No One Had a Tongue to Speak began to take shape the morning after Christmas of 2004. That day, watching news coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Utpal Sandesara recalled stories his mother had told him about a great tragedy that she had survived—a tragedy that was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the worst dam failure known to date. Curiosity led him to search for information about the Machhu dam disaster, but his research led only to consternation. He could find only a few oblique references to the flood in obscure academic articles, and there was no book about the flood, despite its rich story. Utpal pointed out the deficit to his college hallmate Tom Wooten, who was intrigued. Being young and foolhardy, the two decided to tell the story that needed telling.
In the summer of 2006, the authors traveled to India. During eleven weeks of research, they conducted one hundred forty-eight interviews, photographed tens of thousands of pages of archival sources, and chased far-flung leads across India. Their enquiries prompted a fresh wave of local interest in the flood, including a major newspaper retrospective, an internationally televised news feature, and eventually a widely viewed documentary.
Upon returning to the United States, the authors immediately began drafting the story of the Machhu dam disaster. Over the next four years, as they juggled senior theses, medical school interviews, and an onerous first year of teaching, they continued to hone and refine the manuscript that became No One Had a Tongue to Speak.