“My Delhi is clean”


Vendors in the rich people’s Defence Colony Market are selling a whole range of masks by now. A vogmask costs Rs 2000, that would be several days of salary for a construction worker (who never are provided masks, despite the powder and dusk).

The air pollution in Delhi has become so bad that I only venture out with a mask in front of my mouth now. Be it in a car with the AC on, my fitness class in the local park or a walk to the local market: The air I breathe is filtered.

While I was traveling with the mask in the metro, a young man started to act weird. When I tried to move towards the door as I wanted to deboard at Chhattarpur Metro Station, he blocked my way. I didn’t think much of it and squeezed my body around him.

When the doors of the train opened, he stumbled out with me, and snatching off my mask in the move. As both ends of the mask are fixed with a rubber behind my ears, this wasn’t so easy. I got hold of the mask. And I shouted.

Immediately several men around me acted. They grabbed the youngster and didn’t let him run away as he intended to do. Everybody thought he must’ve touched me inappropriately. Even I had that idea. But I looked down at me and realized: He didn’t.

As nothing was missing and I wasn’t molested, I would have let him run. But one of the men holding on to the guy apparently wanted to show me that a behavior like his is punished in India.

So he probed the obviously intoxicated guy. The youngster shouted over and over: “My Delhi is clean. I clean my Delhi.” It seemed to me that he felt offended when he saw me protecting myself against the smog and dust, as he thought with that act I would be insulting the city and it’s people.

The man who was determined to show me that there is law and order in the country dragged the youngster down the stairs to the entrance where the policemen are performing the security checks. The officials jumped to attention when they saw the commotion.

I repeated several times that I was unhurt and untouched – but to no avail. The youngster was taken away. I sincerely hope they didn’t treat him too harsh. Like it often happens, see here or here or here (background article on police lathi-charging being a colonial hangover here)


People with metal pots full of holy water


Nearly two years in India, and there are still religious festivals I’ve never heard of. At the moment, thousands, if not millions of “Kawarias” or devotees of Lord Shiva fetch water from the Ganges River, which is believed to be sacred.

It is the month of Shravan, so they actually trek bare food (or in trucks with loud blaring music) from their towns and villages in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to the river. Most of the devotees try to get to the Haridwar Neelkanth Mhadev Tempel to fetch the “ganga jal”, and then walk (or drive) back to their local Shiva temple, carrying the often decorated metal canisters on their shoulders. Back home the water is offered, that means poured over a phallus symbol, called the lingam.

Our photographer says never before has he seen so many people on the road for this pilgrimage. The routes are dotted with tents, where volunteers provide food, water, medicines and a resting place. National highways are closed so the devotees can trek along, these days everywhere saffron robes can be seen. “There are too many people who have nothing to do, really, so they go on a pilgrimage,” the photographer added.

For why exactly the devotees are undertaking the journey, what the purpose is – for that I didn’t get a satisfying answer. As always when I stumble upon religious rituals and ask: Why?

Why Delhi can’t use its sweeping vans

A man stood in the middle of the road, a shovel in his hand. He worked on a new lane, which was a little darker than the rest of the tarmac. Repeatedly, he walked up to a heap of a mix of tar and pebble, put something on his shovel, walked back, threw it on the ground, and tried to level it out. No roller, weighing tons, to solidify the sticky mass, no level, for a smooth surface, no measurements.

flyover in front of my colony

Since then, the ride over the flyover in front of my colony is even more bumpy than it already was. In fact, Delhi’s roads are so potholed that according to this article, the municipal corporations had to take their mechanical sweepers off the roads.

28 of these big vans were bought into the ciy only three years ago, but the machines, developed in Germany, didn’t work in India: the tarmac is too uneven, many parts of the roads constantly dug up, cars parked everywhere, heaps of sand and bricks for construction sides, and so on. Also the garbage dumps on footpaths, which appear everywhere in the city, were not removed.

The result: After the high-tech sweepers went through a road, manual sweepers had to clean up behind them. Now the expensive machines were put to rest.

Road manners

As it happens so often, a car was stopping on a main thoroughfare without any apparent reason, not bothering to drive into the parking lot to the left or looking for a quiet side road. The auto rickshaw driver in front of me had to stop behind the car and then tried to get into the traffic flow on the other lane. He kind of forced his way in – like everybody does.

His misfortune was: The car that had to slow down to not collide with the auto rickshaw was a police car, a fact the auto wallah apparently realised too late. As soon as the stopping car was overtaken, the auto wallah swung back in place. But now the policeman was angry. So he came next to the auto rickshaw and steered closer and closer, so that the tiny vehicle had to dodge more and more. I was directly behind the two and saw that on both sides of the auto rickshaw there were only centimeters left when the policemen finally ended his “I’m the boss of the road” showing of strength.

When I related the incident to my colleagues, they couldn’t understand me being upset. The situation on the roads now is quite okay, they reasoned, to what it was before. I apparently was completely different story before the TV channels started their 24/7 coverage and people, even scavenger, had cellphones to alert the journalists and were able to load up footage on social media sites. Back then policemen would routinely thrash offenders, or just beat them because they were not able to pay pribes, they told me. Technology and the possibility for normal people to spread what they have seen is a great form of supervision, a colleague said.

But still misbehaviour is happening. The Aam Aadmi Party recently published a clip from a cell phone of how two Delhi constables used their sticks, called lathis in India, to beat a guy in Lal Qila. Here’s the video.


abandoned car

useless? not for the clever Indian

This is not a very uncommon sight in India. A friend of mine now found a way to profit from the laziness of the Middle Class. He rented a breakdown vehicle and brought several unused cars to a recycling yard, where he got cash for the metal.

