06 August, 2021

The Loudest Crash Of ’79

The Morbi dam disaster ripped apart an area with raw violence. It’s recreated here with insight and vividness.

The Loudest Crash Of ’79

Among the chilling photographs of the Morbi dam disaster of August 11, 1979, is one of a man’s upright corpse pressed against a wall. It faces the wall—as if he were trying to push through to safety when death arrested him. There’s a tangle of shrub at his shoulder, a length of lumber slopes down from thereabouts. The visible arm, twisted, seems to end at the elbow, the bell-bottomed legs are crossed like Lord Krishna dancing atop Kalianag, and the head is wrenched sideways. It’s not clear if the lumber is propping him up, but volunteers found Kishore Daftari’s body in this attitude when the waters receded. Survivors remember the young lawyer shouting warnings through a megaphone from an ambulance. From the innumerable tragedies the disaster left in its wake, Daftari’s death has survived in image.

Outside Gujarat, little is remembered of the Machhu-II dam washing away its embankments and wreaking havoc on Morbi and nearby villages. The memories of survivors, administrators and relief workers are fragmentary. There’s no agreement...

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