Let’s talk about the air. In most places there’s not much to say: you breathe in, you breathe out, end of story. But here in Delhi, the air is a common topic of conversation. Mostly because it makes its presence known much more overtly here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. You can smell it seeping into every crevice of your house in the morning. You can see it spread across the horizon in a brown haze. And you hear it going through the air purifiers, a gentle whirring reminder that it is now safe(ish) to inhale.
The air here is bad. Millions of cars and natural dust guarantee that every breath you take is not going to be the most pleasant experience. But come winter time, the fires start. Every evening as the temperature starts to drop, millions of tiny camp fires pop up across the city, sending plumes of soot and smoke into the sky. When the sun goes down you immediately start to smell it. If you happen to be outside, it seeps into your clothes and hair. When the sun comes up, its sometimes hard to see through the foggy, smoggy, smokey mess.
We are constantly wiping up black soot around the doorways and windows. The kids’ bikes outside need to be hosed down every few days. When we landed in Delhi after a trip to Cambodia last week, we were immediately hit with a cloud of smog – INSIDE THE AIRPORT.
I think this must have been what Dickens-era London was like: coal dust hanging over everything and hacking coughs on every corner.
If you want to get technical, the US, Embassy has an air quality monitor, which measures PM 2.5 particulates (otherwise known as crap in the air) on a scale of 0 to 500 (great to completely hazardous). Anything over 50 is where you start crossing into unhealthy territory. I think a bad day on the LA freeway is around 60. This time of year in Delhi it’s often in the 300-400 range or higher. So, much like Beijing, we should be wearing masks at all times when outside. Unlike Beijing, no one here really seems to be bothered, except for a few expats.
In a cruel twist of fate, this is also the most beautiful weather we’ll get all year – mild sunny days that hover in the 60s. So it’s hard to stay inside all day, really hard to keep the kids in all day, and impossible to make them wear tiny breathing masks. What can you do? We’re hoping all the clean crisp mountain air we gulped in Austria will help balance out all the stuff-I-don’t-want-to-think-about that we’re breathing in here.
But just in case, I’m also thinking about launching a Kickstarter campaign for a south Asian Mega Maid in 2016.