Metamorphosis in Neocolonial life: An Ecocritical glimpse at Development through Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People

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Metamorphosis in Neocolonial life: An Ecocritical glimpse at Development through Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People

by Romy Tuli, Vol.III, Issue. XXXII, September 2017


Postcolonial Ecocriticism searches the effects that have been brought about on the lands of Third World Countries by then prevailing Colonialism. Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People is a novel that raises the questions of environmental conditions in a Third World country like India which is dependent upon other First World Countries. In that it involved the accidental release of massive amounts of toxic gas from a pesticide factory, it raises questions about the viability and ethics of the use of artificial poison in the process of growing food crops vital to the survival of the inhabitants of the former European colonies. When it comes to plants, animals and even native human beings of these previous colonies, the notion of rights and justice appears futile. This research brings equity between both environment and human beings as the product of nature.

Keywords- Animal, Justice, Khaufpur, Nature, Postcolonial Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism is the branch of Literary Theory that deals with the environmental discussions in Literature. The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms defines Ecocriticism as “the study of literary texts with reference to the interaction between human activity and the vast range of ‘natural’ or non-human phenomena which bears upon human experience – encompassing (amongst many things) issues concerning fauna, flora, landscape, environment and weather”(Childs and Fowler 65).

Apart from prevailing theories of ‘culturalism’, Ecocriticism may be seen as an attempt to redress the nature as nature itself without the involvement of culture and socio-political advances in it. That is, where structuralism and Poststructuralism seem generally to concur in seeing nature as a cultural – specifically, linguistic – construct, Ecocriticism demands that we take nature seriously, as far as is possible, in its own right and for its own sake. Ecocriticism debates “Nature in order to defend nature” (Coupe 5).

            There are two main impulses to Ecocriticism. The first addresses itself to the growing canon of ‘Ecoliterature’ that has emerged in response to the global environmental crisis – imaginative writing which self consciously engages with ‘green’ issues. In this respect, it can be said that the literary air which fills much Ecocritical writing itself; is highly inspired by the immense use of nature and natural way of living, that is, the involvement of people with nature. The Ecocritics have the efficiency to write the “purple prose – writing that is intended to sway the emotions as well as engage the intellect” (Childs and Fowler 65).

                    Ecocritics, generally, see the distinction between humans and non-humans. Also, at the same time, it may search for matters of human beings which may coincide with the identity as a human being or as an animal. Postcolonialism is an anthropological approach which talks about the way in which colonizers have done harm to the Third-World countries. Environment studies nature and they reject social constructed branches of knowledge. Peter Barry discusses Ecocriticism through the example of an aging man that how white beard is a natural process but an old man is treated differently at different places ­­– somewhere he is respected where at somewhere else he is mocked at due to his white beard and wrinkled face.

            There is a deep connection between Ecocriticism and Postcolonial and studies that how the colonizers have exploited the native areas such as Africa and South Asian countries along with their land, environment and animals. Even in colonial times as well, the rulers exploited the native lands and their environment such as by interfering in their agricultural products as in India, collecting natural products as ivory in South Africa and disturbing the settlement of animals as in Australia.

            There are many records of devastating face of globalization in the third world countries which merely serves the interest of first world countries under the name of development. One of the central tasks of postcolonial Ecocriticism as an emergent field has been to contest and also to provide practical alternatives to western ideologies of development. “These contestations have mostly been in alignment with radical Third-World critiques that tend to see development as little more than a disguised form of neocolonialism, a vast technocratic apparatus designed primarily to serve the economic and political interests of the West” (Postcolonial Ecocriticism 34). There is an excessive amount of environmental degradation in Third-World countries by MNCs under the name of development.

Indra Sinha (1950 – ) was born from Indian father and English mother, Irene Elizabeth Phare, who was a writer as well with pen name Rani Sinha. After attending schools in both England and India, he moved to Britain for a permanent settlement with his family. Later he joined advertising which he left in 1995 to become a full-time writer with The Cybergypsies (1999).

Indra Sinha was the co-founder of the Bhopal Medical Appeal providing free medical care to the affected citizens of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. His novel, Animal’s People (2007), is set in the Indian town of Khaufpur, and is based on the Bhopal disaster. Animal’s People was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book).

