14th January 2020: Alarm rang at 0700hrs. The window showed a cold foggy morning. I was soon lulled back to slumber in the comfortable bubble of my bedroom.
When the fog was significantly visible at 08:30, as I stepped out of my house, is when my senses went haywire. It was the middle of January and there had not been a single foggy day in winter so far, nothing strange there as I live in Chennai, not Delhi. It was a refreshing change of scene until the reality of what I was breathing in really hit me.
The smell was undeniable! And then I recalled what a colleague had mentioned about a tradition of Pongal celebration.
I rushed to my office to monitor the data being captured by Breathe a Do-It-Yourself Air Quality Monitor developed by Reap Benefit, suitable for monitoring air quality in and around residential and office complexes. Sure enough, the Air Quality Index was off the charts, even inside the closed doors of the office. The LCD showed a horrifying value of 618!
When on a normal, day to day basis, the value varies between 50-60. There was no visible difference in the air inside the office, I was shocked to discover the reach of particulate matter generated by open burning.
That is when I decided to share the pictures of AQI data going off the charts with my colleagues. I discovered that there was a general buzz on all social media platforms surrounding the fog that had taken over the landscape of Chennai city.
People were sharing pictures and videos of their daily mundane commute to work suddenly made exciting by this encroachment of smoke. I found it interesting and deeply disturbing at some level.
How many of us would remember a single morning of another day that our lungs were invaded in this manner?
So, I decided to dig a little deeper into the data collected by the Do it Yourself Air Quality Monitor- Breathe. I analyzed the daily trends of air quality on an hourly basis.
While on a daily basis the air quality hovers between “moderate” to “unhealthy for sensitive people” inside our residential and office complexes, on this particular day the air quality went from bad to worse and stayed that way for a good part of the morning. Touching the hazardous zone and staying there for two hours straight.
If just a few hours of few people burning “old things” in order to make way for the new can have such a visible and drastic impact on the environment for everyone, imagine what happens during Dussera, Diwali, New Years’, each time India wins a cricket match or at any wedding for that matter.
What would be the impact if the same practices are allowed to foster if the young generation gives into the practices that are clearly out of time and out of place?
The price of inaction is way too high in this case when the warning signs are in front of us, visible and clearly distinguishable in odor.
Let us pledge in spirit of this new decade to look beyond blind convictions, to let go of the dogmatic practices that may have been relevant in generations past, let us pledge to dig deep into our roots and discover together the authentic value of our traditions.
Where in bhogi could be a beautiful day of giving back to the community and really embracing the clean up the spirit to reduce re-use and up-cycle the materials irrelevant in our homes.
(Tejas is an ex-mariner and an aspiring singer. Currently, he is working with Reap Benefit in Capacity Building of Youngsters to tackle local civic and environmental problems. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter)
(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)