Foreword by Paul Farmer, MD, PhD
Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Social Medicine
and Chair, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine
Harvard Medical School, and Cofounder of Partners In Health
“It is one thing for 25,000 people to perish all at once; it is another to completely forget about them. Utpal Sandesara and Tom Wooten’s fascinating story about an Indian dam disaster should be required reading for anyone interested in modern India, the environment, or narrative nonfiction. ‘No one had a tongue to speak’—until these two young writers came along to listen. One of the most important books about India in recent years.”
Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
“What is it about dams that inspires fatal dreams of grandeur? Utpal Sandesara and Tom Wooten have done a great service by vividly reconstructing one of the greatest and least known dam disasters in history—although it is anything but unknown, of course, to the largely voiceless people who were its major victims. This is an absorbing story not just about bureaucratic ambition and folly, but also about power and powerlessness.”
Author of Bury the Chains and King Leopold’s Ghost
“Written with a sympathy as deep as its research, this is the story of a deadly environmental disaster that sprang from hubris and miscalculation. Like any sudden disaster, the floods that destroyed Morbi burst upon the everyday lives of people unaware of what was about to befall them. Sandesara and Wooten skillfully capture both the commonplace and the extraordinary, and in doing so reveal what sometimes seems to be the near-universal failures that lie behind so many environmental disasters and the quite specific particulars of Indian history and development.”
Former president of the Organization of American Historians (OAH)
and Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University
“Though the Machhu dam disaster occurred nearly thirty years ago, the themes explored in No One Had a Tongue to Speak are as relevant today as they have ever been. With developing nations racing to catch up, the world simply must get better at contending with the humanitarian and environmental consequences of rapid growth. As such, this is a book for our time.”
Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy,
and Human Development at Harvard University, and a 1983 MacArthur Fellow
On the rainy night of August 11, 1979, a mud-splattered jeep slowed to a halt by the shores of a vast man-made lake in western India. Stepping from the vehicle, an exhausted government engineer was shocked to find the lake empty after ten days of torrential monsoon showers. The two-mile-long Machhu Dam-II had washed away, sending its reservoir careening toward the industrial city of Morbi. One of history’s deadliest flash floods had just taken place.
No One Had a Tongue to Speak tells, for the first time, the epic and heartrending story of the Machhu dam disaster. The seeds of the tragedy are planted as Indian politicians, swept up in the heady optimism of their country’s newfound independence, mandate a slew of dam-construction projects. Massive earthworks rise and vast reservoirs accumulate, but the rapid clip of development outpaces the skill of the engineers behind it. When the Machhu Dam-II gives way after days of incessant rains, residents of the downstream river valley are plunged into a watery hell. Their lives are torn to pieces in an instant. Up to 25,000 perish, though the disaster’s true human toll is not known. As survivors grapple with the flood’s aftereffects, a long and fateful quest to determine responsibility for the dam’s failure ensues.
In the three decades since muddy floodwaters surged through the Machhu River Valley, the disaster has faded from collective memory. No One Had a Tongue to Speak revives it in striking form, weaving together stories from 148 interviews and extensive archival research. From the rooftops where survivors struggled amid the raging floodwaters to the courthouse chambers where lawyers searched for answers in the flood’s aftermath, this book presents the disaster in the words of those who lived through it.
Grounded in meticulous historical research, this eye-opening account of the Machhu dam disaster nonetheless unfolds like a novel as it recounts a historic human tragedy and paints a vivid portrait of an India torn between its feudal past and its industrial future. No One Had a Tongue to Speak attests not only to human error and neglect, but also to the compelling urge to survive, rebuild, and fight for justice.
Pages: 443 (photos)
Shipping Weight: 2lbs
UTPAL SANDESARA, the son of a Machhu flood survivor, is pursuing doctoral degrees in medicine and social anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.
TOM WOOTEN lives in New Orleans, where he teaches writing and researches the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
The authors graduated from Harvard University in 2008 with degrees in social studies.