The international recognition given to Indra Sinha’s 2007 novel about the Bhopal gas disaster, Animal’s People, is a novel that raises the questions of environmental conditions in a Third World country like India which is dependent upon other First World Countries. The notion of independence has been satisfied politically but not economically. Sinha has depicted the condition of Bhopal after the tragedy of 1984 by a multinational company “Kamapni” through the imaginary town named “Khaufpur”.  The event concentrates into the span of the night at Khaufpur, the essence of the battle for survival in which the majority of the inhabitants of the postcolonial global South are locked. Sinha’s novel, written nearly twenty-five years after the incident itself, can be taken as an example of a literary negotiation with the tragic aura that Bhopal still radiates—an aura that contains significant information about the state of our contemporary world as well as clues about how to confront, survive, and change it. In order to gauge the success of Sinha’s literary intervention, it is important to get acquainted with the contours of the Bhopal tragedy.

The Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 can be examined as one of the world’s worst industrial disasters. It so happened that the toxic gases which include Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) were released from the pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide, a Multinational Company. This affected around two hundred thousand people out of the nine hundred thousand who lived in this rapidly expanding central Indian city.

In 1969, Union Carbide (India), a subsidiary of the large American corporation, set up a pesticide formulation plant on the north edge of the city, originally to import, mix and package pesticides manufacturers in the United States. Ten years later, a 5000-ton methyl isocyanate (MIC) production unit was installed, primarily to manufacture an effective and inexpensive carbaryl pesticide marked as ‘Sevin’. (Cullinan 2)

Larry Everest has described the effects of the leakage of MIC as that at first, the air smells of burned chillies and then there formed a thick white mist. Eyes, throat, and lungs begin to burn and fill up oozing fluid and melting tissues. Then people lose control of the nervous system. They vomit uncontrollably and seize up with cramps. If they are lucky, they lose consciousness and die. If not, their death is a long, drawn out, agonizing affair. If they survive, their lungs and eyes will never work properly again. Muscle pains and ulcers will prevent them from working or leading a normal life. They will give birth to unimaginably deformed, dead babies.

As far as The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is concerned, between five and ten thousand people were killed immediately, with a further sixty thousand sustaining injuries and a significant number succumbing to these over the next days, months, and years. The horrific damage to animal and plant lives remains largely uncharted. The incident offers a grim summary of a number of issues central to the historical and environmental conditions of not just contemporary India, but of the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America that constitute what is frequently called the postcolonial world. In that it involved the accidental release of massive amounts of toxic gas from a pesticide factory, it raises questions about the viability and ethics of the use of artificial poison in the process of growing food crops vital to the survival of the inhabitants of the former European colonies. In that the gas was released from a factory built in a populated urban area, it raises the question of the spatial politics of environmental toxicity, about who decides to build or dump what where and how these decisions affect a disproportionate number of human and nonhuman beings who have little say in the matter.

Finally, in that the factory was owned by an American multinational company, the tragedy demands the correct application of justice for the poor affected people. “The legal wrangle over accountability and compensation seemed to expose the premises that environment, and indeed, the very concept of the human carried radically different values in the global north and south”(Ecologies 217). It underlines the urgent need to rethink and reframe the issue of universal rights, both of humans and nonhumans, as a safeguard against the recurrence of such devastations amongst the most vulnerable beings on earth.

Pablo Mukherjee has explained the condition of the night of Gas Tragedy at Bhopal along with the references from different Indian newspapers as the night of December 4, 1984, and over the subsequent months and years has been the experience of around two hundred thousand citizens who lived within forty square kilometers of the Union Carbide pesticide factory located in Bhopal. In the immediate aftermath, a clear tonal difference emerged between Indian and U.S. coverage of the event. Overall, the Indian newspapers like Hindustan Times, Hindu, and Statesman all reported the dizzying numbers of casualties, and then the structural failures of Union Carbide that had led to the disaster. “According to K. Gopalakrishnan of Hindustan Times, safety protocols in the cleaning of the MIC storage tank had been broken” Mukherjee has further explained “Archana Kumar wrote in the same paper that none of the residents of the extensive shantytowns that had grown up around the factory had ever been told by the managers what the “long siren” (that had been sounded as the gas escaped) meant, and that when they saw the large plume of gas they had in fact run toward the factory to offer help”(Ecologies 218). Furthermore, it was reported that the factory had been incurring huge losses and its closure following the disaster would actually benefit Union Carbide. The Hindu exposed that MIC had a cyanide base and, contrary to what the company spokesperson was saying, at least an hour, not “a matter of minutes,” (“350 Killed” 1) had passed before the leak had been brought under control.

