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'IT WAS FIVE PAST MIDNIGHT IN BHOPAL'
- Lapierre's new journalistic triumph
Isidore Domnique Mendis
On a visit to India to release his new book, 'It Was Five Past Midnight In Bhopal', on the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, Lapierre says "It's tragic that the world has deleted from its collective memory the most murderous industrial disaster in the history of mankind" .
Through his writings and otherwise Lapierre has been time and again raising his voice against global terrorism and mass tragedies and calls for concerted action against perpetrators of violence.
Two decades ago when he wrote 'The Fifth Horseman' - a book about a terrorist attack on New York, the French President cancelled the sale of a nuclear reactor to Libya. Paramount Pictures dropped the idea of making a movie fearing that people may try to emulate the chilling scenario. In this exclusive interview, Dominique Lapierre says he knew all along that Black Tuesday was waiting to happen….
The Bhopal gas tragedy virtually forgotten in India and the rest of the world has once again assumed centre stage - courtesy Lapierre’s new book. "It's tragic that the world has deleted from its collective memory the most murderous industrial disaster in the history of mankind," says Lapierre.
The toxic gas, methyl isocyanate, that escaped from the Union Carbide Ltd., an American pesticide plant in Bhopal, on the night of December 2 and 3, 1984 killed between 16,000 to 30,000 and injured over 500,000 people. "The incidence has been forgotten because we have a tendency to forget what we don’t like to remember," says Lapierre who has co-authored the book with his nephew Javier Moro, a 46-year-old Spanish author who earlier authored 'The Jaipur Foot' and the 'Mountains of the Buddha'.
According to Lapierre, " No single person is responsible for the disaster in Bhopal but a whole cascade of events". However, the extensive nature of research that he undertook before writing this book, points to the laxity on the part of the management of the pesticide plant.
" On that fateful night the wind blew from north [the site of the plant] to the south inhabited by slum dwellers. If the gas had affected more affluent parts of the city, then there would have been an outcry. It is same as anywhere else in world. Disasters get attention only when some big shot is affected," says Lapierre and adds, " Whether in Paris or New York it is the poor and powerless who suffer, as they do not have a voice.... I hope through this book people will get a better insight into the biggest man-made industrial disaster of the world. And it should help bring the guilty to book."
Five books out of his seven bestsellers are based in India and he says he has an intense love for the country. " India has a very rich heritage. It has a great history. There are many stories that can be found here which are of great interest to rest of the world," says Lapierre.
Like his idol Mahatma Gandhi, he too is a man of action. He has not restricted himself only to writing books based on India, but is a philanthropist as well. He is involved in humanitarian works serving the destitute, lepers and also mentally and physically challenged children in Kolkata, Chennai and Bhopal. He plans to donate all the royalty collected from his latest book, for establishing a gynecology hospital in Bhopal for the gas victims.
With all the royalty going to charity, has this been his most satisfying work so far? " Yes it is very satisfying. But it is difficult to say which work has been the most memorable. Each has been a personal adventure, an exciting experience and a lot of serious research," says Lapierre.
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