This was air quality in and around the National Capital Region of India and North India on the morning after Diwali.
(Declaration : I have been opting out of NCR around this time, relentlessly, for the past decade and more. My easy options by way of available resources were and are urban peninsular and urban coastal India, and over the last decade or so, semi-urban and rural coastal West Coast India.)
So why did the fire-cracker ban, by all means one of many reasonably sensible steps to try to reduce air pollution in North India, fail so miserably?
The answer is simple – people are not fools. People do not like being dictated to be other people who think they are “too smart”. Here I must pause and explain to people who do not understand – referring to someone else as “too smart” is a pejorative in many parts of the world. Most of all – people do not like to be the subject of unfair dictats by visibly corrupt governments – and the result is outright defiance.
Northern India, regardless of anything else, has centuries of defiance against unpopular regimes built into its core DNA. Simmering below the surface, it shows up every now and then, initially as a signal and eventually as action. Governments job is to govern, not to rule, and that is the message which Diwali’s firecrackers have sent across to an assortment of deaf people.
People see all around them what causes air pollution and worse. Farm stubble fires are one reason, for which solutions exist, but implementation of those solutions in North India is mired in conspiracy theories of which there is no shortage. But it is the cause-and-effect up front and visible in our urban areas which are the real localised causes – and people see that governance, such as it were, is hand-in-glove with those real causes.
- Uncontrolled animal slaughter, especially by a monopoly class which carries this out in a hugely painful manner for the animal being slaughtered, which in turn eventually spills over into the atmosphere by lakhs of open fire cooking and re-heating methods. Apart from the animal waste re-entering the sewage and disposal lines, there is the sheer amount of animal fat being burnt off into the atmosphere, which simply does not go away and is not taken into account. Try washing animal fats like tallow off cooking vessels to get an idea. Temperatures in the region of or excess of 300° Centigrade are needed to melt animal fat and then wash it off utensils.
- The construction industry in and around urban North India is now burrowing deeper underground than ever before. Apart from disturbing the natural flow of underground water, centuries of mud from the deeper depths are being churned out, loaded on to open dumper trucks, and moved around unchallenged all over North India. This is not “building malba”, which is often “construction waste”, but fine dust including all sorts of sub-soil material compressed for centuries, suddenly being released into the atmosphere – where it lingers, goes up and then down with the temperature, and eventually joins smog.
- Vehicular pollution caused by an almost vindictive attitude towards battery vehicle technology by urban local governance which is beholden to fossil fuels. Rural and semi-rural India, where petrol and diesel were often simply not available, unless sold by the bottle on road-sides, have migrated en-masse to a vast variety of battery operated 2 and 3-wheelers – the way filling stations are shutting down in some parts of India is no longer anecdotal but a trend, as oil companies move into the business of charging stations rapidly. Government vehicles, including public transport, on the other hand, appear to be reluctant to move towards cleaner battery technology options.
Most of all, it is this attitude that a vulnerable middle class is to be punished because they are easily trapped on the roads, which creates this sort of a situation where fire-crackers become a symbol of resistance to unjust implementation of what is visible to all as real reasons for air pollution in and around North India. Diwali and fire-crackers come once a year, but the real reasons – generators on roofs of buildings, a lack of transparency in moving forward with renewable energy options, and the sheer unfairness of targeting one particular religious activity whilst letting the others off in the name of votes, is why we see rockets in the sky.
They are not just lighting the way to Heaven for our ancestors after a month of remembrances, common to Indic and Sinic cultures, but a way of telling mis-Governance, be who they may be, that unfairness in mis-Governance, has a habit of being refuted by North India in many different ways.
And Diwali is also a show of power where good slays demons.
On the eve of Diwali, the people of Goa celebrate the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narkasur. Effigies of the demon Narkasur are paraded on the streets before being burnt…to commemorate the occasion, competitions are organized and prizes are awarded before the effigies are reduced to ash.
On this day, Diwali early morning, a paper made Narkasur (demon) filled with grass, wastepaper, crackers and more, is taken out and to the accompaniment of taunts and insults, burnt and cremated.
Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.
A survivor of two brain-strokes, triggered by a ship explosion in the 70s, Veeresh moved beyond fear decades ago.