Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Air today, gone tomorrow

(Published on December 12, 2015 in Business Standard)

It’s hard being a smoker who outrages over the quality of Delhi air. Once the hoots of derision die down, everyone looks at you as if your teeny tiny little cigarette is stealing their children’s future all by itself. Never mind that you’re already exiled to the lepers’ area outside, arm politely stretched over the edge of the planet, stealing the future of Martian children instead. Let me tell you something: Delhi air is so virulently poisonous that cigarette smoke is the clean stuff in it. Anyone will tell you that living in Delhi is the same thing as smoking a pack a day.

Not that I’m defending smoking. Smoking is very bad, children, don’t do it. There are all kinds of other really fun roads to self-destruc—I mean, may you live long and virtuous lives and eventually die in the natural way, of boredom, and have your children drive you to the cremation ground on whatever day works for their car number plate.

That is, if the Delhi Government’s number plate scheme—cars with odd number plates allowed to ply on odd dates, even number plates on even dates—lasts longer than the two-week trial scheduled for next January. I’m not even sure that we’ll last the full two weeks, because this is a country where people who can afford cars would rather choke on toxic air than give up the convenience of rolling out of their houses and into their cars for the thirty second ride to the market to buy books on how to get active and fit. I can’t see them standing around hailing autos or hoofing it to and from a metro, even in clement weather.

There’s been lots of talk about quick fixes, by which I mean outwitting pollution control rules, because creatively bypassing rules is the national forte. Rich? Buy two cars, one odd-plated and one even! Smart? Buy fake number plates! Morally flexible? Steal whichever car you need that day! Activist? Vote out the creeps who are trying to disrupt our lives! (Voters are widely known to be politically motivated.)

Many good arguments have been made for why the Aam Aadmi Party’s odd-even response is not the best solution, and they merit consideration. But listen people, we have to do something, because we care about our collective quality of life.

Hahahahaha! That’s hilarious.

Let’s face it: if we thought like that, we’d never have gotten to this point of emergency—we’d have cleaned up our air, water, and waste systems years ago. The fact is that widespread dying and astronomical health costs are probably less of a catalyst for action than global mortification. We’re more likely to get a move on because of really pressing issues, like the Chief Justice of India’s embarrassment about having to admit to Delhi’s pollution levels to the President of the International Court of Justice. The national image is at stake.

Admittedly I work from home, am fit enough to take public transport, and do the vast majority of my driving after 8pm, so the odd-even rule doesn’t freak me out. And frankly, pollution control was the one thing that I—and my asthmatic mother, whose doctor advised her to leave the city—wanted from the AAP, and they’re trying, so it’s a start.

The even better news for people like me, i.e. with ovaries, is that they’re thinking of exempting women from the odd-even rule, on grounds of safety. Who says that patronising patriarchy has no silver lining? I expect that other motorists will give us the evil eye, but that’s what sunglasses are for.

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