Opinion: How pollution can impact creativity & innovation in cities


March 2, Delhi

As am writing this post I can feel a congestion in my nasal passages. Last night was worse. Woke up at 3 a.m. from persistent coughing.

Apparently the air purifiers weren’t helping as they would dry the air and the coughing would become worse.

As I venture out in the polluted air of the capital during the day, things would become worse.

My coughing is getting really bad even while am writing this article, even as the world outside, celebrates the festival of colors.

Friends and colleagues over the last few weeks have nicknamed my condition amusingly to ‘Kejriwal Cough’ — a persistent type of coughing that annoys other colleagues sitting in adjacent cubicles as much as it does to your own consciousness, while you try to focus on researching for an article.

The droplets of cough sometimes trickle on the screen.

I could sense a fear in colleagues sitting in adjacent cubicles that they could catch the same deadly infection.

The doctor suggested me an acid fast bacillus test which I dutifully did.

The blood tests showed a rise in particles which fight antibodies. The lung report was clear.

While on an aircraft from Mumbai to New Delhi this month, the coughing was persistent, which disturbed me as well as other passengers.

I even had to turn down a request made in January, to moderate a panel at India’s largest fintech conference Fintegrate 2018. I could not hold a basic conversation even on phone, as the voice became dead due to infection.

My doctor, who moved backed to India in 2008 after returning from UK where he was practicing for the last 9 years, compares Delhi’s environment to a gas chamber.

The persistent cough sometimes leads to a vomit, which made me skip office for a number of days on sick leave, even in my notice period. Since January, I would try and leave capital for two days on weekend. But the cough would become worse even as I returned. Other cities were not too better, either. In fact, the worst was in Ludhiana, where the open dust and no holds barred pollution hit me.

But I give kudos to ENT specialists who are moving home to India’s capital, even as there is a massive outbreak of lung infection related cases.

Another ENT specialist looking after my case at this hospital in the heart of Delhi, said that five outbreaks of chest infection for a normal denizen being in 12 months has become commonplace in the national capital.

My heart would break when I would see my two year old nephew getting nebulized.

He would try to explain in sign language that something is wrong in his nose but could not. He is yet to learn words.

While buying medicines for myself, near the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, this month, I was appalled to see three vaporisers vanish from a chemist’s shop within five minutes.

Even as I stood, asking the chemist for drugs that could relieve my throat, a woman in a tattered sari was haggling with the chemist’s assistant. She was asking him to reduce the price of the vaporizer to Rs 200 ($3) from Rs 250 ($3.84) which he was charging. She pleaded for her 3 year old daughter, who was suffering from a pulmonary disease and admitted in AIIMS.

Failing to get the discount, she left the shop. But came back two minutes later, agreeing to the price. She said she could not see her daughter suffering, as she left the doorstep of the medicine shop.

I can empathize with her daughter’s pain. I have been unable to sleep properly myself since more than 30 days, despite having completed three doses of antibiotics. I bought the same vaporiser for Rs 250, after she left.

My wife, a chronic asthma patient left Delhi, a few months ago, after the pollution got really worse in winters, post Diwali. She had undergone a surgery and the coughing would open her stitches.

Switching on air conditioners in winters was the only way out for us, as air purifiers became in short supply, during the heavily polluted days of mid-November, even as Delhi government would blame the nearby states for failing to curb burning crop stubble.

Perhaps, its smoking the heavily polluted air of the capital since last several years, that has given me this chronic condition, bordering bronchial asthama.

Moving out of the capital, for a few months, for the time being, seems the only choice left. I called the capital home, for most of my working career.

In search of cleaner air and let my lungs and body recuperate, am moving for a few months to New Zealand, which would be three times as closer to Antarctica than Delhi.

Even India’s smaller cities, have started ranking high above in the world’s most polluted cities, posing danger to the pulmonary health of our children and the elderly.

A healthier India is a prerequisite to ‘Startup India’ or ‘Make in India’, Prime Minister Modi should understand.

feedback: harsimran@startupanz.com