“I’m so relieved this goes back to Delhi University,” the woman cried, a cry of joy. She had just put down the newspaper flashing with headline after headline with the “real deal” about the radiation leak at Mayapuri, New Delhi.
“What?” cried the husband, a cry of surprise. “Unsuspecting people are suffering. One has already succumbed to it. Others may just be on the way.”
“Oh don’t make me out to be a heartless monster. The radiation leak was horrible and horrifying. And it is outrageous that Delhi University could be so callous about something so serious,” the woman clarified.
“Seems like they miscalculated the half-life period. They were assured that the machine was sterile after all these years,” the son reasoned.
“They did, didn’t they? What grade did you say those scientists are in?” the idea that PhD holders could miscalculate half-lives of nuclear materials was absurd to the young college-going daughter.
“Ok. Maybe that shows a little recklessness,” acceded her little brother.
“That’s utter negligence. I don’t buy the miscalculation excuse. How come people entering the room were still asked to wear lead coats if it were so?” she lashed out.
“I walked through Mayapuri when the leakage was supposed to have happened. How do I know I wasn’t affected!” the woman exclaimed.
“You sure were,” her man muttered under his breath.
“And how kiddish is this? They apparently told the scrap dealer that it is radioactive according to another version,” guffawed the girl.
“When?” her brother asked, wide-eyed.
“Right after they conferred on him an honorary degree in nuclear science,” came the cheeky reply.
“Radioactive indeed! The poor chap must have dismantled the machine to look for any radio sets that might still be active. Finding none, he might have discarded it on the streets. And the next thing you know … radiation-soaked laypeople on hospital beds,” shot the boy, Star Trek style.
“Let’s get back to the “I’m relieved” part,” their father brought the core back.
“Oh that. I am just relieved to know that the source of the radiation was internal. And all this while I had my heart pounding away at grotesque vivid visuals of it being a hatched conspiracy by a hostile alien country,” quipped his wife.
“You mean taking nuclear warfare to the streets?” that wide-eyed boyish gush again.
“Yeah … only undercover!” said his mother.
“Well. A wise enemy is any day better than a foolish friend,” came the wise man’s words.
“You’re in for more bad news then, hubby. Seems like they have more nuclear material buried deep down at the university campus. Um…some 20 years ago. That’s their idea of disposal.”
“Ohh! And who dug out this dirt?” and the question bank gob of the son opened again.
“Hopefully they don’t “dig” it up. It’s word of mouth…courtesy a very reliable professor,” assured his mother.
“You believe anything!” the husband shook his head.
“Tell me otherwise. What’s there not to believe it? Duh … the state of affairs aren’t helping the non-believer in me, are they? Maybe substantial proof may help,” retorted his better (bitter) half.
“They start with the Vice-chancellor,” popped in the daughter.
“The Vice-chancellor? He came into the picture a measly 5 years ago. It’s unfair to put on him the onus,” reasoned her father.
“Ok. But the disposal happened in his reign. The man was clearly not doing his job well,” whipped the woman.
“His job is not going through the inventory of stuff classified as scrap before they are discarded. He is not the only one in the system who has to have his sleeves rolled up at all times,” cut the husband.
“Oh so you do agree that teachers and lab staff share the shame, dear hubby!”
He shrugged. “Maybe that one man or group who were responsible for the breach.”
“It is definitely a group. And the shit runs deep. The trail ends with the people that bought it in the first place,” came the reply.
“Wait … whoa whoa whoa! What was that?” the man could not quite believe it.
The answer came from a cool cucumber, having lost the bitter ends. “Just what you heard. The machine was bought four decades ago and faded into decadence without having been of benefit to even a handful of people and was disposed of open with its deadly gut out. $20,000 went into the purchase. $20,000 on a scientist who did not even complete the PhD programme for which the machine was procured in the first place! It doesn’t take much to put two and two together.”
“Please do. Put two and two together for me.”
“That machine was bought to aid some people with vested interests make some dirty money on the side. Remember the Scorpene deal?” she rolled her eyes.
“For God’s sake! Honey it was 1968. Mrs.Gandhi and everyone who wanted to see this country rise and touch heights were anxious to get technology on its feet in India. Do you even imagine what a great prestige it would have been for DU to own a Gamma ray irradiator in that day and age?” he croaked, appalled.
“So you are saying that it was a show-off?”
“No. it wasn’t. At the time they bought it, maybe they thought that in time the number of scientists benefitting from the machine would multiply. That was their hope and it was damn positive. Positivity didn’t yield. The numbers just dwindled and the machine faded into disuse.”
“And then misuse. That was their first miscalculation … of many,” she snapped in.
“Ok, your point that gross mismanagement and mishandling took place in the way it was abandoned is well within validity. But the buck does NOT stop at who would now be bedridden octogenarians, erstwhile scientists, who probably had the best interests of the country at heart when they brought in the machine. That will be like saying that your parents should be hanged because you failed to live up to their expectations.”
Uh oh! The major breach had been traversed. He had set foot upon the well-trodden (ill-trodden) path.
“That was intentionally aimed at me isn’t it?” the daughter’s eyes spat the first sparks of the fire to be.
In the face of calamity insisting on unblinking eye contact, many a tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte along the lines of the above are bound to happen. They play out in hushed tones, spilling out of mundane one-on-ones just as easily as coffee over table-tops. Top echelons follow suit, albeit behind the veneer of sophistication. In forcibly passing on the torch of accusations from one reluctant hand to another, maybe we would prematurely each the point of no return, where the flames leave the confines of the brim of the torch to assume arson proportions. It is time the buck stopped and the concerned bucked up to back society up against disasters of the magnitude that we are witnessing. Why lend nature a hand with man-made disasters when she is already neck-deep in creating calamities of her own.
The team of Youth Ki Awaaz extends heartfelt support to the victims of the radiation leak.
The writer is a senior correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.