Delhi Traffic Police, offence and penal section


a rare sight in Delhi (and I don’t mean the Jaguar)

I couldn’t believe my eyes this morning, when I saw the Delhi Traffic Police approaching the driver of a Jaguar (!) car. The guy’s offence: he had crossed the stop line in front of a red light (which happens nearly every time at this crossing… or for that matter, anywhere in Delhi).

— By the way: I heard of a study pointing out that more than half of Delhi’s professional drivers think the white lines on the roads are “just for orientation”, and not marking any lanes they have to stick to.

Anyway, so the policeman asked the Jaguar driver to pull over. And then he was actually writing a ticket for him, instead of pocketing a bribe.

Later on I learnt from @sethrishi that the fining wasn’t such an amazing thing, because the car is registered in Ludhiana, a city in Punjab. “I’d wait till they stop a Delhi registered car,” he wrote via Twitter. I really see his point and will keep my eyes open (presumably in vain).

Later on my colleague told me of her experiences as a commuter. Once she got told by a policeman that each police station has to write a certain amount of tickets each month. So when they need some more in the end, they swarm out and fine people for things they normally overlook. Like crossing white lines. So it happened to her.

The other day she was making a U-turn where she wasn’t allowed to do so. Police jumped out from behind a tree and stopped her. The penalty for that offence is 1000 rupees (here is the list of what costs what), and as her driver was following her in the second family car, this turn would have amounted to 2000 rupees.

She rummaged around in her bag and first found a 500-rupee-note. While she took it out and wanted to reach into the bag for more, the policeman took the note and said: Okay, you can go. “So what do you do?” my colleague asked. “Insisting on getting a bill and pay 1500 more?” She decided to drive off.

By the way, above mentioned list brings to light some interesting perceptions of the Delhi police on traffic violations. Whereas red light jumping is fined with only 100 rupees (1,2 Euro), over speeding costs 400 rupees. It’s also forbidden to drive without horn – but there is no fee for honking inside the city (okay, that is not overly surprising).

How to keep warm in Kashmir

People in Kashmir’s mountains have to keep themselves warm in long, chilling winters. So they carry around a basket full of hot charcoals, known as Kangdi, and fit it underneath their long, woolen coats. The basket is either hold around the stomach or the back – an extremely effective heater, I was told. But is it safe?

scene in Tangmarg

A scene in Tangmarg, where tourists have to change from normal cars to jeeps in order to reach the ski resort Gulmarg. The ride uphill is nearly as much fun as downhill, as there are no cars with 4 wheel drive and some go with just one (!) snow chain

Morning walk


Did they stop here to oil their wings?

Is Delhi the most polluted city in the world?

air quality boardEvery morning, I ride my bicycle along the digital display in front of Mausam Bhawan, the Meteorological Department at Lodhi Road. In the winter month, I very often only see one colour there: red. Which means that the air quality is very, very bad, unhealthy, and, in fact, beyond measurement.

So far, not many people are concerned about that in Delhi. In fact, the choking hazyness is mostly referred to as “fog” instead of “smog”, which it actually is.

After the Hindustan Times ran a front-page report , which said Delhi is now the most polluted city in the world, and had actually surpassed Bejing, that previously was regarded to hold this doubious honour, the Indian media finally woke up.

But: Only the media. I haven’t heard of anybody buying a mask now or purchasing an air purifier (well, I might buy one pretty soon for me as well as the office). And the official reaction was – instead of banning cars from the road or slashing out fines on polluting industries or trying to step up electricity supply, so that the poor don’t have to burn waste in the streets to warm themselves and the rich don’t use their diesel generators – so instead of thinking of any logic measure, politics is in a status of denial.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences issued a statement, saying that “unusual meteorological conditions are playing a pivotal role in increased frequency of extreme pollution events dominated by fine particulates”. So, basically, “cooler temperatures” and “calm winds” are to blame.

Then the ministry goes on talking about the “fact” that levels of the very dangerous pollutants with less than 2.5 microns in diameter — scientifically called PM 2.5 — are much lower in Delhi than in Beijing. (These tiny beasts are able to get into the blood and are therefore considered being especially harmful and causing cancer.)

But are the levels really lower?

When I looked up the measurements of the US embassy in Beijing and compared them to the ones from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee at Punjabi Bagh, I found there were more days with a PM2.5 level above 301 (“hazardous”, according to the US embassy) in the Indian capital than in the Chinese city.

By the way, the embassy’s advise at this level is: “Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.” Well, I ride my bicycle…

For that I got scolded by researcher and activist Kamal Meattle, who grows his own fresh air. Really. After being told by his doctors that Delhi’s air will kill him some 20 years ago, he started experimenting. And found out that a combination of three common plants in a house or office building lead to measurably cleaner indoor air.

Nowadays, at his Paharpur Business Centre, all air is sucked in at the top, then water filtered, enriched by the plants, further cleaned, and then pumped into the different levels of the building – which is under permanent overpressure, so that no bad Delhi air is coming in through small gaps.

He claims, and I believe him after inhaling the good air in the building, that people inside have less eye irritations, breathing problems, headachse and in fact actually work more efficiently. (Here is his TED video.)

But back to the pollution levels outside.

Smog over Ring Road

In a study by Yale university India lands on rank 174 of 178 countries in terms of air quality. Looking more into detail, in the category “Air Pollution – Average Exposure to PM2.5”, India slips to rank 177. Guess who is 178? Right: China.

The new government under the “common man party” doesn’t seem to be looking into the problem. And so there might be more denial to come. Last year’s infamous words of the then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit still ring in my ears, when she told “The Hindu” the real reason for the smog: “And we discovered that much of the smoke which is hanging over Delhi is actually due to burning of rice stalks in the paddy fields in neighbouring Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. It is as if it is deliberately being done to choke Delhi.’’

Stark behaviour calls for stark measures

deflated tyres

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