“When Deepikah Bhardwaj was a child in New Delhi, she would look forward to the arrival of the Indian winter. The mornings would become chilly and crisp, while evenings were pleasantly cool. But in recent years, that sense of anticipation turned to dread.
“With falling temperatures came a thick smog, leaving her short of breath and afraid to go outside. After her son was born in 2016, she decided it was time to act. These days, when she thinks of Delhi, her main emotion is relief at having escaped.
“I feel bad that I cannot go back to my home city, ever,” said Bhardwaj, 33, sitting in her light-filled apartment in the state of Goa on India’s western coast, more than 1,000 miles from Delhi. “It’s a feeling of permanent loss, like a friend who didn’t say goodbye.”
“Bhardwaj is part of a small but growing contingent of what might be called pollution refugees: people who have decided that the only way to cope with Delhi’s staggering pollution is to run from it. Some, like Bhardwaj, have left the Indian capital for Goa, while others have decamped for Bangalore, Mumbai or even Canada.
“The phenomenon appears limited to an elite few — a trickle in comparison to the influx of people who arrive in Delhi every day in search of economic opportunity. But the departures pose a pointed rebuke to the city’s expanding ambitions: How great is a city if its air causes some of the people who live there to flee?
“According to the World Health Organization, Delhi has the most polluted air of any major metropolis in the world. The causes are multiple — vehicle exhaust, construction dust, industrial emissions, crop burning in nearby states — and exacerbated by geographic factors.
“The “pollution season” in greater Delhi, home to 29 million people, begins in October and persists for months. November and December bring the worst readings of the year: Last week, the level of the particulate matter considered most harmful to human health spiked for several hours to more than 40 times the level recommended by the WHO before receding. Such particles can lodge deep within the lungs and have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory infections and even cancer.”
Text: Joanna Slater, India’s pollution refugees: People are fleeing Delhi because of the toxic air, Washington Post.
Image: Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge the Sun in a Fog, 1903. “Faced with a polluted industrial landscape […] artists abandoned realism and sought out beauty in the modern urban environment. Inspired by contemporary art theory and poetry, their works are rich in environmental, political and metaphysical overtones” – Turner, Whistler, Monet – Aesthetics, Pollution and the City, 2005.