Fire In California, Smoke In Delhi

The 2018 California Wildfires, reportedly the most tragic in the American state’s history, took over a hundred lives, injured around eighty people, and burned several towns down to ashes in a trail of destruction. The wildfire also raised the air pollution levels unusually high, especially in the northern and central parts of the state, which prompted the locals to wear pollution masks to prevent exposure. The poor air quality even forced certain schools to shut down, confirming California’s state of alarm.

Miles away on the other side of the world lies a true contender for being the most polluted city in the world—Delhi. Delhiites regularly face air conditions similar to what is driving the Californians anxious right now, except that it is often a lot more worse in the former’s region. Moreover, the pattern of increase in Delhi’s air pollution every year does little to suggest this scenario will change anytime soon.

Air pollution in the Indian capital has been awful for such a long time that it now seems many residents no longer bother about it and carry on with their lives. In the past, the state authorities have tried a variety of ways to mitigate the problem which have worked temporarily, but have not been able to effectively implement them in the long-term. Probably, the government’s impotence in this regard is the main reason why people have started resigning to their cursed fate of breathing toxicity, trading moments of their life for each breath.

When my sister, who studies in California, first told me that she had started wearing a mask outdoors, it came as a shock to me. It was shocking because the last time I was in California, the air felt so much better compared to what I am used to here in Delhi. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

The prevalent air filter masks are no doubt a big help for filtering out harmful PM 2.5 particles, but it is also true that these masks sometimes feel like dead weight on our faces. Besides that, they usually spoil the integrity of our outfit, hence, becoming a forced fashion accessory that we are obliged to wear just because our pollution control board is doing little for us. The board’s advice to wear the mask every time we go outside sounds like a lazy solution to me. Until the air becomes breathable again, we need a better alternative than what we have at present. Perhaps, something like an inconspicuous air filter is the need of the hour. But, for now, I guess we have to make do with the ugly air filter mask.

In the aftermath of the wildfires, I think California and Delhi are not too different from each other when it comes to air quality. However, the stark contrast between the two states lies in that the former has declared a state-wide emergency, whereas the latter remains in an eternal state of sterile emergency. California is doing what is needed with a great sense of urgency and the latter is comprehensively failing in taking effective measures.

Judging by the activity, the consensus is that life will return to normal for Californians gradually and life will stay “normal” for Delhiites, at least, for the foreseeable future.

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