stories they also asked us what we were doing here. Which was followed by, “What are you going to do about this situation?” What could we say, “write a blog”? “Make a short documentary”? “Just observe your suffering then piss off back home”? Maybe add to that, “Oh, and no thanks, we don’t want that water you’ve just offered us, we don’t want to be sick like you!”

So what set of emotions does one express? Pity? Anger? Astonishment both at the situation and how they continue to survive..?

Our guide, Sanjay, told us a joke as he was taking us around the Union Carbide site. The day before we had all had to go to the Collector’s Office for a dose of Indian bureaucracy (another blog to come). We were on time, but became late due to someone being “helpful” and so Sanjay (one of the few Indians I’ve met who turns up on time) waited outside for us. While there he spoke to the official bureaucrats who laughed at how little he was wearing given it was “only” 25 degrees. They joked that he must have hot blood, being young and all. He responded claiming, “It’s the MIC, it thickens the blood”. Everyone laughed.

He told us this joke shortly before he told us that on December 2nd 1984 he had a mother, father, 3 sisters and 2 brothers. On the 3rd December 1984 he had 1 brother and 1 sister. Now he just has a sister. This type of story is not uncommon. 25,000 people have now died from the leak, so many people you speak to tell us a similar tale…

On the way out of the factory we spoke to the men who are meant to guard the place, but they recognize that given there are numerous holes in the walls, people will come in and graze their cattle, pick up firewood and dry their clothes. They asked us, How had we found it? What did we think?

What could we say? When Sanjay asked us the same question a few days later, I had an answer: Surreal. What can you think when you walk around what is basically a toxic waste dump covered in trees with even a bee hive in the structure of one of the MIC tanks? How can you comprehend that this actually quite calm place had 26 years ago led to the death and suffering of over 100,000 people? Also, why the fuck is it still here? Other than the last question, it distinctly reminded me of Auschwitz. But when the guards asked us this question I did not know what to say.

The guards told us how they had no desire to work there, but they needed a job. They knew they were getting ill because of working there, something their employer (the state) did not recognize, but what were they supposed to do, they needed a job. They told us how they felt helpless to change anything and laughed when Lorraine suggested their employers should come and guard the place instead of them.

My emotions were only made more complicated when we interviewed some of the victims of the gas leak. I asked them if they were angry at Union Carbide and the government. They responded that they couldn’t be angry as it was “God’s will”. Talking to some of the staff here, it seems that this is a common response. What are you meant to do when someone says this? “No, it’s not God you irrational fool. And if it were why would you believe in such a wicked god?” But it’s not their fault they believe this nonsense. Education is for the rich and they are not rich.

Those that are angry burn effigies of Warren Anderson and want him to be hanged. Compensation they claim will not bring back the dead. It will not stop their suffering. In fact, after they have paid off the corrupt middle-men they employ to write their documents because they are illiterate, it might not do anything at all: they are often worse off. One man we interviewed today told us that those responsible should be brought back to Bhopal and be put in front of the victims, who should be allowed to do what they wish to them. The implications were clear.

Learning the Ropes

The resultant hangover from New Year’s Eve led to a slow first day at the Clinic – luckily everything was closed, so we were free to get to know the place a little better.

The Sambhavna Clinic, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention and haven’t been to our justgiving website (which, incidentally, is here – http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal), is the only place in Bhopal where the victims of the 1984 gas leak can receive free health care. On the 3rd December on that fateful year, 40 tonnes of toxic chemicals including mustard gas burst from its cracked concrete casing in Union Carbide’s pesticide factory. The official statistics of how many were killed within the first 72 hours is 1-2000, but the reality is somewhere between 15-20,000 people. One of the most common causes of death was drowning, as the irritation the gas caused in people’s lungs prompted them to produce sufficient fluids to drown them. In others’ bodies, the blood completely coagulated, causing death presumably by heart attack… The list of excruciating deaths goes on and on.

Yet, as Dr Gupta explained to us when we interviewed her for a documentary we are putting together, the ones who died had it easy, in a way. They don’t have to live with the ongoing pain and suffering that afflicts over 100,000 people in Bhopal.

