I had the opportunity to witness something interesting (professionally) and sad (personally) recently. More than two years ago, a major inland oil spill occurred at Tondiarpet in North Madras owing to a leak in the pipeline of a public sector oil company. The event did not go by unnoticed – residents setting fire to water makes for interesting news. It appears that such a mishap is going to be rectified for the first time in India (or so it is being said), and this development is the result of the persistence of a few – those behind the Public Interest Litigation, and academicians and consultants.
At a public hearing, the proposed plan was explained to men and women living in the area. However, those working hard for a living have no inclination to understand terms like air sparging and soil vapour extraction. They merely want to know when they can use water from their wells again, when they can escape the all pervasive smell of oil, when their plants will start growing again, when their water will look like something they can drink and not something they temper their sambar with.
I suppose it is all very well to read about contamination and hazardous chemicals, but it is altogether a different experience to meet people whose lives have been affected. When they bless the person responsible for bringing a solution to this issue, you know those aren’t just words. When they tell you stories of families who have left the area for fear of not having clean water, you know it is no longer something you can dismiss as happening to a person you have no connection to.
But this is India, and no large gathering of individuals is complete without a little vitriol being sent this way and that. I was a bit shaken when someone shouted out: But what if this had happened in South Madras? You wouldn’t just be talking about it for 3 years. I almost apologized to him, though I am not yet sure for what. For living in South Madras maybe? For having access to clean water, for having the means to pay for water?
P.S. (On a lighter note) You know you are batty about Tamizh movies when in spite of being dejected and exhausted, you find this thought lurking in a corner of your mind: will social activist A.R.Murugadoss be making a movie on this soon?