It’s Christmas and the festivity is tangible in the air. For this season of joy, I had come up with a plan so bizarre, it would make the cast of Ocean’s faint. I, in all my glory, had decided to go to Delhi to spend my hard-earned Christmas vacation with a friend. In hindsight, I should have just Netflixed. Well-meaning neighbours (read: irritating) abound with their overly gratuitous advice about how Goa is THE place to be at during Christmas; little do they realise that I am practically Goan. One of the main tenets of the Bible is to love your neighbour; well, we see how that works out.
And so, dawned the fateful hour that I landed in Delhi. As I stepped out of the plane, I was greeted by a wall of fog. Noted historian and author William Dalrymple has called Delhi the ‘City of Djinns’. Well, the djinns here seem to have contracted a virulent strain of jaundice. A resident of verdant Goa, I was shocked by the sheer amount of particulate matter in the air. One would expect the capital city, the face of the country, to be a well-tended, planned metropolis. But, the sooner I perish this thought the better for me. Difficult that it was for me to breathe such poisonous air, I managed to secure a cab for myself, and thus I was introduced to an excuse of a city.
As I pulled out of the airport, the cab immediately became a part of the stationary mosaic of bumper to bumper traffic. The cab was filled with the smell of tobacco and cigarettes, supplied with great gusto by the driver. Talk about jumping from the fry pan of muggy Delhi air into the fire of a smoke-filled car. As for visibility, I doubt if Pinocchio could’ve seen the end of his nose even if he didn’t lie all day.
Soaring minarets and graceful cupolas passed as mere blobs of darker grey and ochre in a vividly dull panorama of yellows and greys. Providing an almost orchestra-esque counterpoint to this yellow canvas is the frigid temperament of our fellow drivers, much like the temperature of the city itself. At the slightest of provocations, starts a blaring band of honks and horns accompanied by a stream of expletives, which, most often earns them a mouth wash with lye.
Patience is a virtue. Here patience seems to be sin.
Amidst all of that blaring chorus of my cab driver’s relished Sapna Choudhary song which he didn’t mind asking me about before playing, I could hear my asphyxiated lungs humming ‘Accha chalta hoon , duaaon mein yaad rakhna’ followed by Adele’s blockbuster ‘Never mind I’ll find someone like you…’. The restless honking and cacophony crafted by the ginormous traffic soothed my eardrums instead. It felt like my driver was driving through the clouds; not the usual, but some acidic, misty and yellowish sulphur clouds. It was pure bliss to gaze at modern-time Taj Mahal along with the eternal thrill and feels of mountainous terrain between blaring party honks; all, just at an elevation of 216 meters.
With zero visibility outside, my brain became enlightened and at that time I bet I could’ve definitely defeated Lucy’s 100 percent activated brain. I skimmed upon the very thought, “What would be the, ‘The thing of beauty’ for John Keats here?” Maybe a sky-scraping AQI value, choking layers and layers of yellow wilderness, pious winds adorned by emissions of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, the immortal shrieks of asthmatic patients and, the black and bleak future of this doomed city.
While my seemingly endless list was about to get completed, I could feel my nostrils being recklessly tortured by a purging smell that was much worse than the sulphur-infused smell that my nose now was totally familiar with. My driver, while giving curls to his macho moustache, said, “Namaste Sahab! Welcome to Dilli. This is the largest dumpyard of the city!” I was delighted to add another ‘thing of beauty’ to my list. No offense intended to the beautiful Akshardham temple or to the Lotus temple. But at least that dumpyard had a smell; these guys just seemed shrouded under moronic layers of pale yellow colour.
My driver, a man with total integrity and morality, started puffing in a cigarette. Obviously he lacked intellect-he was wasting his hard-earned money. I, being the more enlightened soul here, suggested him to stand outside for just five minutes and experience an even more satisfying ‘puff-session’ absolutely free of cost. He took my advice seriously and gave me a death stare. It seemed I had exposed his age old scars like that beaming sunray which exposes the dark, rampant blemishes of a bleeding soul.
He muttered, while puffing in his cigarette, “Bhaisahab! We are the ones suffering here, tormented just because of careless incineration of cash crops by neighbouring farmers of Punjab, Haryana and U.P, carelessness and negligence of the government…, the ‘Even and Odd’ scheme is a sheer scam, no air purifiers have been installed… They haven’t even made air masks available free of cost!”
I was totally awestruck by his debating skills. He had a great point; it is the sole duty of the government to provide freebies without expecting any taxes from people. He was then soaked with reminiscence, blazing nostalgia and said, “Dilli isn’t always that dull and bleached with this misty yellow. You should have seen the glittering colours that were rippling here at the gorgeous night of Deepawali.” With a spark in his eyes, he continued, “We capitalise on our awesome unity; our colony itself collectively managed to pool in 1 lakh rupees for beautiful crackers. Ah! That mesmerizing glitter in the sky, you just get to see that once in a year!”
He was flawless this time. One should never waste that once in a year opportunity, when we all are somehow beautiful, cute cats with at least nine lives to live.
We live in a world where ‘Survival of the Fittest’ prevails and so we don’t need to care about people ailing from respiratory diseases. We don’t need to carpool at all because if you’ve got it, you should flaunt it. It does no bad to burn wood, as it is the only way to get relief from this shivering cold while also staying close to nature. There isn’t any need to install air purifiers at homes: how can we afford to spend on totally futile things and wobble our budgets? We are already so much stressed by the hustle and bustle of our tiring, gloomy lives that this is something we can solely rely on the government for to take some immediate actions.
So long in a cab, discounting traffic is a miracle in itself. I wondered what was taking so long. Hell knew, heaven suspected. The stench around me was so horrible that it approached fragrance from the opposite side, and, judging by the looming patches of darker yellow, we seemed to be going in veritable circles. At every turn the driver turned around with a deprecating smile and gave me every variant of ‘Sir, fog, sir!’. I should have suspected something was up. Later rather than sooner, we arrived at our destination, and I was shocked by the limits the fare had reached. It gave ‘The sky is the limit’ a more personal meaning. With a lot of grumbling on my side and a series of firm no’s on the driver’s, I finally paid up and stepped out, to get to my friend’s place across the road.
This single crossing taught me that everyone, from pedestrians to truckers, yield to the two-wheelers. As I stepped into safe haven, I was enlightened to the fact that we had come by a rather circuitous route, which conveniently explained the fare. Convinced that everybody was laughing at me, I stomped in to my allotted room, cursing with every ounce of my being, a creed not specific to Delhi, but to all of India: TAXI DRIVERS!
Article by: Lakshya Singh, Gautam Khare, Shreyas More
Poster by: Kartik Choubisa
(Image courtesy: https://m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/post-diwali-pollution-in-delhi-likely-to-be-lower-than-last-3-years-safar/articleshow/71786277.cms)