In contrast to the Indian reportage, the American media by and large quickly fell behind Union Carbide’s line of defense. Essentially, this boiled down to two interlinked positions—first, that the accident had nothing to do with any structural deficiency or negligence on the part of its American owners; second, the accident had everything to do with Indian failures of management and human error. Warren Anderson, then the chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, summed these up in two statements—“Our safety standards in the U.S. are identical to those in India . . .  same equipment, same design, same everything.” He continued, “You can’t run a $9 or $10 billion corporation all out of Danbury.  . .  . Lines of communication were broken at the Bhopal plant. Compliance with these procedures is the responsibility of the plant operators” (Everest 18–19). The American media not only failed to challenge Anderson, but amplified the implications of his message manifold. Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times unequivocally blamed the accident on Indian failure to live with advanced technology. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal trumpeted the cause of the America-based company and implied that the cost of the Bhopal tragedy was worth paying for the general benefit of India and the world.

With recriminations flying, it is worthwhile to remember that the Union Carbide Insecticide plant and the people surrounding it were there for compelling reasons. India’s agriculture had been thriving, bringing a better life to millions of rural people . . .  . Indians need technology.  Calcutta-style scenes of human deprivation can be replaced as fast as the country imports the benefits of the West’s industrial revolution and market economics. (Everest 107–108)

At other times it vigorously blamed Indian “nationalism” for the tragedy, alleging that it was the Indian government that prevented the appropriate level of American control over the factory—“when control over an affiliate is diluted  . . .  fewer resources are typically committed by the parent” (Everest 120).  By the mid1970s, when it planned and executed its arrival in Bhopal, Union Carbide Corporation had “130 subsidiaries in forty countries, 120,000 employees, and an annual turnover of $6.5 billion” (Lapierre and Moro 32–33). At the time of the Bhopal disaster, it was the thirty-fifth largest U.S. industrial company, with “$11 billion in assets and $9.5 billion in sales. Its Indian subsidiary was the fortieth largest industrial business in the country, with a profit of $8.8 million” (Everest 20–21).

Union Carbide arrived in India with the promise of accelerating the country’s drive toward attaining self-sufficiency in the production of food grains and the eradication of poverty and hunger. It routinely claimed that fertilizers and insecticides manufactured in its factories would double or quadruple the grain yields across the country. Such promises, bathed in the aura of so-called First world technical and commercial efficiency and wrapped in financial sweeteners, helped the company to retain full control of its operations in India.

Two reports into the MIC production process by the Mellon Institute, in 1963 and 1970, found that when subject to heat, the chemical broke down into potentially lethal gaseous molecules that included hydrocyanide acid. “Between 1980 and 1984, the U.S. federal Environmental Protection Agency logged sixty-seven leakages from the MIC units of Union Carbide’s research laboratories” (Lapierre and Moro 46–56). If it was bad enough at home, when it came to its global subsidiary interests, Union Carbide’s sole focus was on making the maximum profit at the cost of minimizing investments in environmental safety. When Edward Munoz, managing director of the company, compared this practice with French and German producers of MIC, he was told “[Y]our engineers are out of their minds. They’re putting an atom bomb in the middle of their factory that could explode at any time” (Lapierre and Moro 98). These were not callous oversights, but illuminations of the structural logic of the corporation. By 1984, the profits of the Bhopal unit of Union Carbide were steadily falling. Licensed to produce 5,250 tons of pesticide per year, it was now producing only 1,657 tons. Its losses for the year stood at $4,069,442 (Chouhan 19). The company’s response, predictably, was to ruthlessly cut jobs and stop investing in safety measures. Permanent employment was cut from 850 to 642, and the MIC production unit was supervised and maintained by six instead of twelve workers (Everest 46, Lapierre and Moro 205).