A haven in the midst of the grim city pollution and the weight of ongoing suffering is the Sambhavna Clinic. Sambhavna can be read two ways – as a Sanskrit/Hindi world meaning possibility, or as Sama Bhavna which means similar feelings or compassion. The clinic offers a holistic approach to healthcare, providing allopathic (western), ayurvedic (traditional methods involving herbal remedies and massage) and yoga.

The way that we initially got involved in the workings of the clinic was through the garden. I think the gardeners were quite pleased to have people swing pickaxes at the ground as it meant they could dedicate themselves to more skillful jobs. Josh found this particularly satisfying as he has been complaining for months about how he is fading away…

We had arrived with several ideas as to what we wanted to do while we were at the clinic, but it seemed a bit arrogant and unrealistic to turn up with a fully fledged plan. So we spent our first few days trying to get to know some people (mainly other volunteers) and figure out a plan. Now we are decided – make a short documentary for the BMA website (www.bhopal.org) about the clinic, write at least one article for publication in the UK (2011 marks the 15th birthday of Sambhavna), continue to work in the garden several mornings a week, and head to the Chingari Trust where children born with physical and mental difficulties as a result of the gas leak spend their afternoons. We’ve also, on an unrelated note, been re-writing an article that Josh wrote (with a bit of my help) previously, for the Plane Stupid e-book to be published some time in the future. Here it is in its original form, for anyone interested – http://www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk/article/plane-stupid-blog-%E2%80%9C-where-would-all-workers-go%E2%80%9D

The body of volunteers here expands and contracts. When we arrived there were 8 of us, and this has now dwindled to 4, though 2 people did come for 3 nights (which doesn’t really count). The youngest, Erik,  was here for his winter break from 6th form college – I was quite impressed by this. Will, the oldest, is a lobbying liberal jargon-junkie. Through his organisation Beyond Bhopal, he has significantly helped in the pursuit of clearing up the Union Carbide site (which might happen in the future), but seems overly committed to working through the EU on almost all issues… Lorraine, the Scot we have already mentioned, previously worked as a nurse in a Glasgow prison. While here she has cleaned the kitchen top to bottom and wants to do community health work while she is here, but secretly wants to go and open an organic yoga/meditation retreat plus restaurant on the beach in Thailand. Ben, the four-layer-wearing-at-all-times (even at 25 degrees) Belgian, has dedicated himself to translating the BMA website into French – an epic task which confines him to a sunless interior (hence the layers). Brenna has just left, but lived here for 5 months helping in the panchakarma (massage) room and documenting plants from the garden. We have already mentioned Adriano, the Italian anarchist, who was only in our lives for a few intellectually combative hours.

We are only just getting to know the staff, other than Shahnaz, the librarian, whom we’ve gotten to know quite well. “Librarian” is, quite frankly, an understatement when you realise how much work she does. Plus, she often finds time to translate for us, which is brilliant.

The library itself is chock-full of fascinating stuff, from a chronology of the disaster up to 2005, through Where There Is No Doctor and community health work books, to multiple newspaper articles relating in one way or another to Bhopal. A whole mine of information.

On Wednesday we were introduced to the way the clinic organises. Friday meetings are generally where this happens, although we were invited to the Wednesday one – people share their ideas, bring up problems and make criticisms. And by “people” I mean everyone, from the managing trustee, to the physicians, cleaning staff and office workers. A different person chairs each meeting, though “chairing” seems far more like “crowd control” as everyone gets to voice their views!

After spending the last few months growing increasingly tired of sight-seeing, and frustrated at our lack of activism, we feel that the next few months (after this we’re headed to Orissa to do research into anti-GM campaigning) the opposite may be the case!

Bhopal: NYE

As usual the Lonely Planet maps wasn’t quite scaled right. We should have learnt this by now, but upon leaving the Bhopal train station we still hadn’t. So after been quoted ridiculously high tuk-tuk prices, we walked to the Sambhavna Clinic. Our first lesson turned out to be that virtually no on knows where the Clinic is! Even when you are at the turning to it. Mental note number one: local media outreach could be better.

In a totally random coincidence, as we walked the final stretch we heard a voice shout in  lovely Scottish accent, “you wouldn’t happen to be Josh and Lucie would you?” It was the woman who had given us our cholera vaccine in the UK – she (we now found out/remembered her name is Lorraine)  had mentioned at the time that we might meet her in Bhopal, but it had seemed very unlikely.

