The first two chapters made me jot down: ‘putdownable’. Thank God, I continued. Sue the Messenger then starts to read like a detective novel. Each Smart-Alec chapter-title is followed by journalistic sleuthing, digging up dirt, exposing the filthy tricks bag of corporates—be they chemicals manufactures, the fourth pillar robber barons—or sundry nasty characters, out to stifle, not dissent, but truth.
Shooting the messenger may seem more humane. Here are examples of harassment, hounding, ingestion of fatal substances; and the ever-present halo-backed denials. Sabse Badaa Rupaiya
. And to hell with the public! Mark Twain said, attributing to Benjamin Disraeli, that there are lies, damn lies and statistics. We now add unholy refutations, doctored reports, manipulative press conferences, et al. Finally, there is resort to ruinous litigation where the small guy is driven into the ground, not allowed to function, financially decimated and made to shut up.
As a lawyer, I asked myself: Would I issue notices, actually legally worded threats, if I were offered a million bucks? As one who has often said that the “Let’s-teach-him-a-lesson” litigation is taboo, what would I do? The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.
This very magazine has faced similar tribulations. Laws do not allow me to elaborate on sub-judice matters, especially where I was involved; but the reader will find fairly accurate reportage in the book. Maybe one day, Sucheta and Debashis (and why not I too), will be able to pen a volume. Till then, this is all you get.
It’s frightening to read. To think that we are exposed to toxicity every waking and sleeping moment. In the mad rush of the 1950s and 1960s, the Holy Grail was import substitution. Chemicals formed no mean part and South Gujarat baited the Bombayite. Vapi was the preferred destination. Asia’s biggest chemicals estate, it was billed; and caution was thrown to the winds. Winds carried the deadly fumes for miles around. Rivers turned to every rainbow hue, fruits shrunk by 30%. Well-water was contaminated, effluent discharged into nullahs
I know. As a young salesman, I had tried to sell pollution control equipment in Vapi. I sold none. The stock excuse was that the inspector could be paid off; why invest in equipment and waste money.
With this attitude, chemicals banned in other countries, along with forbidden and scrapped plants, found ready buyers in India. Worse was to follow. The font of the estates sprayed the entire country with poison. And any attempt to expose the noxious nexus was thwarted by crushing litigation. Read it. It’s all there in this book.
There are two distinct writing styles discernible in the book. One staid. The other racy. But the research and facts stand out. One never feels that there is any wavering from the truth. Where the authors, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Subir Ghosh, were personally involved, they make it clear. It is for the reader to decide whether they have axes to grind.
Constant vigilance is the price of freedom. Newsmen, and women, help in no small measure. But investigative journalism is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak of spirit.
Moreover, is there a journalist who has made his pile by exposing the crooks and the corrupt, the high and the mighty? Methinks not. The breed will live and die penniless. But we, and the truth, will survive.
At the end of the day, we must understand this. Every time David slays Goliath, we can rejoice. Not because of victory, wherein we need to demonstrate magnanimity, but because we live in a free world. A world where informed choice overcomes lies and deceit, where human bulldozers are stopped in their tracks, and men and women enjoy the fruits of their labour; and those that seek to prosper by oppression are laid waste.