Delhi, The Murderous City.
Delhi is perfect.
As far as towns go. It has wide green spaces where you can get lost in jungle-like overgrowth, and emerge in front of absolutely stunning Moghul ruins. It has winding markets where you find everything you could possibly need, chic bars, beautiful old buildings, beautiful new buildings. It is a huge city, but it is still a friendly city. People who don’t know each other chat on buses. There is a swish metro, rickshaws and you can get wherever you want to go, so long as you have money. There is every kind of food. The food! Oh my god, the food!
It is what happens when you put 20 million humans in one place. It gives something which reminds me of a human brain — a place for crazy thoughts. A place where everything is possible. A rushed, crowded, confusing place. A lot of people hate it for that, but I was instantly seduced. Then again I don’t have the most healthy brain.
I love Delhi. Even if it does take half an hour to cross a road, with six lanes of cars hurtling along at 50 mph. Even if it’s hot, and dusty, and involves a certain dexterity to avoid cars, bikes, and uneven pavements.
For me, Delhi is perfect, and I love it, just the way it is. Except one thing.
Delhi is toxic.
It has topped records as the most polluted city in the world — reaching 50 times the maximum level recommended by the WHO. It kills 80 people every day.
Today I walked up to the beautiful, leafy terrasse of my hostel, and looked out on a city clouded in grey smog. It is strange, living in a polluted city. There is a certain level of existential crisis which comes from surviving off the very air which is slowly killing you.
You start to appreciate things like a room with an air purifier, where you can take a full breath in, or those rare rare days when you can see the sky. It happened the other day — the sky was blue. I hadn’t put on suncream, because usually, the pollution makes a nice UV resistant screen (silver lining…) so I burned to high heaven, but I didn’t care because it was just so nice to see the city framed against the sky, looking more beautiful than ever.
And then there are all the things you can’t do. I went to an aerial silks class yesterday, because I missed training so much, but I could barely climb without getting out of breath. Cardio is out of the question. The things that usually make you healthy — sport, breathing, are suddenly very dangerous activities. I’ve had a low-level ache in my head since I arrived. You feel the air running into your lungs. It feels dirty, sticky. You try and avoid walking everywhere.
Smoking seems both laughable and incidental. It’s already so bad. There are horrible photos on cigarette packs here — men with gory open throats. But you may as well put that picture on every billboard in the streets of Delhi.
Of course, pollution is easier to survive depending on how privileged you are. For those people who live out on the streets, there is no shelter. Poor rickshaw drivers are out in the fumes every day. Meanwhile, the richer inhabitants of Delhi are beginning — slowly — to don masks, and fit their houses and cars and offices with air purifiers. So they can effectively go from one purified air bubble to another and never have to take a breath of the killer air — the air they are effectively making worse through their cars and the production of air-purifiers.
Living in a city this polluted really is to bear witness to humanity’s absurdity — that we are managing to make our planet unliveable, in the name of a better life. That we are getting 5G and connected egg-holders and forgetting that air might be more of a priority.
It is also like the West’s second huge crime towards countries like India. The first was colonisation, stealing people’s dignity and their right to determine their own destiny. The second is the West’s cultural and economic hegemony since the end of colonisation, which has effectively deprived India of the potential to build up alternative ways of living. Leaving them with the very worst stages of industrial-capitalism, giving birth to murderous cities like Delhi.