A BREATH OF FRESH AIR begins on December 3, 1984 as Anjali waits for her husband Prakash to pick her up at the train station in Bhopal, India. He is running late. Suddenly there is a gas explosion at the Union Carbide factory only a few miles away from the train station, which spews out gas fumes for miles, killing or physically harming anyone that comes in contact with it. Hundreds die or are taken ill. Anjali immediately feels a horrible pain in her lungs as she tries to breathe. She cannot fathom what is happening to herself and to those around her. She loses consciousness, and wakes up to find herself in a hospital bed.
Anjali miraculously lives to tell the tale, but her relationship with Prakesh has been gravely wounded like her lungs. Anjali feels that if he had come to pick her up on time, she might have avoided the fumes that nearly killed her. She lives, but because of the fumes, one of the results is a horrible debilitating asthma that stays with her for the rest of her life. Their relationship flounders and they end up divorcing much to the consternation of her parents.
Years later, Anjali is married happily to Sandeep, her second husband, who is a professor, who she loves after 15 years of marriage. They have a son, Amar, who is their pride and joy. But there is one problem --- because of the effects the gas explosion had on Anjali, Amar was born with many birth defects and doctors did not think he would live. He’s had numerous surgeries to fix his ailing heart and lungs, but these surgeries are only temporary relief for this poor boy, who is destined to live a short life. Despite his ill health and his inability to live the life of a normal healthy child, Amar seems happy enough, enjoying each day as it comes.
While she has a happy marriage and a son that she loves, Prakash is always in the back of Anjali's mind. She blames him for the ill health of Amar.
One day, Prakash and Anjali accidentally find their way back into each other's lives. It ends up that they are both curious about each other after all these years. Questions start to occupy them, which soon affect their marriages. Sandeep starts to doubt Anjali's love for him, thinking that she has loved Prakash all along. Anjali herself becomes confused and she doesn't know why she is having these feelings. She knows she does not love Prakash, but if so, why is she so fascinated by him after all that she blames him for with the accident? Prakash starts to feel guilt at letting go of a marriage that could have worked out after all.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR is not the story of the gas explosion that occurred at the Union Carbide factory in India, as I had originally thought when I read the flap copy. Instead it is the story of how this major tragedy changed the life of one naive girl, and helped open her eyes to the real world.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton on June 3, 2003
A Breath of Fresh Air