“The legal battle that followed the Bhopal tragedy had most obviously to do with the issues of accountability and compensation, but its progress (or the lack thereof) grimly illustrates the “global realpolitik”(Ecologies 220) about the value of environment and human and nonhuman lives—that these are expendable in the interest of accruing corporate profit, and that this is especially so if the profit accrued is in the interest of the ruling classes of the “core” Euro-American countries.” These issues regarding the effects of Neocolonialism on not only humans but other species and environment are focused in Animal’s People.

 “I used to be human once”(Sinha 1)—so begins Sinha’s narrator, whose voice reaches us through a series of tapes containing a linguistic mixture of Hindi, English, French, Bhojpuri, and Urdu languages, and transcribed by an unnamed editor. Later he entertains an American doctor by singing a song that begins, “I am an animal fierce and free / in all the world is none like me” (Sinha 11). Animal’s proclamation of his nonhuman identity gives voice to a scandal that lurks behind the tragedy of Bhopal. This transfiguration raises the question that what are the minimum rights that are given to humans? How far are they differentiated from non-human rights? Whether those rights are justified when they are accessed at the expense of the sufferings of the majority of nonhuman beings?  These questions, which often appear under the broader terms of the non-human or animal rights debate, have come to assume an important element in environmentalist discussions. There are many areas such as historical, material and ideological forces that interrogate the various boundaries between humans and nonhumans and which ultimately lead to a degradation of their common environments. The novel shows the specifically postcolonial forms of these issues embodied in an apocalyptic Bhopal. “One classic argument for extending human rights to nonhumans and animals has been to point out the central contradiction that lies at the heart of the concept of rights itself”( Cavalieri 30).  As Paola Cavalieri shows, the idea of rights is negative and institutional, based on a definition of humans as “intentional beings and agents.” Only such agents who “fulfil the requisite of intentionality” are characterized by the “capacity to enjoy freedom and welfare” (Cavalieri 30). On the one hand, many nonhumans possess the cognitive-emotive intentionality to enjoy freedom and welfare; on the other hand, many humans, because of congenital or accidental disabilities, do not. This kind of thinking also throws open the question of what it is to be human and how this is properly understood via relations with nonhumans. Nonhuman and animal rights debates, then, ask us to fundamentally reassess our understanding of being, belonging, and communality. As Shepard reminds us, “Wild animals are not our friends. They are uncompromisingly not us nor mindful of us, just as they differ among themselves.  . .  . We cannot comprehend the world as it is experienced by a bat, a termite, or a squid” (The Ecological Indian: Myth and History 512). Environment must be seen as a mutually sustaining network where humans and nonhumans are always already linked with each other, and on whose collective action and prosperity the functioning of this network depends.

Indra Sinha’s protagonist Animal may be said to embody the whole range of these issues. His scarred and deformed existence, and his vehement denial of belonging to the human species, at first sight appears to confirm Union Carbide’s historical defense—that rights, and indeed, being considered human, are for those who possess sufficient power and wealth. The rest, nonhumans, are not entitled to any rights—not to health, not to life, not to affiliation. If this were so, Animal would be no more than a cry of despair hideously embodied. Yet as Zafar, Animal’s friend and activist, says to him as he lies close to death from a hunger strike he has undertaken to protest the Indian court’s failure to punish Union Carbide, “Well my brother .  . .  [you are] definitely the right animal” (Sinha 303). Here the question arises that whether Union Carbide justified in their definition of rights? Are rights only availed to them who have power and wealth? Wherein lay this sense of rightness? What about the suffering of nature including land, animals and plants? Can Animal’s declaration also be heard as one of defiant belonging? Can Bhopal mark not merely the nightmare of mutual antagonism but also the beginning of a sense of common belonging and community?

