The not-so-new normal

AIR POLLUTION IN THE NCR

The infamous Delhi-NCR smog. Source: Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 2.0

It has been more than seven months now that everyone has been largely confined to their homes. Fall is nearing its end, but COVID is still prevalent. A few days back, the cold and calm breeze of autumn forced me to get out of my comforter and go for a morning walk. 

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Covering myself from top to bottom and with a mask on, I started walking. The winter sun was shining bright, like an orange and the hazy moon was saying goodbye from the other direction. Birds were chirping, cows were mooing, dogs were barking, people were coughing and monkeys were playing around. I continued encircling the park and started allowing random thoughts to take over, so I could have some wonderful me-time (most of which is usually given to overthinking, if I may add).

Did I mention people were coughing? Oh yes, the most common sight one notices in Delhi NCR. Over the years that I have been living in Ghaziabad, I have seen it develop from woods to concrete jungle, from having limited resources to becoming a hub of commercialisation and giving access to people across the globe. With such pressure on the ecology, it has naturally held on to its position among the world’s top ten polluted cities, along with a few other Indian cities.

During the lockdown, the level of pollutants in the air and water had dropped drastically everywhere. Had COVID not been discovered and wearing masks not been made compulsory, strolling around in Delhi-NCR would have been a different experience. Air inhaled during the lockdown felt as fresh as the mountain breeze. Lungs thanked every stakeholder for giving us a few extra lifelines, even if for a few months. 

But as soon as the lockdown ended, factories and vehicles came back to business, reversing the situation. Along with this, irrespective of campaigns, smoke from stubble burning in Haryana and Punjab made their regular contributions. Resumed construction work, festival celebrations and various other factors too contributed to the rising levels of toxins in the air. Moreover, as winter is approaching, particles have started settling down. The foggy morning which threw me out of my comforter was, in fact, a smoggy one.

Due to all these reasons, people have started suffering from frequent bouts of cold and cough. I wonder how the morning talk show people (on radio) are able to speak so well because when one wakes up, the throat is so sore that the dust particles can actually be felt rubbing against the vocal chords. One is able to speak properly only after some gargles. Sometimes wearing glasses becomes a necessity because of the irritation in the eyes. 

Problems get aggravated for patients suffering from respiratory illness such as asthma. Moreover, with the ongoing pandemic, with the slightest change in health, people get scared of having contracted the coronavirus. Differentiating between the symptoms of the virus and any other flu has become difficult, creating a situation of panic among everyone.

One thing that makes me happy is looking at all the people wearing masks. Until last year, when the government and various institutions were campaigning to make people aware of the need to wear masks to shield themselves from pollution, I, along with a few others, was among the only people wearing masks and asking around at shops to get more. If it weren’t for corona, nobody would have known what N95 masks were actually meant for. Making masks compulsory and imposing penalties for flouting that rule not only protects us from pollution but also from the virus. It is like killing two birds with one stone. At least now I don’t look dumb asking for masks at random shops.

Huh! I could not jog anymore with the mask on. I could not breathe properly. I asked myself if I should remove it, but my conscience told me to just hold on. Even after removing it, I wouldn’t be able to breathe because of the smog. The only thing I should and I could do was go back, lie down in my comforter and wait for office hours to resume. And that is exactly what I did. Of course, I washed my hands and sanitized myself, in order to protect myself from COVID at least.

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About Utkarsha Srivastava 1 Article
Utkarsha Srivastava is an advocate by profession.

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