Aditya Sinha: Can't mask how bad it is in Delhi
The smog here is like a 1950s American horror movie, and it's depressing to wake up and see a yellowish haze instead of the sky
During my 100-minute evening walk last week, I saw a man walking his gorgeous Alsatian. Like me he wore a pollution mask, but his doggie did not. Poor doggie; does it not have a respiratory system? As usual, the selfishness of suburban Delhi makes people do illogical things. Like the lady I saw during my walk, who also wore a pollution mask while she was stepping into her SUV (diesel vehicles are the singularly the most polluting automobiles). Or the jogger who sped past me wearing a surgical mask, which anyone will tell you is ineffective against particulate pollution, be it PM 2.5 or PM 10.
Teenagers venture out on their bicycles amid heavy smog and air pollution that reached high levels in New Delhi on Sunday. Pic/PTI
I had no choice but to order online a packet of N95 pollution masks. My walks till Diwali were incident-free, but after Diwali I took a break, first because I fasted for Chhath Puja, and then because the day after Chhath I flew to Bangkok. I was back to walking on October 31 and found a poisonous taste accumulating at the back of my throat. The next two days I found that during my walk on two or three occasions there was a slight stab of pain in my upper right chest. My father, who despite his Alzheimer's quickly grasps and diagnoses medical situations, said pollution had caused a mild infection in my lung, and that I ought to wear a mask while outdoors. Being of strong constitution all my life, I was momentarily alarmed, but then got the pollution masks. Lo and behold. The poisonous taste and pain disappeared. I have decided that when the next mid-day payment arrives, I will buy an air purifier.
That's how bad it is in the National Capital Region (NCR). My smartphone every morning describes the weather as 'Smoke'. My son Barun does not even need to look at his phone; on particularly bad mornings (like last Wednesday) the pollution makes him wheeze and he wakes up. Barun is a musician, and one afternoon, I advised that he and his bandmate wear masks at their next performance to protest against public apathy over the worsening air. (They did not.)
The smog is like a 1950s American horror movie and does not recognise state borders or even international borders. Lahore is apparently worse off than Delhi, and some of its residents even blame it on cross-border burning of wheat stubble. Lahore has had its share of pile-up car accidents: You may have seen the viral video of cars smashing into each other in the thick smog. One wonders why none used the flashing hazard lights on their cars, or even their headlamps (most drivers are too intelligent for that — they drive on the wrong side of the road and misuse their high-beam at night). Incidentally, the burning of fields is supposed to end soon, as farmers have a limited window of opportunity to sow seeds for the next wheat crop. That's one less cause for pollution.
Along my walking route, there are three houses undergoing some type of construction. In one, a man used an electric saw on a slab of marble. It produced a cloud of marble particles that made my lungs shudder. Worse, the two labourers working with the marble did not have any protection over their faces. I thought to tell the home-owner or contractor that they were shortening these poor men's lifespans, and that they could at least provide them with masks; but you know that the callous tend to view earnest advice as eccentric.
Indeed, the Aam Aadmi Party again began the odd-even plan (to restrict cars depending on their licence numbers) to show it was fighting pollution. I'm an admirer of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's revolutions in health and education, and I sympathise with him for being Prime Minister Narendra Modi's target just because the BJP was thrashed in the last Assembly election. However, the odd-even plan is a demonetisation-like diktat. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Saturday not only questioned the efficacy of this restriction but advised the Delhi government restrict two-wheelers as well (they form 30 per cent of the polluting vehicles). That is obviously electoral suicide, so the Delhi government postponed odd-even. (I prefer the Delhi Metro, but only because I hate city driving.)
The Chinese brought pollution down by shutting down/shifting industries, steel plants and coal-based power plants. They have invested in wind and solar power on a war footing. But we are not Chinese. We proud Indians, the inventors of plastic surgery and cow dung therapy, will find our own way!
It's depressing to wake up and see a yellowish haze (like the post-nuclear haze of Blade Runner 2049) instead of the sky. My daughters recently instagrammed San Diego's gorgeous and velvet sunset. All I could do was sigh and order another set of pollution masks.
Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org