Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat as necessary for optimal results. The unbidden prescription that launches and sustains life.
An adequate supply of oxygen and clean air is medicine we rarely question in our Western world. Inhaling the good stuff in the pristine wilderness of BC, it’s easy to grow complacent. Until India.
With a population of 17 million, Delhi boasts the unenviable reputation of world’s most polluted city, the label once allotted to Mexico City. The smog, an acrid layer of airborne sludge, blankets the city for miles. Amazing to consider its choice for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Hardly conducive to record setting.
Everything about India steals the breath. Billowing black clouds of diesel fumes blast the faces of road occupants and side liners. None are exempt. Rickshaw riders, drivers and pedestrians consume gob loads of the stuff.
Aging men squat silently along garbage strewn pavements, immune to the lung-junk settling deep inside. Scooters heralding entire families maneuver skillfully, wedged within the throngs, careful not to dislodge the babe held perilously in a mother’s arms, sidesaddle at the rear. No helmets. An early initiation into India’s city life.
Open drains, simmering pots of pungent spices, giant woks of burning oil and masala chai add to the olfactory chaos.
Road side stalls retail the gamut of daily wares. Shampoo to shock absorbers. Each laden with a gritty coating of dust and grime, ready to eat, wear, or take home to loved ones.
And the NOISE!. The incessant din requires a desensitization that the locals have in spades. A cacophony of horns snatch the breath in alarm, again and again and again. Bells, beeps, buzzers, blasts…
Amazingly it works. There are few accidents and an absence of road rage amidst the seeming chaos. A language unto itself.
In the hierarchy of pedestrian, bike, rickshaw, scooter, car, bus and truck, the revered cow, however, tops the lot. Even the busiest of intersections scream to a halt when the holy cow chooses to cross. Hinduism in action.
It’s all traffic and people and animals. Too much and too many. Like the tangled overhead wires, the scene below depicts a congestion that has to be seen to be believed.
Heading back to the airport the warm toxic acidic fog burns the back of my throat setting off a crazed coughing fit. My eyes and nose stream helplessly in violent protest. The driver can’t get me out of this place fast enough. I press a scarf tightly to my face and pray the carcinogenic crap won’t reach my lungs.
The following day, stepping down onto Tasmanian soil, I find myself snatching long, cool inhalations. Desperate to breathe again, blessed to have a choice.