Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown — said, Shakespeare. But what if there are too many heads which wear the crown or a crown which spreads over too many heads? Well, then everyone rests! And that’s precisely my story. The heart of a nation and with heart in my name — I am the capital of one of the fastest growing population of the world. My name? Delhi!
A union territory in the past, a state at present, I am adorned with a package of ministers and a lieutenant governor. And if that wasn’t enough, the nation’s supreme minister still holds my reins for many issues and terrains! Privileged and special one may think, but I am a case of a confused identity with accountability going to nil! A unique case of ownership loss and blame games.
Coming back to this important state of my heads as they sleep and rest; mind you, it’s a special one where they behave like Gandhiji’s three monkeys. Though selectively, but stopping to see, hear and speak. They need several petitions and noise from the entire universe to wake them up from their slumber as they engage in a continuous tug of war with other parties and stakeholders.
Recently, the monster called smog almost suffocated me to death so much so that experts compared it with the Great Smog of London. As I coughed and choked, the entire gamut of state heads slept in their special slumber. When citizens asked for action, they were told to get signed petitions numbering thousands as if the smog wasn’t enough. What a display of neglect and inaction! Busy people, you see — lots of work needs lots of sleep even while it was getting difficult to breathe! While my sun and skies got obscured by poison, there were shocking revelations when a humble citizen tried to use his right to information. It was disheartening to see how my leaders slept on crores which had been collected in the name of taxes and grants to protect my environment and me.
As I write this, I’m feeling nostalgic. Things weren’t this bad always. Once upon a time, I had everything. I was irresistible and beautiful, full of life with freshness in air and water. I was green and energetic, exuberant and chirping. Crackling with the sound of laughter of old, young and children who played and spent time outdoors. I delighted everyone who came and embraced me. Life of many, a hope for many. I adopted anybody and everybody who needed me. But in return, I got neglect and apathy. When my surrounding cousins burnt stubble, I bore the brunt, while everyone in the leadership played their favourite game of passing the buck, even the weather Gods weren’t spared.
The MLAs and the municipal councillors kept fighting their own tug of war. Even when the statistics showed road dust as one of the major sources of pollution, it couldn’t convince anyone to fix my roads. These people fought and cried on who owned which stretch and who had more funds to fill the cracks of my broken roads. How I wish if Modiji’s “Swachh Bharat” narrative could also include “swachh hawa” and do away with traditional brooming which cleans the roads but chokes everyone’s lungs.
“Sharing is caring” is what I believe our kids are taught at school and at home. But what happens to my citizens when it comes to sharing public transport? Sinhaji and many of his ilk still can’t leave the mithya of “each one, have one” when it comes to cars and vehicles owned by them. For convenience and luxury of the earning members and a symbol of pride for mummyji and papaji at home! While Vermaji from Rajouri still isn’t ready to accept waste segregation at his home, Guptaji from Lajpat evades getting his diesel and petrol commercial vehicles pollution checked.
My cousin cities welcomed the festival exodus this year and the friendly countries are basking in pride of attracting the talent pool and young children away from me. I feel helpless and concerned, but after all, my air hasn’t given them much beyond masks, purifiers, cancellations, reschedules and many days of literal house arrest!
It’s a cycle I witness every year around November. Media; Noise; Petitions, discussions and then reset; back to normal. Loopback next year!
But I haven’t lost hope. My hope is in every child who pledged not to burn a single firecracker this time, the child who also got their family and neighbors refrain from doing so and every citizen who signed several petitions and took even a small step in changing a bit in their immediate world. This year, maybe my citizens would break the loop and not stop working for clean air till the colours change to orange or yellow.
Wishing for better air and a beautiful winter sun in days to come, this is your city, your Delhi — breathing at an AQI level oscillating between severe and very bad — signing off!