It was just a half-hour since a semi-seater bus left my hometown near Hampi at around 10 pm and stopped when it reached Munirabad dam on a steep incline near Hospet, Bellary district. I was travelling back to Bangalore with my little girl, just a few months old then, for the first time since her birth.
The passengers instantly shut the windows. When I peeped out, my heart sank. Our bus was parked on an incline with a number of vehicles lining up before it. I had no idea how many more buses, cars or trucks were already parked behind ours.
This roadblock was caused by another line of thousands of trucks (yes, thousands!) loaded with mined iron ore riches from areas surrounding Sandur in Bellary district, trundling up a narrow, steep road and kicking up huge plumes of red dust. Both roads intersecting each other were so damaged that they had not potholes, but craters—often so deep and wide that it would take forever to travel just a kilometre.
With all the windows shut, it got stuffy and intolerable inside the bus. We could not open the windows lest the red dust should choke everyone to death. Conversations among co-passengers revealed that the ordeal had just begun.
Not even half an hour into the halt, the heat and the odour began to stifle us. A very fine layer of red dust somehow made its way inside. Coughing and sneezing grew worse. I began pacing up and down the aisle from one end to the other. My daughter threw up several times. She was literally panting for breath. I was helpless, so were other passengers. They understood my plight but didn’t know what to do. This went on for four and a half hours way past midnight. The bus did not move an inch. I cursed the entire pantheon of gods and goddesses irrespective of the religion they belonged to. My elbows went numb, knees caved in, so did my stubborn soul. I sat down with the howling girl on my lap—harrowed and hollowed out. I sobbed in silence.
This is the closest I have come to experience, in flesh and blood, the immeasurable havoc wreaked by the Reddy brothers—Gali Janardhana Reddy, G Karunakara Reddy and G Somashekara Reddy—on this state.
Outside, the grotesque parade of the mined riches was going on unhindered, symbolising not just the ever-manic pursuit of the Reddy brothers of money and power, but also the collective failure of anything called a state.
Looking at this vulgarity, it became all so clear to me that we humans can react to something if it is within a fighting distance, or a little beyond. But a crime of this magnitude could only elicit muffled anguish, deadening silence. In this case, it was submission… of not just individual citizens like you and me, but an entire country.
Next: Bellary Reddy brothers & mining mayhem-2: Turning beautiful Sandur into a ghost town