Derrida famously used the Greek term "pharmakon" to demonstrate his revolutionary deconstructionist method of semiotic analysis. The word can mean both poison and cure; based on this ambiguity, Derrida spins a narrative of linguistic play that is both illuminating and insightful.
The life of the mind can be so elegant, so graceful.
The real world, in which the play of language has very real effects, is more brutal. And in the real world, one man's cure can in the most grotesquely literal sense be another man's poison
Nagamani slaps a wet shirt against a rock. "Oh, no, I only wash clothes in this stream," she says. "If you bathe in it, you get a rash."
She pulls more clothes from her bucket. It's a quiet, peaceful scene, typical of rural India – if you don't get too close to the dark brown stream water with its strange odor, and if you turn your back to the dark plumes rising from a half-dozen smokestacks on the horizon.
Outside his home in the nearby village of Gandigudem, a farmer named Janardhan points to his abandoned plow, his junked rice mill and his idle irrigation well and pump. "Around here, if we have good water we can survive," he says. "Now, without good water, we're finished. If this pump still worked, the water would be coming out of the ground that color." He points to my bright green shirt.
Two miles upstream from Gandigudem is the notorious Kazipally industrial area, home to an assortment of chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Behind one factory, identified by a sign as belonging to SMS Pharmaceuticals, tar-like water dribbles over a concrete dam, runs down a deep gully, and meanders through a barren field beyond.
A second sign in front of the plant, erected by court order, lists some of the chemicals being used: toluene, methyl isothiocyanate, DMSO, chloroform. It's nearly impossible to breathe anywhere within a hundred yards of the plant, and it's hard not to retch.
Aurobindo Pharma Ltd., typical of the larger companies operating in the area, makes a wide array of products: antibiotics, anti-HIV drugs, antidepressants, drugs to lower blood pressure, statins to lower cholesterol, cardiovascular drugs, and remedies for acid reflux, athlete's foot and osteoporosis. Some of these products, designed to alleviate diseases of affluence, would hold little interest for most of India's rural population. But the people who live and work in the Nakkavagu basin appear to be far sicker than average, hit with diseases of the rich as well as those of the poor.
Dr. Allani Kishan Rao has practiced medicine and fought pollution in Patancheru for 30 years. He says, "Illness rates here are more than 25 percent, compared with 10 percent nationally. I'm sure it is related to the chemical intermediates, organic solvents, and gases that come out of the pharmaceutical plants and the factories that supply them."