We had confirmed tickets for the next day. But since my husband had some urgent work and had to leave a day before, we all decided to join him. The ticket counter at Lucknow station shut on our face as we reached it. With great deal of persuasion citing emergency, we finally got the tickets for the train that would reach Bhopal the next night.
Mrs Aruna Ghosh recounts the experience, as she narrates her journey through the nightmare she and her family went through. When the train from Lucknow came to a halt in Bhopal station, we all were elated. But as we opened our first class coupe door, a stingy smell welcomed us. With Indira Gandhi’s assassination a couple of months back, we thought police might have used tear gas to disperse rioters. As we alighted coughing, we saw people running around. With great difficulty, a coolie dropped our luggage outside the station.
The scene outside was chaotic, people howling, crying, running, lying on the ground. My husband somehow reached the auto stand to find all the drivers missing. He tried to start an auto, but in vain. He approached the GRP, who just said, there is some gas, and all of them sped away in a van.
My Husband’s was panicking, as he came back coughing heavily. He saw our daughters aged 4 and 1.5 years gasping for breath, as the younger one lost consciousness. I laid the bedding on the road, and laid her down. The elder one laid by her side and fell unconscious too. The street lights started fading, as we saw huge black clouds coming over to engulf us. Dogs and cows were running helter skelter and collapsing on the ground.
My husband rushed to the Station Manager’s cabin, only to find him unconscious. As he came back, I asked him not to run and stay calm. His eyes had started blurring and bleeding. We somehow dragged the bedding towards the temple, and decided to stay together in case we die. I could not walk as well, but somehow crawled towards the road trying to stop passing vehicles. But none stopped. Suddenly with my blurred vision, I saw some men in uniform. I crawled upto them, but they pushed me and went away.
My husband’s condition was worsening. Children were already unconscious. We were sweating in the cold, coughing, urinating, and could barely open eyes with fingers. Every breath seemed the last breath, but some energy was pulling us through. Don’t know how many hours flew by, but as I caught a glimpse of my watch in the streetlight, it showed 5am. Suddenly I remembered GT express coming at that time, and that a friend of mine was coming too. I told my husband “This is our last chance. Let me go to the road”. I somehow dragged myself to the road, and laid in the middle of it.
The friend was some IAS officer’s wife, and her driver had come to pick her up. On seeing me lying in the middle of the road, he stopped. I could hear him asking what happened, but he could not understand my mumbling. He went inside, and saw the Station Master and others lying dead. As he came out coughing too, I caught him and pleaded him to take us home. He somehow put all of us in his car and drove to our home in E-5 Arera Colony. He and the guy Girish staying in our house took us out of the car, into the house. I somehow dragged myself to our neighbor Retd DIG Mr Sharma’s house. Mr Sharma on seeing me blue from head to toe, thought I was a victim of burglary and called the Thana. But when the TI informed him about the gas leak, he called the Chief Medical Officer. The CMO asked him to give us plenty of liquids and send us to the hospital asap. Himself confined on the wheelchair, Mr Sharma sent us to the hospital with Girish, and called up another friend Mr Sahu (Retd Addl IG Police) to help us.
When we reached the hospital, we could not be taken to the portico, as there were people lying everywhere in the same state. Somehow they took us to the emergency room and gave us some meds. On request, the CMO shifted us along with our kids to the Children ward. With my family in safe hands, I blacked out. My husband and I regained consciousness 24 hours later, but with blood vomits and stools. The children had regained consciousness few hours earlier, and were being cared by Girish. After we gained enough consciousness, Girish told us, that the Doctors had lost all hope, because there were no medicines and only some equipment. As my husband was chocking, Girish saw an old man dying and doctors pulling off the respiratory equipment. He rushed, grabbed the equipment and put the mask on my husband. Mr Sahu got the medicine shops opened in the night and got life saving injections. We were given many shots. Had it not been for these God sent Angels, we would not have lived to tell you this story.
On the 3rd day, a relative took us home. My husband and I had no vision for a couple of months after that. We enquired about our shop. It had been burgled, all cash and stock stolen, and all salesmen were dead. We had lost everything. It took 7 years for all of us to come back to normal life. My husband and elder daughter had to be taken to the hospital every second day for breathing problems. I still suffer from stomach ailments, and my husband is prone to chest problems. We had memory loss as well, so this is probably half the story. For 14 years we got no financial help from the government. And when we were enlisted, the Magistrate did not believe our medical documents, as we lived in Arera Colony. But I have no grudges and expectations. I have seen death so close, that I do not fear it anymore.
Girish took care of us for 7 years. The Doctors became good friends. But the only Doctor who could help us recover is Homeopath Dr Bharadwaj. He is 85 years old now, and taught me Homeopathy. My hobbies reading, gardening, photography, animals and social work have helped me come out of mental trauma. This was the worst moment in our lives. Having lost everything, and with 3 children and a sister with thyroid and mental condition to support, I could not let go. We fought all the way in the last 30 years to be what we are today. My children are doing well in their lives. I have also supported 3-4 poor families, and educated their children too.
Had it not been the change of tickets, life would have been different. Today as we celebrate my Husband’s birthday on 4th Dec every year, we recall how all of us woke up to a new life on that day in India’s most ill-fated year 1984.