June 22, 2021
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Get On With Life, Delhi

What other option is there, realistically?

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Get On With Life, Delhi
File - AP Photo/Saurabh Das
Get On With Life, Delhi

Before I start, let me explain that this is going to be a totally Delhi-centric article. And for all you non-Delhi readers out there — you should be really grateful that you are not included. Trust me. Really and truly grateful.

Apparently much of India thinks that we dilliwalas already have a pretty inflated notion of ourselves, living as we do, cheek by jowl with lashings of VVIPS.

Apparently we all think we're the centre of the universe, with our fast cars and our "farmhouses" and our "Do you know who my father is?" mentality.

And to top it all, Delhi now has another dubious claim to fame. We are, apparently, the most polluted city in the world.

To be the "most" in "the world" at something might well tap into our collective sense of self importance. Too bad that this time round, it's such a horrid thing to be best at.

Best at living in toxic air.

Best at surviving in stinky, smelly smog.

Best city in the world for reducing the lifespan of its citizens.

Best city in the world for…thik hai, you've all got the message.

Delhi is horridly and frighteningly polluted. Even worse than Beijing, and that's saying something.

And what are we doing about it?

Er, well, not much really.

Unlike Beijing, we have no government health warnings, obliging us to stay indoors and cease outside activities because — well, that's as far as I understand it, and I would love to be proven wrong here — there is no system in place for issuing such broad spectrum health advisories.

Of course, being brutally honest, it's a moot point whether any of us would take a blind bit of notice if the local government told us to stay indoors. This would be the same government, after all, that provides us with a safe, un-sexually-dangerous city for women, with a city with public loos, with clean drinking water in our taps, with street lights that work, with footpaths we can walk on, with un-pot-hole-y roads…thik hai, you've all got the message, Mark II.

You take my point? What on earth would make us take any notice of our government this time around?

So, since the government ain't doing anything immediately to get rid of the filthy choking fog, what are we poor citizens to do?

Wear a mask? Been there, doing that. Though I have to confess to running the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon last weekend without my mask. Having never run 21k wearing a mask, I didn't want to risk trying something for the first time on race day. Probably short-sighted of me. There were some runners wearing masks, but very, very few, and they all seemed to be mainly fellow foreigners.

Out and about shopping in GKII today, I noticed precisely no-one wearing a mask. Not one person. I wore mine, and am convinced that my daily low-grade headache is a little less severe today as a result.

Checking the particulate matter every day on your phone & occasionally tweeting or instagramming it allows one to vent, but it doesn't do much beyond that. Leave town? Well, that would be just peachy, if we all had convenient second homes to go to. The jury is still out on the effectiveness or otherwise of air filters. There are so many plants in my home and on my balcony, especially the varieties that are supposed to be good at mopping up our mucky toxic air, that there's hardly any room to move.

So, pray tell, what else can a humble be-masked, fully-planted-out citizen do?

The answer is, sadly, not much. I'd petition my MP, if I had one. Since I can't vote, not sure how interested he'd be in my views, to be brutally honest.

So the answer is to suck it up — literally — and get on with life. 

And so, perhaps foolishly, perhaps recklessly, we dilliwalas are all carrying on regardless. The children are still going to school. We're all still taking our morning walks in our scruffy, dusty neighbourhood parks or, for the lucky ones, the gorgeous Lodhi Gardens. Some of us are easing back into running, after a few post-race days off, training for that next big race (and wearing a mask, this time round). We're all shopping and partying and going to our big fat weddings and generally leading the same winter lives we always do.

What other option is there, realistically?

There are some plans about doing that odd/even car number plate thing-y in the New Year. I await with interest the explanation as to how the logistics of such a mammoth undertaking will work. How will the poor overworked traffic cops — who do not have proper masks, by the way — and who cannot even curb people from jumping red lights…how on earth are they going to check thousands of cars for their odd/even plates? And then what? Impound them? Fine them? Tell them to go home?

Sadly, I fear that we poor Delhi folks are going to be sucking it up for quite a while to come.

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