Bhopal gas

July 2006
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A shocking description of the Bhopal gas tragedy that happened in 1984. I didn't count the words, but I suspect it is exactly a thousand words.

Dinodia Photo Library
Every picture is worth a thousand words
Since 1987

Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett, Mumbai, India
Creative Director: K.V.Sridhar, Santosh Padhi
Copywriter: Russell Barrett
Art Director: Santosh Padhi
Photographer: Dinodia Photo Library
Illustrator: Bhushan Patil
Typographer: Santosh Padhi

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Indra Sinha's picture
Indra Sinha
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The worst thing about this ad is its dishonesty. If you search the Dinodia Photo Library you will find 24 mediocre colour shots of tourist attractions in Bhopal. You will not find Raghu Rai's famous and gruelling image of the baby's burial the morning after the Bhopal disaster. Dinodia owns no rights to this image, which is licensed through Magnum. It certainly has no right to use it in this way, in a pretence of compassion to serve a commercial end.

I know this picture well. In 1993, I phoned Raghu and asked his permission to use it to launch the Bhopal Medical Appeal. For a year it remained pinned to my wall as I struggled to find words to match it. I could not bear to have any words on the same page, not even the photographer's credit. The ad had to become a double page spread. The picture was by itself on the left and the copy on the right hand page opened with the story Raghu told me over the phone about how he and Pablo Bartholomew had found this man burying his child. How they had both taken pictures and how both hardened news photographers had cried.

There is a tenderness in this picture which transcends the horror, and makes it great. Raghu told me how the father had covered over the baby's head with earth, but then, as if unwilling to let her go, had brushed away the dirt for one last look. This is why there is dust on the eyeballs of the baby.

On the 10th anniversary of the disaster I launched the Bhopal Medical Appeal with Raghu's own story of what his camera had not been able to capture. There were at least 1,000 words on that right hand page, and they were barely enough to begin to tell the story of what had happened in Bhopal and how people were still suffering. A proper newspaper article would have had three times as many.

Thousands of people must have read every word, because the ad raised enough money to enable us to buy a building in Bhopal, hire medical staff and open a free clinic. Fourteen years later that clinic has expanded to a new site in two acres of medicinal herb garden, employs more than 40 staff and has given free treatment to approaching 30,000 people. Throughout it has been funded by money raised from individuals via advertisements that tell detailed stories. These ads must first pay for themselves before they can even begin to fund the clinic.

I have sent Ivan some of the more recent Bhopal Medical Appeal ads and I believe he intends to publish them here.