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Does anyone care what air Delhi breathes?

By Mitali Saran
November 21, 2017 12:53 IST
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'The greatest danger is that the current crisis will clear a little, we'll be able to see our hands in front of our faces, and with great relief we'll forget all about it and willingly breathe poison until next November', says Mitali Saran.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

Wow, Delhi, isn't this air unbelievable?

I'm not sure if I don't believe it more or less than I didn't believe it last year when exactly the same thing happened and we all walked around going, 'Isn't this air unbelievable?'

Air Quality Index readings are at 'Holy Crap' most of the year, but we don't think about it, because as long as the air is invisible and we're not young, or sick or old, it is somebody else’s problem.


Now that air is the only thing visible, and AQI readings are at 'Only Cockroaches Will Survive', it remains somebody else's problem, but now everyone is at panic stations and shouting at everyone else on social media.

It's déjà vu all over again.

I've been thinking that maybe Delhi air suffers from brand neglect.

You know how it is -- when a talented actor is ignored because his face is too familiar and ordinary, he needs an agent and stylist to put some blusher on him, sling a designer bag on his shoulder, pluck his eyebrows, upgrade his wardrobe, get him some interviews, make him stand out. Then everyone gets interested.

We need a publicity manager for Delhi air -- to give it some stage presence, you know, when it's in its unremarkable phase, so that it doesn't have to show up in this apocalyptic Kali avatar, all skulls and dripping blood, to get some attention.

At the moment an agent wouldn't have to do much, since the air is taking up all the airtime, but there's no harm leveraging the current PR extravaganzbonanzpalooza.

This is the kind of crest an agent can ride by dropping just one modest factoid, like the fact that we've left China in the benzene-and-PM2.5-laden dust.

That's right, Delhi is ten times as polluted as the ex-most polluted city in the world. Take that, Beijing.

Of course, it's not just Delhi. The air is horrible over large swathes of India, and nobody seems to take it seriously anywhere.

There's one thing we constantly #MakeInIndia, and that is excuses.

Excuses for why everyone wakes up at the last minute and pretends it's an emergency rather than something we know is a chronic condition.

Excuses for why the other guy should take the first step. That goes for politicians, businessmen, policy makers, and the citizenry -- we are all drunk on cars, short of good public transport, and uninterested in taking on garbage disposal, polluting industries and construction companies that spew smoke and dust.

The chief ministers of Delhi and Punjab conferred on Twitter. Delhi said, 'please sir' a lot, and Punjab said, 'We totally understand, but it's the Centre's problem.'

Meanwhile the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab is busy helping to burn crop stubble in Punjab. Union Environment Minister (and Science, Technology and Earth Sciences minister) Harsh Vardhan said there was no need to panic, which neatly explains why we are where we are.

The greatest danger to us all is that the current crisis will clear a little, we'll be able to see our hands in front of our faces, and with great relief we'll forget all about it and willingly breathe poison until next November, when we'll meet each other in the emergency room and gasp, 'Isn't this air unbelievable?'

No, the only solution is a full-time brand manager for Delhi air, whose only job it will be to not let us forget it for a minute, and to make us all work on improving it, every single day.

With the right campaigns and a lot of difficult cooperative work, we should be able to get those AQI readings back down to 'Just Some Horrible Allergies'.

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Mitali Saran
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