The novel talks about the mixture of personalities in the people of Third-World countries under the environmental destruction. The environmental degradation brings harmful changes not only in the living beings but in their offspring as well. Their genes are affected due to such conditions. This aspect can be noticed in the novel through Animal and Kha-in-the-jar. Some species lost some of their natural senses while others gain it. In the novel, where Ma Franci loses her learnt language and gets restricted to French and at the same time, Animal acquires ability to understand and translate any language without even knowing it. The novel talks less about economic changes and more about the far reaching biological shuffling in nature.

The historical Bhopal is reincarnated as the city of Khaufpur in Sinha’s novel. The gift that the poisoned air brings to Animal, a teenager orphaned by the tragedy, is not merely a deformed back that forces him to crawl on his hands, but also his new form as a nonhuman being. From the ground level, he casts an eye on the human world with a disgust— “The world of humans is meant to be viewed from eye level. “Your eyes. . . Lift up my head I’m staring into someone’s crotch.  . .  . I know which one hasn’t washed his balls, I can smell pissy gussets and shitty backsides .  . .  farts smell extra bad” (Sinha 2). From this perspective, it appears that Animal has developed a sense of absolute difference from those humans who are powerful enough to possess abstractions such as “rights” and “justice.” Addressing the Australian journalist who gives him a recorder to tape his story, he says as much: “[M]any books have been written about this place . . .  . You will bleat like all the rest. You’ll talk of rights, law, justice. Those words sound the same in my mouth as in yours but they don’t mean the same” (Sinha 3). It soon also becomes apparent that Animal’s sense of absolute difference from humans has gradations built into it. He senses that his distance from the Australian journalist, for example, is much greater than that from his fellow gas victims and the destitute in Bhopal. When asked to imagine the world’s eyes opened by his story, he mocks,

What can I say that they will understand? Have these thousands of eyes slept even one night in a place like this?  . . .  When was the last time these eyes had nothing to eat? These cuntish eyes, what do they know of our lives? (Sinha 7–8)

Both distance and proximity are heartfelt here—distance from the global would-be consumers of his story, and the relative closeness felt with the destitute captured in the “we” of the sentence. Despite Animal’s protestations, he is surrounded by humans who deny his declared form as a non-human and who are keen to point out their common bonds. Zafar asks him to think of himself as “especially able” and says he should consider himself as a human being entitled to dignity and respect. Farouq, the streetwise friend with whom Animal regularly engages in banter, thinks his self-proclaimed transformation is just an excuse to evade social responsibility:

Trouble with you, Animal  . . .  is you think because you’ve a crooked back and walk with your arse in the air no one should dare to criticise you. I’m an animal, always you’re bleating.  . .  . I don’t have to do like the rest of you, laws of society don’t apply to me because I’m such a fucking animal. (Sinha 87)

Sinha freights Animal with exaggerated amounts of both the liabilities and powers that nonhumans share with humans as well as the “human definitive” features that mark the acts of species boundary-making. Roaming the desperate margins of Khaufpur, Animal’s remarkable capacity for survival finds its most memorable expression in his twin drives toward copulation and feeding. A scavenger, there is nothing that Animal will not eat in order to stay alive, including bits of himself: “Inside of left foot, outer of right, where they scrape the ground the skin’s thick and cracked. In gone times I’ve felt such hunger, I’d break off lumps of the dry skin and chew it . . .  . I am reaching down to my heel, feeling for the horny edges, I’m sliding the thumbnail under. There, see this lump of skin, hard as a pebble, how easily it breaks off, mmm, chewy as a nut. Nowadays there’s no shortage of food, I eat my feet for pleasure” (Sinha 13). It is while scavenging that he forms an unshakable bond with Jara, a yellow dog, of no fixed abode and no traceable parents. As they fight for bits of banana skin, nubs of meat and flecks of fish in the rubbish dumps, Animal is initially scared of Jara’s sharp teeth, orange-brown eyes, and snarling, growling mouth until one day something snaps in him and he charges at her on all fours, “growling louder than she, the warning of a desperate animal that will stick at nothing” (Sinha 17). The pair remains inseparable for the rest of the narrative.  Animal is also, as Farouq says is made like a donkey.

