Gujarat is a curious place, as I wrote in another text here. It is like the land that Time Forgot. No physical dinosaurs, but a place that seems to have ignored progress unless it is forced upon it, like the massive hi-tech, very strait roads that the US army have run in and out of Pakistan. Yet even there, the sands of the desert roll across, camels and sheep are led by the thousands, nomads crisscross with bare feet and all their possessions hunched onto the backs of their animals, and progress is not a part of their daily routines.
It is in this wild land that I decided to visit Alang: a massive ship breaking yard on the southern coast.
And I went there in a large colourful skirt, a big silk ribbon in my hair. I knocked on the gates and they let me in, in a taxi. I am sure this was not supposed to happen, and know for sure it would never happen now.
Tankers are drawn up onto the beach, from all over the world, to be broken down. This work is done by hand, with oxyacetylene torches, the men wear plastic shoes, no body protection at all, no helmets and rarely goggles and there is a hospital by the gates.
The sheets of metal that the employees take off, piecemeal, are over an inch thick, and it takes 6 men to carry one of these sheets, on their shoulders like pall bearers using only a piece of dirty cloth to protect their shoulders.
It is a terrifying place, apocalyptic, monstrous, dark and death-filled.
We drove past miles of storage yards, each area holding just one aspect of ship destruction. Sinks and kitchens, another with giant anchors, chains with links that Isambard Kingdom Brunel would balk at, and thousands of metal sheets, piled up in 10ft high stacks, over and over again.
When we finally got to the shoreline the scale was impossible to grasp. Ships, tankers, boats, being sliced through so that I could see the different floors, cables and baths hanging off like some mad, open dolls house.
I walked around the blackened beaches, taking photographs in the burning fires, sparks from the soldering torches landing in great waterfalls on the tanks and felt as though I was living in the Fires of Hell in my bright red skirt and silk bow. It was surreal, standing with a tripod and Hasselblad, quietly taking pictures.
I won awards for the images, had exhibitions and even showed the pictures back in Gujarat. But I know nothing has changed except that no one can now enter Alang and witness hell Incarnate.