Sunil, for much of your short life, you believed that people were coming to murder you. ‘Nonsense,‘ we, your friends, would try to reassure you. ‘The sky’s blue. We are all here. You have done no harm to a soul, why should anyone want to harm you?’ ‘I guess I’m mad,’ you’d say, who could see nightmares in sunlight and hear voices bellowing in his head. Mad? Maybe you were. If so it was hardly surprising.

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Our family has always been horribly poor. Besides tattooing, father massaged people with pulled muscles. The pittance he earned was gambled away. Sometimes we’d have meals, but mostly we went hungry. Our neighbours, pitying us, would sometimes send their leftovers.

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Mehboob Bi

When her daughters were small and there was no food Mehboob Bi used to give them water at night to fill their stomachs. ‘Afterwards I came to know that in many places the wells have been poisoned by that factory, the same cursed place that tried to kill us all with gas.’

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Hearing our voices, Laccho turns and surveys us with empty eyes, then gives a toothless and unexpectedly sweet smile. To look at her, you would think she was in her eighties, not forty years younger.

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At about 12.30 am 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.

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