For much of the book, his urges mark his isolation from the world of humans who play by the rules of their erotic conventions. Sensing that he is locked out of this world, Animal takes refuge in frequent masturbation and fantasies about the women who befriend him. This seems to enhance his nonhuman nature in the eyes of his human associates. When they urge him to spy on Elli, the American doctor, naked in her bath, they ask him to climb the mango tree like a baboon or a monkey. Animal, hidden among the branches, observes Elli but instead of relaying the details about her body to his audience below, he thinks about the predicament of his own luminal identity: “Animals mating with human female, it’s unnatural, but I’ve no choice but to be unnatural. Many times I would dream that she and I were in love, sometimes we were married and naked together like in the movies having sex . . .  . This frightened me, I despise hope”(Sinha 78).

“If hunting for food and incessant but lonely sex mark Animal’s nonhuman nature, his linguistic prowess and capacity to imagine the minds of other humans endow him with exaggerated ‘human-definitive’ capacities”(Ecologies 225). Animal chatters in a polyglot mixture of Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri, English, and French. His clever tongue, he says that it can curl itself into any language. While the poison gas deprived others, such as the French nun Ma Franci, of their linguistic ability, it seems to have made Animal linguistically precocious. He is the translator par excellence in Khaufpur’s cosmopolitan world, made up of local activists, visiting Australian journalists, American doctors, and French nuns. It is his linguistic glue, as it were, that holds the threads of the relationships around him. Animal explains that like all good translators, he can sense linguistic meanings even when he is unfamiliar with the words—“When ma shouted, sallo purqwateu na parlapa lalang yumain?  I had no idea what the sounds meant, but I knew what she meant”(Sinha 20). This, of course, helps him gain the confidence of Elli, who is suspected of working for the Kampani (Union Carbide’s name in the novel) and is boycotted when she arrives to open a free medical centre in Khaufpur. This also gives him the upper hand in the bargaining about his story with the Australian journalist—while Animal can understand what he is saying, there is no way for him to understand how Animal mocks him with obscene songs and taunts. Animal succeeds in getting the coveted pair of shorts, a cigarette lighter and a tape recorder from the journalist, in return for a promise to deliver his stories to him, which he does not. It is a small victory against the “world of eyes”—humans who possess the power to destroy his world.  Not only is animal linguistically gifted, but he also possesses that other requirement that has posited as a condition of personhood—the ability to recognize the inner minds’ of other persons. In fact, Animal has this in uncanny abundance—“Since I was small I could hear people’s thoughts even when their lips were shut, plus I’d get en passant comments from all types of things, animals, birds, trees, rocks giving the time” (Sinha 8). Further, he can visualize the thoughts of others; literally see as they see the world. It might be said that “the very historical inequities that have poisoned the postcolonial environment that Animal inhabits, has also conferred upon him a capacity of visualizing and realizing a merger with the collectivity that such an environment (and indeed, any environment) is composed of”(Ecologies 226). Animal’s “transpersonality”, in other words, is the specific product of a postcolonial condition where the environment has sustained a massive bombardment from the predatory forces of global capitalism.

The novel shows the transformation even through the regenerating aspect of the environment. Animal explains Nisha about where he sleeps and says that she would get frightened after listening to it. The place has been marked as a haunted place where the spirits of the dead roam here and there.

Its wall seems never-ending, and inside is an area equal to the whole of the Nutcracker.  . . .Here and there are holes in the wall as if a giant has banged his fist through, it’s where people have dug out bricks for their houses, our end of the Nutcracker is made mostly of death factory. Look inside, you see something strange, a forest is growing, tall grasses, bushes, trees, creepers that shoot sprays of flowers like fireworks. (Sinha 26)

The nature, being procreative, is repairing itself as the plants, bushes and trees have started growing again inside the area of the factory. The condition of the area is worst as there are no audible city noises, horns of trucks and autos, voices of women in the Nutcracker, kids shouting as all has been erased by the high wall. No bird can sing there and no bee can hum. Insects can’t survive there. “Wonderful poisons the Kampani made, so good it’s impossible to get rid of them, after all these years they’re still doing their work. Once inside, in the grass, it’s careful hands, careful feet. Fucking place is full of cobras”(Sinha 26).

