Every Breath You Take

It was too good to be true.

I stepped out onto my balcony and opened my lungs. I could finally breathe.

The air quality had improved.

Future generations, coming after we have fully developed our society, may find it hard to believe. But it was true for us. The air quality improved and finally became very poor. From unfit for human consumption just a day earlier.

It came like a breath of fresh air. Or at least like a breath of very poor quality fresh air.

I breathed deeply. I was afraid it may not last and wanted to drink enough to last me till the next opportunity. Who knows how many of us would live to see the next occurrence.

And, like all good things, or at least very poor quality good things, it vanished almost as soon as it had come.

The Indian Meteorological Department has blamed the once-again unfit for human consumption air to the stagnant air that was a result of a depression in the Bay of Bengal that normally results in gale-force winds. The stagnant air apparently led to the particulate matter hanging in the air above us not being blown away to hang in the air above people in other locations, and be replaced by other particulate matter hanging in the air above people in other locations blown in to hang in the air above us.

As episodes of the depression in the Bay of Bengal and stagnant air happen several times every year, we did not expect it to happen and enervate the atmospheric conditions in Gurgaon. We would not have known in the monsoon season that preceded winter, that winter conditions will set-in in October and create challenges of atmospheric pollution because they have been happening every year and getting worse year after year. And if we did not know in monsoon that winter conditions will set-in in October and create challenges of atmospheric pollution, how could we have known it in the summer months which come even before the monsoon months. Every year. And we know that one can only try to manage something that one knows, or at least knows of.

Senior leaders have expressed surprise at the presence of the Bay of Bengal in the Bay of Bengal and believe it is a conspiracy hatched by the previous government. Despite them ruling the country for a good part of the post-independence period, the Bay of Bengal is still in the Bay of Bengal, they indignantly say. Expect a global tender to be floated to move the Bay of Bengal from its current position in the east of the South Indian peninsula, they have announced, in an oblique reference to the soon-to-be-granted mining and exploration rights that are highly regarded for their unique ability to convert any environment to an utter wasteland.

But tackling pollution is not something that can be left to the central government alone. Stepping up to the plate, despite being constrained by not knowing that winter will set-in in winter and bring with it challenges of atmospheric pollution, the municipal authorities in Gurgaon have announced a slew of measures, mainly the building of several under and over passes under and over existing roads to make sure more vehicles can ply on the same ground surface area. In fact, the good work begun by them several years back, like that of cutting down hundreds of mature trees on the road leading from HUDA City Centre Metro Station to Signature Towers, on which our housing society lies, to make it possible for an underpass to be built so that more vehicles can travel on the road, is beginning to bear fruit. The spanking new underpass is now operational, blowing clean dust and clean exhaust fumes from fast moving vehicles, and not stale dust and stale exhaust fumes from idling vehicles before the underpass opened, directly onto our building in greater quantities than ever before, helping me realise my closely guarded Hollywood fantasies. I sometimes picture myself as Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” hanging outside Burj Khalifa in Dubai like Spiderman, right in the path of an approaching, freshly-brewed sandstorm.

Giant air purifiers that were installed with great fanfare at busy intersections during last year’s handling of the annual crisis, and were the greatest invention since sliced bread, were such a resounding success that nothing has been heard about them ever since. Or perhaps the new under and over passes to accommodate more concurrent vehicles ate up their space as well. Does it matter? After all, only taxpayer money was spent. To become Revenue on someone’s Income statement.

The forested Aravalli hills that abut Gurgaon are being proactively prepared to tackle the pollution menace by being urbanised for their own good. Once they are gone they will not be affected by increasing levels of pollution, is the sound logic heard in offices that matter.

Plans have been finalised to place restrictions on using motorised vehicles on roads which will enable the government to encourage people to buy more cars and keep them parked on public property. Even a motorcycle rally to raise awareness about the pollution menace has been announced, demonstrating once again that there is no problem big enough that cannot be addressed by making bold announcements.

But we cannot sit on our laurels just as yet.

A few days back Chennai topped the worst air quality charts in the country. Despite having the disadvantage of being on the coast and day after day, year after year, seeing atmospheric pollution, created with the hard work and contribution of so many people over years, being blown away by the sea breeze every morning and evening. And it has repeatedly done so. Topped the charts that is.

