73 pages 2 hours read

Indra Sinha

Animal's People

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2007

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2007, Animal’s People by Indra Sinha was the 2008 winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Based in the fictional town of Khaufpur, which means “village of terror,” it centers around the 1984 Bhopal industrial disaster and its aftereffects on the survivors. Told from the point of view of a 19-year-old Khaufpuri boy who was disfigured “that night,” the novel focuses on the West’s dehumanization of the “other” and on the greed and callousness of Western capitalism. It contrasts the invincibility of wealthy, well-connected corporations with the powerlessness of those they oppress and questions whether injustices against the vulnerable can be righted. Animal’s loathing of hope—though he yearns to walk upright so he can win the heart of his love interest, Nisha, he is terrified of disappointment—reflects the hopelessness felt by the people as they fight the powerful company that continues to exploit them. Transcribed from tapes, the tone of Animal’s story is informal, honest, and sometimes brutal. This intimate first-person viewpoint ensures the reader sympathizes with the plight of Animal and, therefore, with the plight of his people.

Animal was born a few days before “that night”—the Bhopal industrial disaster—and left outside a doorway, where he was taken in by nuns. When he was six years old, he began experiencing excruciating pain that left his back twisted so he could no longer walk upright. Animal does not recall a time when he was “human.”

Animal used to spend his time scavenging for food outside restaurants with his dog, Jara. One day, a teenage girl, Nisha, tells him she’s seen him performing scams around the city and that he could do more with his life. She invites him to her house for lunch so Animal can meet her father, Somraj, a famous singer whose lungs were injured “that night,” and Nisha’s boyfriend, Zafar, an activist who has dedicated his life to helping the poor. Zafar gives Animal a job listening around the city for signs of injustice. Animal begins falling in love with Nisha. During this time, Animal looks after Ma Franci, the nun who raised him and who since that night believes that she hears the voices of angels and demons.

For eighteen years, the American company—“the Kampani”—responsible for “that night” has refused to face the court or decontaminate their factory, which continues to make people sick with the chemicals that seep into the ground and water. The people are thrilled when, at a hearing, the judge says he will consider Zafar’s request to compel the Kampani to come to court. Zafar tells the people they will win.

An American doctor named Elli Barber buys the building across the street from Somraj and Nisha’s house and builds a free clinic for those injured that night. Zafar believes the timing is too coincidental and that she must work for the Kampani, which hopes to collect false information to show their chemicals are safe. As he gets to know Elli, Animal becomes certain that she does not work for the Kampani and that she genuinely wants to help. Meanwhile, Ma Franci believes “that night” and the 9/11 attacks indicate the Apocalypse is coming.

Animal begins to feel resentful of Zafar, who is seen as a saint in Khaufpur. He obtains pills that he can slip into Zafar’s drink to lower his libido. Zafar calls for a boycott of the clinic because using the clinic would jeopardize their case against the Kampani. Elli believes Somraj to be behind the boycott and angrily confronts him. She also examines Animal’s back and suggests she can help him, making Animal hopeful he can win Nisha’s heart one day.

Animal takes Elli to visit the poor in his community. Elli finds that the people desperately want her help but refuse to go to the clinic. She is frustrated that the people are so hard to help.

The court petition is granted, and the company will be forced to attend a hearing. Elli and Somraj begin to bond over music. Animal learns Elli had been married to a lawyer but left him when it was clear they held different beliefs.

Zafar calls off the boycott and apologizes to Elli after Elli takes care of Somraj one night when he is ill. Animal continues to give Zafar Faqri’s pills. Nisha is sad when her father and Elli become engaged and plan to take her to visit America after the hearing.

The company lawyers arrive, and Zafar fears they will try to make a deal. After a violent protest at the Chief Minister’s house, Animal overhears Elli and one of the lawyers speaking intimately at the lawyers’ hotel. When the lawyer kisses Elli and tells her she can come home, Animal believes she has betrayed the people; he wrestles with his conscience over whether to tell Zafar, for he still hopes Elli can fix his back.

Zafar and Farouq go on hunger strike, foregoing even water; Elli tries to dissuade them. Their condition deteriorates. Elli announces that she’s had word that the deal has been delayed, but Zafar and Farouq continue the hunger strike, unconvinced it isn’t a trick. Animal confesses to Zafar his love for Nisha and how he poisoned him; Zafar tells him to look after Nisha if he dies.

When the hearing is delayed, a violent protest at the factory breaks out. At the clinic, Animal confronts Elli over what he heard at the hotel. Elli tells her the lawyer is her ex-husband, and she asked him to delay the deal. He told her he would if she went back to America, and she agreed.

Animal confesses his love to Nisha and asks her to marry him; when she rejects him, Animal runs out, devastated. He takes the remainder of Faqri’s pills and begins hallucinating.

Protestors burn Elli’s clinic. Animal goes home to see Ma Franci before she dies. He hears cries that the factory is on fire, and he is overcome by burning gas. Ma believes the Apocalypse has come. She says goodbye and leaves to help the people.

Animal slinks into the forest to live as an animal, away from all people. After days of hallucinations, he sees images of his dead friends: he believes Zafar and Farouq to be dead and that the rest of the city died from the gasses. He reflects on the poor conditions of Khaufpur life. When he sees his friends coming toward him, he at first believes them all to be in the afterlife. Zafar tells him they stopped the hunger strike when the Chief Minister promised not to approve a deal without him; the Minister planned to break the deal in secret, but a mysterious woman in a black burqa (presumably Elli) released gasses from the factory in the room, forcing the lawyers to cancel the deal. Elli, Somraj, and Nisha go to America while her clinic is rebuilt. When they return, the two couples are married, delighting Animal. Animal receives word from Elli that he can go to America for surgery to heal his back. He decides not to have the surgery, instead choosing to be his strong unique self.

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