Expats Plan Their Delhi Escape: Some Temporarily, Others For Good

The truth hurts. No doubt some of us will get ‘offended’ but these expats speak frankly about Delhi’s air pollution 

Published
Environment
3 min read

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

Sometimes you wait for a situation to get better and then you realise it just got worse. This is the predicament that expatriates living in New Delhi find themselves in when they wait each year for the air quality to improve during what is now famously seen around the world as Delhi’s deadly pollution season.

Considered privileged and elitist when they speak about air quality, Delhi’s expatriates find themselves having to justify their frustration and worries for the health of their children because complaining can seem too much like a ‘first-world perspective’. But these expatriate mothers with close ties to Delhi are telling us exactly what the capital’s noxious air pollution is doing to each of us and why leaving temporarily, if not permanently, is becoming necessary.

A Posting In New Delhi, Once Coveted, Is Now...

Pallavi Aiyar, the author of ‘Choked! Inside The World’s Most Polluted Cities’’ is also the wife of a European diplomat posted in Japan. Having long wished for a posting to Delhi, her home town, Pallavi says she won’t live in New Delhi now even if she has the opportunity. Here’s why.

‘’ In Embassy circles, for people with young children, a posting to New Delhi is almost seen on par with a war zone or somewhere with serious civil strife. The environmental stresses in particular, the air pollution has more or less made it a hardship posting and people have offered monetary incentives but are still finding it difficult to persuade people to move there and embassies are struggling to fill posts.’’
Pallavi Aiyar, Autor, ‘Choked’

But for many foreign nationals, Delhi is home and it’s hard to leave. Having the ‘choice’ does not make it easier.

“Because of the pollution, I am looking at the possibility of either moving to London or to Melbourne but my work and business is here so it is very difficult.”
Sarah, Swimwear Designer married to a Delhiite

Then Came The Last Straw... Why This Family Left

“The defining moment when I knew we had to leave Delhi was when we went to a birthday party in the most beautiful part of Delhi. There were bouncy castles, catering, all the fun and games that any child would want, yet half of the children were wearing face masks. But this is not Delhi for me. The next day my husband booked tickets.”
Michelle Sharma, Primary School Teacher, relocated to Goa three years ago

While the privileged in Delhi use expensive air purifiers and masks, unheard of a few years ago, Katherine Mehta, a mother of three, has this to say:

“I think that masks and air purifiers, while necessary, aren’t a long-term solution because if anything, they make people more complacent about long-term behavioural and policy changes that are needed to see air pollution reduce to a healthy level in our lifetimes.”
Katherine Mehta, Education Consultant, New Delhi

Yet sometimes Delhi’s residents can be seen to prefer to ignore the problem. As Dida, a fitness instructor from Israel who is here in Delhi for her husband’s work, observed.

“Sometimes I’m told, “Why do you worry, we’ll all die younger that’s all, don’t make a big issue out of it.’’ I love India and I love everything about being in Delhi. But this is an issue. Let’s solve this together, I know we can.”
Dida, Fitness Instructor from Israel, Delhi Resident

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