When we arrived, we were confronted by an Italian anarchist, Adriano, asking us if we wanted “anything special from the alcohol shop”. We told him beer would do, but he refused, telling us “that is not special enough”.

We got settled in, had a few beers, which having failed to buy anything special Adriano had brought back, and headed out to our New Years party at Sathyu’s house, who is the managing trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic. Having not really met anyone yet, this was a interesting opportunity to do so – everyone was letting their hair down. Indian dancing, if the performances there are anything to go by, is exuberant and, in the case of the men, surprisingly effeminate.

The majority of our night consisted of talking about politics and in my case particularly about the potential limitations of Anarchism, with the classic reply of “But where has Marxism ever worked?”

Given that since arriving in Nepal, we had only drunk a total of 3 beers, buying a bottle of whiskey was always going to lead to sillyness. Again in my case, this culminated in me peeing (in a toilet) as the clock hit midnight. By my watch it had been midnight about 30 seconds ago, and so this seemed like a good break from ideology discussions.

The journey home, chaperoned by the professor of dark matter at Oxford University, was a bit of a ridiculous affair. We eventually found a tuk-tuk into which the Italian anarchist was bundled to take his 3am train. As for us, the men who had been following us on their motorbike turned out to be people from the party and happily found us transport home.

This was our slap-dash and not very representative introduction to life in Bhopal…

Firstly, Happy New Year. We have now completed our outward journey to the Sambhavna Clinic (thank-you for all the donations) in Bhopal, which is where we spent NYE – we arrived to an invitation to a party. What a way to be introduced to the staffing body!

We have about a week to catch up on and then we’ll move onto blogging about Bhopal for the rest of the month.

On a totally different issue, if you have an interest in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict you should really read Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. Lucie has already recommeded it, but we would now like to quickly state why we found the book so useful. Pappe seeks to document the methods of establishment of Israel, through a highly detailed account of the end of 1947, and more particularly 1948, the year of the Nakba.  His account in fact counters (although he never explicitly states this) the term ‘Nakba’, which means ‘catastrophe’. The depersonalisation of a faceless ‘catastrophe’ is exactly what did not happen. Using material from the Zionist founding-fathers, especially Ben Gurion, he demonstrates how to counter the Zionist myths that Israel was founded in a barren land, where those that did live there voluntarily left. Instead, he presents the clear facts that it was always the intention of the Zionist movement to de-populate Palestine as extensively as possible reaching their ends through extreme violence, intimidation and lies.

He documents dozens and dozens of villages that were foricbly expelled, and the brutal techniques for doing so. Often, the population would be gathered together, the men (those aged 10+) would be seperate from the women and children, those involved in any anti-Israeli activities (including the 1936 uprising against the British) would be identified and shot. After hounding the remaining people from the village, the houses would be looted and then destroyed. Finally, mines would be planted amongst the debris to prevent people from returning.

The title of this book comes from the fact that Pappe argues that similar to later ethnic cleanings, such as in Serbia, the creation of the Israeli state is another example.

It is understandable that Pappe wishes to document as many villages as possible, but at times it is overly detail heavy. Nonetheless, a fascinating book that anyone should read who wants to get historical understanding of the current conflict.

For a better review read: http://www.isreview.org/issues/57/rev-pappe.shtml

Photos and map updated

Check out our photos – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshandluciesoverlandadventure/ – we now have uploaded up to the end of Tibet.

And our the google map of our route is up-to-date – http://maps.google.co.uk/?mid=1293461677

You can always find links to these at the bottom of the main page – just scroll all the way down!

Finally, if you are feeling generous this Christmas, you can always donate to the Bhopal Medical Appeal – http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

We have reached our target!!

Very quick. Having set out to raise 500 pounds for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (www.bhopal.org), we have now reached it. Thank-you to everyone who has given money – whether that was 5 pounds or a hundred, it is all hugely appreciated.

However, if you were planning on donating, please don’t let our success stop you. I have always thought it would look nice to see 110% or more. So if you haven’t already, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

One other update. At the bottom of our page you will see a link to our google map. This tracks all the places that we have stopped at (as well as most the places the Trans-Siberian stopped at). We’re trying to update this regularly.

Hopefully there will also soon be a link to our flickr site with all our photos there – so watch this space (I’ve always wanted to say that).