By Ashok Warrier
I had just returned to Delhi after a stay of nearly three years in the salubrious climes of verdant Africa. As sometimes happens, there was the usual feeling of relief and joy that surged through me on getting back. I now looked forward to my morning walks in the park opposite my house which I noticed, had received a considerable facelift. A fetish for physical fitness (like the kind I remember seeing almost 3 decades ago in China) appeared to have gripped young and old alike.
The month of October in Delhi is what I would term as the ‘cusp’ month before the onset of winter. If there was one topic which was constantly and consistently in the news it was the all engulfing pollution. Having been away, I had not accounted and factored for this element while thinking of my morning walks. Each report of the ever increasing Air Quality Index (AQI) and the advisories being issued to avoid all outdoor activities set in motion the ‘law of diminishing returns’ as far as the spirit of elation and excitement of getting back to my moorings was concerned. Having recently retired and also therefore having plenty of time on my hands, I had convinced myself of the need to keep fit and walk for two hours a day – after all the cholesterol and triglycerides had to be kept in check. I knew that it was best to start a little ambitiously and give allowance for a tapering of the time period. I even started this regime only to retreat within a few days following the haze, the smog and the cough that came soon thereafter.
The recent picture of a cricketer wearing a mask while batting in one of the Delhi stadiums did not help matters. Neither did all those alarming reports emanating from the WHO. I sometimes get the feeling that Shankar Mahadevan singing ‘Breathless’ might well become the ‘new normal’ even while speaking what with all the garbage being burnt in the open, construction activities, increase in the number of vehicles, and all that stubble burning in neighbouring states. October Delhi appeared to have got divided broadly into two category of people ‘wheezers’ and ‘coughers’ with the latter being more noticeable because of their increased decibel levels.
Softened perhaps by my years in the near ‘pollution-less’ Africa, made me a sitting duck to the all pervading toxicity. Pollution literally had me by the scruff of the neck. I was soon coughing with the same vigour and verve that I am used to. I might mention here that my wife has been trying all these years, even though unsuccessfully, to mellow my cough and make it more ‘civilised’ as she puts it. I soon joined the ranks of the ever swelling ‘cough brigade’ of Delhi. My alarmed wife dragged me to a doctor (I say this because I have been a little wary of going to these good souls) who set me on a course of antibiotics. Noticing that the antibiotics helped only marginally, other forms of advice started pouring in and these ranged from brandy with hot water to lozenges, to ayurveda and later ‘desi’ remedies. I continue to be open to receiving advice but the cough has been my body’s guest and does not appear too willing to leave me just as yet! I now do the only thing I can do – wait for the pollution and cough to abate!