There is work to be done. And miles to go. Preferably participating in a rally to save the environment while driving a fuel-guzzling motorcycle on an underpass, for making space for which mature trees were cut down, to an office complex built on space earlier occupied by the forested Aravalli Hills.

22 thoughts on “Every Breath You Take

  1. During the Diwali week in Delhi, not used to fresh air untainted by smoke created by fireworks during Diwali period, I nearly took ill and breathed easy after return to the polluted air and water of Mumbai city.

    • I believe the medical fraternity in Delhi is taking out a motorcycle rally to protest against the government for limiting their opportunities to carry out their trade during the Diwali period and causing grievous harm to the GDP by reducing needless spending.

  2. I stay in Pune and I have started falling ill if I step out during rush hours without a scarf! It is terrifying… And while we are becoming aware during Diwali – it hasn’t really changed into a lifestyle of reducing waste and going green.

    Sighs.

    • Just a generation back Pune and Bangalore used to be examples of what a city should be like and were also the most desirable to live in. But, trust us to “develop” them to the point of becoming uninhabitable. 😦

  3. I really liked the idea of installing air purifiers on busy intersections. May I add to this grandiose idea a modest proposal of installing gigantic fans in the Himalayan mountain passes to give your giant neighbour to the east a taste of India’s fresh air.

  4. It’s not too long before Delhi transforms to China.Expect news headlines like ” Citizens beware, a bright shiny light may appear in the sky briefly as the dark clouds move away. Fear not, this light won’t last long.Lest you start getting nostalgic about the sunny planet that existed once upon a time”

    • Yeah. Last year a brief spell of rain that washed away atmospheric pollution caused disorientation. People fell ill because they were not getting their daily fix of dust and exhaust fumes in their breath. It was a nightmare!

  5. And should you worry that the condition won’t get better and that particulate matter in the air will not increase rest assured that we in Australia have agreed to supply Mr Gautam Adani with enough coal for the foreseeable future so that every city in India can have as much polluted air as needed. Of course there is this also – If the polluted air becomes thick enough enemies of the people of India will not be able to see any details from their spy satellites and will have to wage war on someone else.

    • Looks like you are already acquainted with Mr. Adani. In his support, however, he is a businessman, and claims to be nothing else. The job of protecting our habitats and environment lies with the government. Unfortunately, it appears, governments have been susceptible to inducements offered by businesses and sacrifice long-term interests. Like Keynes said, “In the long run, we are all dead”. Our leaders are trying to prove that Keynes was wrong and that we are all dead in the short run.

  6. Cities in China are the worst I think – burning coal for electricity. Plus they are one of the highest per capita cigarette smokers. As they increase in power and reach they are the root of their own demise.

    • I read a statistic somewhere which said that 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. I am not surprised. The only development model we seem to know is the one we have seen in the West. We have less than 10% space per person as compared to the US, but the development model still feeds people the aspiration of owning a car per person. Where do we park them? Leave alone drive? Last 4 days again there has been a rise in pollution levels in and around Delhi leading to school closures. Masks are a common sight on the roads. The only solution for governments is to keep banning things. That is hardly a solution. Why did we create these things in the first place? I think China has gone past the worst. In India, looks like the worst is still to come.

  7. I was very sure I posted a comment but now suspect the security authorities must have removed it – and with good reason. Please read, copy, use your camera phone whatever before the military censors delete this comment again.

    You see the pollution is a sneaky way to build up our aerial defences. It is actually a dome-like thingy that will deflect ballistic missiles and shit like that – yes, the shield will also protect all the good, less good and downright no good people from bird droppings too.

    We thought of switching on the dome immediately but afraid our enemies – and that includes my upper floor neighbour – will wizen up and start building their own dome shields.

    Now, while China and my upper floor neighbour think we are merely suffering air pollution, in a short while the dome will be so solid – building up layer by layer – nothing will get through. Not even bird shit.

    There, now you know the secret.

    Oh shit! No, no, that was not from the birds, but it was me exclaiming: Oh shit!

    Now, the Chinese are having even thicker pollution. In this race too, we are losing out…

  8. Reminded of the ‘smart story’ of how feet were shod instead the paving the paths. Like those invisible hearing aids, may be the time is ripe for an invisible nose-accessory to trap dust to supplement god given nostril hairs (is there a word for it?). From a resident of Chembur, Mumbai.

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