Monday, June 01, 2015

Dilli Chalo to Dilli se Bhaago

Gardiner Harris is leaving Delhi, but he is not doing so quietly. He has kicked up quite the storm on both main stream (MSM) and social media by writing about the deadly cocktail of air and water pollution & food borne diseases & flies in our Rajdhani – New Delhi.

Let me back up a bit and give the context to this post. Gardiner Harris is the South Asia correspondent of the New York Times in New Delhi who is leaving the city and India for good because his son was not able to take the pollution that is freely on offer in the city.  

His NYT article, carried by the TOI in India, was quite scathing about Delhi though the language itself was mild. In one emotional sentence he said raising kids in New Delhi is sheer irresponsibility on the part of those parents who could afford to leave the city but who continued to stay on. This was so because the consequences of staying in a polluted environment, like impaired lung function etc, have an outsize impact on a child’s later life.

But my immediate and considered reaction is not to Gardiner’s choice of leaving the country or to his kid’s health issue or even to that of Delhi’s pollution per se.

My reaction is to something much more remarkable – the sober response of Indians to this post online.

The response to this article on various social media sites and in the comment sections of TOI and other papers has been supportive to a very large extent. So much so that it might be an actual first.

I spent quite some time going through the comments section on the article on TOI, and, since this news has been picked up by other sources, the comments on those pages too. And surprise of surprise, almost 95% of the comments has been in support of Gardiner’s claim that Delhi is a terrible city to live in and raise kids due to its abysmal air quality.

No pointless tiranga waving nationalism on display, no racist undertones detected, no ‘why did you even bother coming to India?’ comments and no jingoistic tirade against The Arrogant American. This is especially surprising because the said American wrote a nasty, error-filled article about Narendra Modi at the beginning of his Prime Ministerial campaign a year and half earlier.

What explains this change? I ask this question because usually whenever any foreigner talks about the negatives or perceived negatives in or about India, Indians (the ones online) pick up cudgels on behalf of India and Indians everywhere. Even if their defence makes no sense, even if the defence is jingoistic nonsense and even if they do not seem to have understood half of what the author has been trying to say.

The most horrendous behavior of this kind was on display last year when Maria Sharapova said that she did not know who Sachin Tendulkar was. Indians went crazy online; abusing her on her FB page, calling her ignorant, saying she was worthless and so on.

And now a Modi bashing American journalist who has just said that Delhi is a shitty place to live in gets support on online fora? What’s going on?

There are only a couple of reasons that I can think of for this very restrained and supportive reaction – the situation in Delhi is so atrocious that not even the most thin-skinned of India Bhakts can deny the same. Or it could be because Delhi and/or Delhiites are hated so much across the country that the rest of us don’t mind accepting that Delhi is actually a shit place to live, love and raise a child.

Me thinks it is the former. Study after study has pointed out that the pollution level is getting out of hand. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) website gives an in-depth look at the pollution level on a real time basis and those figures are truly scary.

So the “Delhi is really unfit for living” hypothesis explains the reason behind the Sober Online Indian. Ah, mystery solved.   

There is, however, this tiny voice which suggests a possible third reason.

Could it be that Indians, in general, have suddenly become very polite and accommodating and mindful of the serious flaws that exist within us and within our country? And that they are comfortable enough in their own skins to accept criticism from any source?

We are probably getting there but let’s wait and watch, after all one swallow does not make a summer.

1 comment:

P.V.Rajgopal said...

All cities in the world have their own levels and kinds of pollution. Delhi is the most polluted in India. One wonders now how the British could stay and work in this country for 200 years.