Sinha has been generally mentioned for using magical realism in order to justify his character portrayal. This can be seen in Animal’s human and nonhuman qualities. It might be said that Animal is the location where the two meet and this gives shape to the novel. This enables it to mediate between not merely humans of various kinds, but also between nonhumans with humans. For some reviewers and critics, this has made it a less effective character than it might have been. Lucy Beresford has declared “Sinha’s flirtation with magical realism, conveying Animal’s ability to converse with foetuses, and the musings of several delirious or psychotic characters, might not be to every reader’s taste” (Village of the Damned 23). But, as it can be noticed, Sinha’s understanding of the Bhopal tragedy as a site that releases a debate about fundamental essence or being of humans requires a figure such as Animal, hovering between the worlds of the human and nonhuman and making apparent the umbilical bonds that bind both. Animal’s conversations with the deformed, aborted fetuses, for example, are perfectly consistent with the logic of Sinha’s vision. Animal first meets Kha-in-the-jar, as he calls the fetus with two heads, when he is in the chambers of a doctor where Ma Franci has taken him to see if his own deformity can be cured. Busy translating Ma’s French for the Doctor, and his Hindi for Ma, Animal quickly realizes that the two-headed fetus floating in the preservatives is asking to be freed from his confinement. Animal and Kha mirror each other in that they have both been placed beyond the pale of normative humanity by the Kampani’s poison gas. But Kha says, Animal is at least alive while he is “fucking waiting to be born” (Sinha 58). Kha holds that while all beings on earth have imbibed some of the poison, he and his fellow fetuses, being the youngest of the Kampani’s victims, have decided to “undo everything that the company does. Instead of breaking ground for new factories to grow grass and trees over old ones, instead of making new poisons, to make medicines” (Sinha 237). It can be noticed that the creatures of destructed areas need no compensation from the MNCs rather they want the whole loss to be undone at any cost. They assume that any sort of help would further demolish their lives. Such statements show that a new sort of colonialism is prevailing over the country in the mask of globalization, affecting their nature, life and bringing genetic disorder. The release of Kha from the jar will be a part of the Animal’s defiance against those that seek to destroy it and its world. Between them, Animal and Kha articulate a peculiarly post-colonial form of resistance, peculiar since it derives its strength from the very poison with which the Kampani seek to disable them. The poison kills and maims, but it paradoxically enables its victims to leave behind their monadic selves and reach for a collective consciousness which is more devastating than the act of murdering. This consciousness is far from monolithic but, as the constant arguments between Animal and everyone else shows, is scored by debates and dissent. And it is all the stronger for this. “What Sinha models for us, in effect, through Animal and his friends, is the emergence of a politics of transpersonality and collectivity in response to the toxic degradation of a postcolonial environment”(Ecologies 227).

Animal finally wanders in the jungles after a suicide attempt and communicates with the trees, the moon, and the animals. This episode deals with the issue of rights of both the humans and nonhumans and the postcolonial consciousness of resistance to the oppressive toxicity of multinational capitalism. After repeatedly asserting its separation from humans, Animal come to terms with the specific kind of relationship with other nonhumans—that he is simultaneously distinct from them and related to them. The trees cannot feel his pain and as he screams abuse at them. When he captures a lizard for food, it pleads to be spared. When released, it says, “You are human, if you were an animal you would have eaten me” (Sinha 346). This sensation of being distinct from both humans and nonhumans gives rise to the feeling of isolation. “If this self of mine doesn’t belong in this world, I’ll be mine own world.  . .  . I, the universe that was once called Animal, sit in the tree and survey the moonlit jungles of my kingdom” (Sinha 350). But his acceptance of him as he is, and his realization that others—both humans and nonhumans, local Khaufpuris and cosmopolitan Americans—do the same, soon gives rise in Animal to a sense of distinctive belonging. Zafar, Farouq, Jara the dog, and others find him after days of searching the forest. As they leave, “The animals that were absent before now choose to show themselves . . .  . Birds we see, deer in the distance . . .  . [B]y a place where water is running’s laid a long white snake skin, perfect from nostril to tip of tail” (Sinha 357). This vision of collectivity, one where personhood remains distinctive yet always relational, is a site from where the struggle for recognition and justice can begin.

