Diwali Crackers Ban: How Delhi Air Cost My Daughter Her Lungs
Diwali used to be a time of happiness, a time to celebrate. Not a time for sickness or burning eyes.
I am a sucker for festivals. There, I’ve said it. I love them in all shapes and sizes. Christmas, Holi, Diwali, Gurpurab, Eid – I love them all. But if you pressed hard, I would confess that Diwali tops my list any day.
There is something about Diwali-time in Delhi. The entire city seems to wake up from the sluggish post-monsoon humidity, and there’s a definite buzz in the air. Everything is festive and lit up; people are dressed in all their finery (and we Delhiites do like to dress up) and card parties are alive with the tinkling of glasses and guffawing laughter.
Or atleast that is what I felt about Diwali season until two years ago.
It was 2015 and my favourite day of the year had rolled in. My family had flown in from all over the world and the house was full of chatter and joy.
Over the years, I lost interest in crackers. Diwali for me was all about diyas, good food, and family. But my daughter was growing up and on others’ insistence, I agreed that she could light a few sparklers (also called phooljhadis).
I did not want to play spoilsport and besides, wasn’t it important for her to understand how the festival was typically celebrated? I told myself these things as I watched the fumes from the sparklers cloud up the veranda, and after a few, I ushered her indoors, safely away from the pollution. Or so I thought.
As I sat awake at 3 am that night, my four-year-old daughter throwing up incessantly and coughing her lungs out, for the life of me I couldn’t recall why I thought a few crackers wouldn’t hurt.
With each racking cough that shook her tiny little body, I berated my lack of good sense, and for the first time I believed I had failed as a mother.
The cloudy aftermath of Diwali lasted more than a month, further fuelled by crop burning in Punjab. My cook’s son fell gravely ill too, as did 14 children out of 20 in my daughter’s class, all in the week post Diwali.
Delhi looked like one large gas chamber, and we all resorted to wearing masks in order to breathe better. The 2.5 PM levels went up to unprecedented 800-900, way above the ‘safe’ level of 50.
Delhi was officially named as the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization.
When I walked into a chemist to purchase medicines for my daughter’s seemingly chronic cough, I saw a mother buying a mask for her son to wear. I rightly guessed she were a labourer and she did not have enough money to buy food for that night. She knew that if her son did not wear a mask, she would be buying medicines that were far more expensive.
Effect of Polluted Air on Lungs
The next day at work, I was working on a comparative analysis of masks available in the market. For research, I spoke to a few paediatricians and started reading up on studies. What I found turned my blood cold.
Nearly half of Delhi’s 4.4 million schoolchildren will never recover full lung capacity. Many of their lungs mirror those of a chain smoker, their only fault being that they inhale the polluted air around them.
These are not short-term effects or an illness that will go away. The air that my daughter was breathing was not allowing her organs to fully develop. This would scar her for life.
This and only this was the trigger that finally led me to take the heart-breaking decision to move out of the country for a few years, so her body could heal and develop in a healthy environment.
Heart-breaking because I never thought in a million years that my insistence to live in this city that I loved, a country that I was immensely passionate about, would cost my daughter her lungs.
Also read: How Clean Is the Air Around You?
Moving out Was a Drastic Step
The change was startling. From the day she was born till the day I moved out, like clockwork my daughter fell ill every month.
Every four weeks, sometimes even three, she would get an allergic cough, congestion in her lungs, and eventually high fever.
She went through countless antibiotic courses, and at the innocent age of four, could nebulise herself. In the eight months that we have lived in cleaner air, she has (touchwood) not fallen ill once. Not even once. And that is the first time in her tiny life that she has been medicine free for that long.
Moving out was a drastic step, one that I wish I was not compelled into. But it may not be an option for millions of other parents in Delhi.
But, What Should Be Done?
There are things we can do.
Like saying a loud NO to crackers. Not one sparkler, not a pretty anar. Not even one.
I even bribed my household help by paying their children’s school fee if they promised not to allow their children to buy or burst crackers. My cook, however, did not need the motivation. She had seen first-hand the ill-effects of her son bursting crackers and vowed never to let him do so again.
I would also suggest that if you can, buy an air purifier and use it in your children’s room when they sleep. It will at least give them a long stretch of ten hours to breathe clean air every night. I bought a couple for myself and for family too. What better Diwali gift to give than the gift of clean air?
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the 2.5 PM level (it is published real time online) and whenever it goes above 150 or at worst 200, use an N95 mask.
Diwali used to be a time of happiness, a time to celebrate. Not a time for sickness, for traffic jams and burning eyes.
Let us bring back the joy to Diwali.
Let us bring back the festival which would have families wanting to fly into Delhi and not flying out to avoid the pollution.
Let us show compassion, for our children, for each other, and for our city that is slowly suffocating itself to death.
Don’t pass the buck, don’t be a bystander. It starts with you and it starts with me. Let us not burn crackers this Diwali.
(Harnoor Channi-Tiwary is a marketing specialist who wandered into the world of writing and never left. She has been writing about food, travel and health for more than a decade. Harnoor writes for notable publications including JW Marriott Magazine, The CEO Magazine, HT Mint and until recently, steered the editorial direction for NDTV Food as Content Head. She blogs at TheThoughtExpress, posts on Twitter and Instagram as @HCdines and now lives in Singapore.)
(Breathe In, Breathe Out: Are you finding it tough to breathe polluted air? Join hands with FIT in partnership with #MyRightToBreathe to find a solution to pollution. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp @ +919999008335)
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