When India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in 1998, even those of us who condemned them balked at the hypocrisy of Western nuclear powers. Implicit in their denunciation of the tests was the notion that blacks cannot be trusted with the Bomb. Now we are presented with the spectacle of our governments competing to confirm that belief.
As diplomats’ families and tourists disappear from the subcontinent, Western journalists arrive in Delhi in droves. Many call me. “Why haven’t you left the city?” they ask. “Isn’t nuclear war a real possibility? Isn’t Delhi a prime target?” If nuclear weapons exist, then nuclear war is a real possibility. And Delhi is a prime target. It is.
But where shall we go? Is it possible to go out and buy another life because this one’s not panning out?
If I go away, and everything and everyone–every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved–is incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love? And who will love me back? Which society will welcome me and allow me to be the hooligan that I am here, at home?
So we’re all staying. We huddle together. We realize how much we love each other. And we think, what a shame it would be to die now. Life’s normal only because the macabre has become normal. While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, the old generals and eager boy-anchors on TV talk of first strike and second-strike capabilities as though they’re discussing a family board game.
My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fireball. The dead bodies choking the river. The living stripped of skin and hair. The singed, bald children, still alive, their clothes burned into their bodies. The thick, black, toxic water. The scorched, burning air. The cancers, implanted genetically, a malignant letter to the unborn. We remember especially the man who just melted into the steps of a building. We imagine ourselves like that. As stains on staircases. I imagine future generations of hushed schoolchildren pointing at my stain…that was a writer. Not She or He. That.
I’m sorry if my thoughts are stray and disconnected, not always worthy. Often ridiculous.
I think of a little mixed-breed dog I know. Each of his toes is a different color. Will he become a radioactive stain on a staircase too? My husband’s writing a book on trees. He has a section on how figs are pollinated. Each fig only by its own specialized fig wasp. There are nearly a thousand different species of fig wasps, each a precise, exquisite synchrony, the product of millions of years of evolution.
All the fig wasps will be nuked. Zzzz. Ash. And my husband. And his book.
A dear friend, who’s an activist in the anti-dam movement in the Narmada valley, is on indefinite hunger strike. Today is the fourteenth day of her fast. She and the others fasting with her are weakening quickly. They’re protesting because the MP government is bulldozing schools, clear-felling forests, uprooting hand-pumps, forcing people from their villages to make way for the dam. The people have nowhere to go. And so, the hunger strike.
What an act of faith and hope! How brave it is to believe that in today’s world, reasoned, closely argued, nonviolent protest will register, will matter. But will it? To governments that are comfortable with the notion of a wasted world, what’s a wasted valley?