I was living with my husband’s family at that time. My daughter Ruby was three and my son Mohsin was about eight months old.
That night my husband was away from Bhopal on work. Our family consisted of my parents-in-law, two sisters-in-law and their husbands and their four children. Our house had four rooms – two brick and mortar rooms and two side rooms made of wooden slats. I, my husband and our children had one of the side rooms. It was a Sunday. Television had just come to Bhopal and our whole family watched a Hindi movie Damaad till 9pm, then ate together and went to bed at about 10 pm. My children had gone to sleep long before the movie ended.
At about 12.30am I woke to the sound of Ruby coughing badly. The room was not dark, there was a street light nearby. In the half-light I saw that the room was filled with a white cloud. I heard a great noise of people shouting. They were yelling ‘bhaago, bhaago’ (run, run). Mohsin started coughing too and then I started coughing with each breath seeming as if we were breathing in fire.
Our eyes were burning. My mother-in-law who was also coughing badly came in to the room. She was in a panic and bade us come out. I came out with my children, carrying Mohsin on my lap and holding Ruby’s hand and went into the kitchen.
The family were coughing and groaning. We tried closing all the doors and windows to stop more gas from coming in, but the room was already full of white clouds. A Hindu family in our neighbourhood (Mr and Mrs Verma and their three children) knocked on our door, my father-in-law opened the door and they came inside in a rush and collapsed on the sofa, which broke under the weight. All of us were feeling worse and worse.
My son Mohsin stopped groaning, he fell unconscious. My mother-in-law suggested that all of us should go to the Hamidia hospital. We left the house. Me carrying Mohsin and Ruby holding my hand. My sister-in-law was also holding two children and my father-in-law was carrying his grandson who was five years old.
It was very cold outside but we were not feeling cold at all. We went out in our night clothes with nothing else to cover ourselves. Not even our dupattas or burkhas were with us. It was around 1.30am by then. We left without shutting or locking the house, nothing mattered but to run.
Outside in the lane, it appeared that a large number of people had passed that way. Lots of shoes and shawls and other clothes were strewn about. White clouds enveloped everything. Streetlights looked like points of light. Our family got split up. One of my sisters-in-law ran one way and the rest of us towards the main street. I saw lots and lots of people running, screaming for help, vomiting, falling down, unconscious.
We had gone about five hundred metres when my father-in-law thought it would be easier to escape using his two-wheeler moped. He asked us to stay where we were and went back for the vehicle. He brought the moped but it would not start, there was no petrol. He left the two-wheeler by the side of the road. Then he spotted a moving truck and told us to climb on to it. We could not climb on to it but he was tall and strong so he got in, but in all the confusion instead of lifting up five-year-old Mansoor, his grandson, onto the truck he grabbed another little boy who was running around on his own.
Mohsin and my sister-in-law’s daughter were still unconscious. Ruby was holding on to my kurta, she did not leave it once. We walked for another 500 metres and came to the Bhopal Talkies crossing. Mohsin was vomiting on my body. Ruby was also vomiting. I was not able to control my bowels. Faeces were running down my legs. My mother-in-law was vomiting. She was a heart patient and Hamidia hospital was still two kilometres away, much of it uphill. We had just one thought and that was to reach Hamidia.
At Bhopal Talkies crossing we all fell on the ground and just lay there. I was two months pregnant at the time. I had a miscarriage right there in the middle of the street, my body was covered with blood. There was blood all over. I was unable to control my bowels and the faeces ran down my legs, mixing with the blood.
We couldn’t talk to each other or even see because our eyes were inflamed. We were wondering what had gone wrong, who had done this. We had no idea that there was a gas leak from Union Carbide. We thought that if we stayed on at Bhopal Talkies crossing we would surely all die because we could see so many people lying on the ground who appeared to be dead.
Trucks overflowing with people were passing on the main road. We took the Saifia College road and walked about half a kilometre. There we managed to jump onto a moving vehicle, a large three-wheeler, going slowly because it was uphill. It was already crowded, full of people. By then I was covered with my own blood and faeces and vomit from my children. I fell on to some man’s lap inside the vehicle. The vehicle gave away at the top of the hill. The engine collapsed because there were too many people.
We started walking again towards Hamidia hospital. We reached the hospital at round 2 or 2.30am but there appeared to be nobody around so we went on towards Kamla Park in the new city, because everyone seemed to be running that way. Mohsin was still unconscious Ruby still holding onto my kurta.
We reached the lake and found the park separating the upper and lower lakes covered with people lying on the ground. People from nearby areas were bringing out their quilts and bedcovers and covering people up so that they could be protected from the gas cloud. All of us from our family, my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and four chidren, fell onto a pile of dried leaves near a garbage dump and all of us fell unconscious. I remember faintly that two men came and lifted me and my children. They carried us to the side of the road and covered me up with a quilt. We lay there for a while and then we heard an announcement from a public address system on a jeep. They were saying ‘We are in control of the gas leak from Union Carbide. Go back to your houses.’ By then it was almost dawn. One man about 35 years old from that locality took us to his home. Our eyes were closed and were very swollen. We were still feeling as if someone was trying to strangle us, breathing was very difficult. This man gave me clothes to wear and some hot water to wash myself. He made us some tea but we could not drink because our throats were on fire.
Soon it was morning, but we were helpless because of our eyes. We could not see. The man and his 18 year old son led us home. They also gave us a bottle of drinking water.
When we reached our house we saw that the trees had shed all their leaves, which looked as if they had been burnt. Milk had turned light green and we threw it away. All food left in the house was also thrown away. At about 8am we heard that people were still running away from Bhopal. My husband arrived home fearing that we had all died. He was away in Jaipur and had got the news of the disaster on the radio on the 3rd evening. He had gone to Jaipur as a chauffeur for a businessman and his family. He drove all the way back from Jaipur in a rush.