Tuesday, January 6th, 2009...4:52 am

Delhi: The Up In Smog Tour (India Post)

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At first, I thought the thick and dense fog/smog that has blanketed Delhi each night causing havoc on the already chaotic roads was from the disco machines at Param’s wedding. Perhaps I’m being a bit facetious but that explanation is almost as likely as the ideas that this is just plain fog. The temperature has indeed been taking a drastic nose dive at night and traditionally December is a foggy time of year in Delhi. (It reminds me of June gloom in PB and I’m not really sure if I ever understood the marine layer burn off either.) BUT, that must be taken with a smoggy dose of skepticism once you breathe or smell the air in Delhi. It stinks.

The first thing I noticed (or sniffed) when I arrived in India was the stench. Unlike my wise big sister’s prediction, the country didn’t smell like the back of a stinky NYC taxicab. The smell is a dull, slow, distinct dry odor that is analogous to burning garbage. That’s probably because throughout the city garbage is most definitely burning. There’s just too much of it and no where to put the trash so it gets blazed. If you want to perform an experiment to replicate the stench, throw a match in your garbage can and take a whiff.

I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible this is for the environment and for the health of residents in Delhi. There is also a thin layer of dust that quickly collects on the sidewalks, railings, roads and on just about anything that is outdoors. It reminds me of the dusty, ashy outdoor coating on Marni and Jen’s balcony after the fires in southern California. A few of the other Americans in Delhi complained of sore throats in the morning. Even if you didn’t physical feel the effects, the nightly smog shoved it in your face.

Combined with the actual fog, it becomes impossible to see at night. On many of the night’s home from the wedding parties, the smog was so thick you could hardly see the hood ornament on your own car. Luckily, we had Param’s private driver Buncy who was cautious and careful and drove with steady alertness. In addition, a healthy dose of black label turns an incredible dangerous situation into an entertaining and adventurous experience. The newspapers are reporting that this is the worst fog (and cold spell) in years and it has lead to deaths, traffic accidents and havoc on the airport runways with hundreds of canceled airline flights.

Here is an early morning photo on the way home from one of the wedding parties.


The fog caused by the weather will surely subside in the next few weeks. I’m not so sure about the smog. Delhi (and all major cities in India) are exploding with population growth as people from the countryside migrate to the city in search of basic sustenance. This leads to even more waste, and at a much faster rate, than it can be removed. Pollution, waste and environment policies all seem to be lagging behind the tremendous industrial growth of the last few decades. As these gaps widen, it leads to even more pressing problems.

You may have heard about the new Tata manufactured car called the Nano. It will cost $2,500 and it is being celebrated throughout the world as the most affordable automobile ever produced. On the surface this seems like an innovative breakthrough in auto manufacturing. It will surely force car companies around the world to provide a more affordable low end vehicle to the masses. But I’ve only needed a few days in this country to realize the Nano is going to cause huge problems. If the Nano is as popular as Tata hopes it will be it will undoubtedly lead to extreme congestion, pollution (Nano will use regular petroleum) and energy use.

In developing nations, there is a lot of good happening but with that there is also lots of not so good. It’s easy to think that India economy is successfully growing annually at 8% (in that neighborhood). That sounds exceptional and it is. But that growth doesn’t always happen in a straight line. It’s happening in all different directions, all at once, at different speeds and with byproducts that push and pull growth in directions that might not be intended or expected. The growth of India is super exciting and so many very cool things are happening here.

But make no mistake, India’s future is still pretty darn foggy (or is that smog).