The novel closes with Animal deciding not to go the United States for an operation that would straighten his spine, since he does not need to do this now in order to belong. He senses that his “people” are composed precisely of the humans and nonhumans who unite in celebration of his rescue from the forest. However, this realization of an ontological sense of collectivity and equality does not, in Sinha’s novel, automatically or easily replace the actually existing historical reality that conspires to prevent the proper achievement of these ideals. Sinha shows, following the historical lessons of the Bhopal tragedy, that only a small amount of these ideals can be attained over and against the prevailing condition of the world. Sinha is not hesitant about naming the power that maintains this lamentable present state of the world—the corrosive short-term greed and drive for profit that is embodied in the contemporary multinational corporations. The global reach of these institutions means the receding of local or national interests, and the firm entangling of the interests of cosmopolitan ruling classes against that of the overwhelming majority of the world’s inhabitants. The postcolonial consciousness of resistance that  Animal, Kha, Zafar, and other people of Khaufpur demonstrate, is only ever realised against the material and ideological forces exuded by this powerful clique—forces that are determined to enforce mutual incomprehension and hostility in order to maintain its own interests. Characters located at the various points of the global divide certainly express their mutual incomprehension of one another’s lives.

This unification appears as a rejection towards the Americans by the local beings as they have no more interest in the fake promises of the company. This can be seen through the appearance of Elli in the novel. She comes to Kaufpur with only a mere idea of how the people would have suffered.  She knows that the people physically retarded and it would be her moral responsibility to make them regain their health again.  Due to her more fortunate circumstances, she could never fully grasp the trauma and the aftermath of the gas leak or the chronic poverty which plagued the city. It seems that Sinha, through the Postmodern technique of Mini-narrative, has presented the idea that the ruling party can never understand the woes of the miniatures fully well.

To conclude, Sinha’s novel attempts a recreation of the historical environment of Union Carbide’s poisoning of Bhopal and its aftermath. His narrator, one of the thousands of the disabled victims, begins by declaring he is not human, he reveals the condition of global corporatism that further explains that only the power holders attain humanity—including practices such as rights and justice. Sinha has shown the politics through Animal’s transpersonal attitude that how justice denied to the Third-World as if they fail to complete the basic requirements of attaining rights. This vision of metamorphoses of figures such as Animal and Kha and their relationships to different species along with human, animals and nature describe the condition of the earthen creatures after this massacre. Such episodes may describe the involvement of anthropology in nature. Union Carbide’s statements regarding the tragedy show how a multinational company defends itself by ultimately blaming the environmental structure and ignorance of the host country. The novel seeks justification for environmental degradation that how that loss would be regained. The disenfranchised beings bear the cost of the poisoning of the air and soil of the city, while the elites justify their guilt by giving them medical treatments. The novel ends on the note of suffering and love that at any point of time, the people who are struggling without hope can be united through love. Suffering and love here are understood as the realization of an identity that recognizes the singularity, plurality, and unity of beings and a mode of nondestructive inhabitation.

About the Author: 

Romy Tuli has done her Master of Philosophy in Comparative Literature from the Central University of Punjab. Currently, she is working as an Assistant Professor at Amity University, Haryana. She has publication in Sufi Literature as well. Her interest is mostly in poetry and story writing.

Works Cited

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Everest, Larry. Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre.         Chicago: Banner             Press, 1986. Print.

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Garrard, Greg. “Ecocriticism and Education for Sustainability.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches   to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 7.3           (2007): 360. Print.

Huggan, Graham and Tiffin, Helen. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals and Environment. London and New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2010. PDF.

Krech, Shepard. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York: W. W. Norton,        1999. PDF

Lapierre, Dominic, and Javier Moro.  Five Past Midnight in Bhopal.  London:         Scribner, 2002. PDF

Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People. Great Britain: Simon and Schuster UK Ltd, 2007.   Print.

“350 Killed as Poisonous Gas Leaks from Bhopal Plant.”  Hindu. Late ed. December       4, 1984. PDF.

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