As a kid growing up in Delhi and visiting my relatives in Calcutta, I was proud to live in a city with clean air and open roads – two things that Calcutta even in the 80s lacked. I remember being bothered by the pollution in Calcutta and the buses belching out black smoke. Little did I know that the city I loved would also go a similar route.
Delhi has now become unlivable on more than one count – overcrowded colonies, traffic jams, water shortage, and hazardous air. However, we Indians are very resilient when it comes to getting used to various crises – and we learn to live with them… till the crisis really hits home.
That’s what happened to me one December night in 2014. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to go out and deeply inhale fresh air but I knew the air outside wouldn’t help – it was smelly and smoky – perhaps from the trail of trucks on NH-8 close to where I live. The next day my doctor told me that I had had a bronchospasm and put me on inhalers!
With this kick, I converted my intention of getting a room air purifier into action. A few months later a friend presented me with a face mask to wear when I was outside - including in the car. This combination of room air purifier and face mask really helped – and soon after adopting this combination I came off the inhaler.
Now I do my best to spread the word about air pollution and recommend that people take steps to protect themselves from its hazards. But the long-term solution and the solution for the millions of residents of Delhi who would find the cost of a purifier burdensome or impractical is to bring the pollution levels down.
I’m happy to be part of Care for Air and do my bit in supporting an organization that is spreading awareness in different groups such as school children and doctors. Let us hope that before long we will reach a tipping point – where clean air become a citizens’ demand that the politicians cannot ignore. Without this happening I am afraid that the haze is unlikely to lift from Delhi’s skies.
Abhishek Bhartia is the director of Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, a nonprofit hospital and medical research centre in Delhi. Abhishek has engineering and management degrees from Cornell University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.He has long been bothered by poor air quality in urban India. He hopes we can make a positive change by mobilising information and the will of many.
Tell us your personal stories on how you battle air pollution in your daily life and in your community.