Being a foreign correspondent in New Delhi is hard. A decent house? Only Lutyens, or the diplomatic zone will do. (The rent is a small matter: In addition to a ‘hardship posting allowance’, the publication will pay either most, or all of it.) A halfway-decent education for one’s kids? Only the American school will do. (Never mind the fact that international universities have pitched tent here to woo Indian kids educated locally). Finally, there are the biggest horrors: ‘Insistent beggars’, ‘endemic dengue’, ‘public defecation’ and urination, as Gardiner Harris, the outgoing correspondent for the New York Times outlined in detail in an article last week.
All these evils were researched by the Harrises before moving here in 2012. But the lure of the US dollar buying servants and expensive luxury must have outweighed them and also Delhi’s biggest problem: Air pollution. For, despite having a child prone to respiratory ailments, the Harrises came.
On a television debate last week, the journalist for the publication acclaimed for its thorough research — ludicrously told this writer he had “never heard of air pollution in Delhi till last year.” This writer pointed out that reams had appeared on the subject in 2012 itself. And that HT, for one, had been carrying scathing reports on air pollution for aeons, many of which had prompted official action. But my microphone got mysteriously switched off and those points remained unheard. Instead, the anchor scolded this writer for being in denial of the ‘wider issue’. ‘What do you think WE should take away when we have the NYT reporter’ (ergo God)’ writing such a piece?” she insisted.
The other panelists did point to the ‘wider issue’: That industrialised countries must first curtail their own emissions and not bully emerging economy India to do so. Harris said nothing. Instead, he suggested a cake-bread solution: Every Indian ought to instal ‘air purifiers’.
Harris’s parting story in the NYT had ended with the plaintive whinge that ‘Indians don’t care’ (whereas China does). Indeed, the moronic comparison between information-censored China and democratic India ran like a smug strain throughout the piece.
Yes, China was polluted too, he wrote. But despite it, his friends in China had decided to stay on there, whereas he was compelled to leave India.
Inadvertently and through those last lines of an article that was ostensibly on the effects of air pollution upon his child but replete with unconnected tangents like defecating Indians, festering seepage (in tony Shanti Niketan) and the stinking Yamuna, Harris tripped himself up. It was obviously not pollution alone, but reeking, festering, stinking INDIA that they were fleeing from.
When this writer suggested that it would take time to restore Delhi’s air, the anchor interrupted loudly and handed the floor back to Harris, “who had given us something to think about”. Why do such foreign writers come to India at all? And why do Indian journalists take their words as the Gospel Truth? We know the answers.
To quote an American reporter-friend who has lived here for decades and was disgusted by Harris’ article: “There goes another bitch-slapper. Good riddance.”