A Note From Amulya Malladi
I was nine years old when my father, who was then a Major in the Indian Army,
was posted in Bhopal, India. It was 1984 and the last half of the year showed me
that the world was divided in the name of religion and made me come to terms
with the finality of death.
Two incidents that took place in 1984 will forever be embossed in my memory: the
death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
When Indira Gandhi died, for the first time I was faced with death. Most of my
grandparents had all passed away before I had been born; only my paternal
grandmother was alive. No one who was close to me had died and when Mrs. Gandhi
passed away, I felt like someone I knew had gone away. It had nothing to do with
politics, after all, what does a nine year old know about such matters, my
devastation arose from losing someone who had been a constant in my little life.
I distinctly remember watching her funeral and through out the ceremony I wished
and hoped that they had made a mistake and she was actually alive.
In the aftermath of her death, the country went into mourning and chaos. The
ensuing riots didn't leave anyone uninvolved. That was the first time I came
face to face with the idea of a war between religions. What had seemed
inconceivable to me--to fight in the name of religion--was happening and I
struggled with trying to understand this. After all, my entire life, I had
played and studied with children of all religions, caste and gender. Everyday I
pledged my allegiance to my country at the school morning assembly and vowed
that I would not discriminate in the name of religion.
Even before I could recover from Mrs. Gandhi's assassination, the night of
December 3, 1984 brought with it more carnage and tragedy. We were having our
half-yearly exams and I remember desperately memorizing something for a Sanskrit
exam in the school bus. When I heard that there had been an explosion in the
railway station and that all doctors (this came from children whose father's
were doctors in the army) had been called away in the middle of the night, I was
relieved. There probably wouldn't be an exam. We could go back home. It was days
before I understood what had happened and how lucky we had all been.
The Army Center where we lived was just a few kilometers away from the Union
Carbide plant. It was the wind, blowing in another direction that saved our
For years I wanted to tell the story of that year, to convey what had happened
without losing the small picture. I wanted to tell the story of people who were
affected by what happened, how the human spirit is strong and no matter what is
thrown our way, we survive.
A Breath of Fresh Air came to me years later when I was living in
Utah, thousands of miles away in time and geography. I already knew who Anjali
was, had known for several years but I didn't know who would tell her story or
what her story would be. Slowly, it unraveled and I was caught up in her life
and the story I wanted to tell found a voice.