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Don’t panic: Here’s an easy guide to staying sane this smog season

Since there is no escaping the Delhi pollution, a city resident tries to make the best of the situation and puts together an advisory on how to survive the smog attack.

more lifestyle Updated: Nov 11, 2017 14:02 IST
Sneha Khaund
Sneha Khaund
Hindustan Times
Smog,Delhi Smog,Delhi air pollution
Vehicles drive through heavy smog in Delhi on November 8, 2017. (REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)

I woke up on Tuesday morning to a literary fantasy: nothingness. Influenced by heavyweight titles such as Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, I sometimes get carried away by the wings of poesy to float on the most inane of metaphors. I regret to report that this morning my encounter with nothingness was most unsatisfactory. High-flown metaphors rendered useless as a solid block of nothingness confronted me.

Forgive me, but since being away from the country for the past two years, I had somewhat forgotten the full impact of desi air pollution. As such, my reaction this morning on waking up to literally leaden skies and being surrounded by a thick blanket of homegrown fairy dust was raving and ranting like a woman possessed. I was apoplectic: how could one be expected to live in this situation? The resulting effect was a mental breakdown with me crying on the way to work and driving my colleagues mad with doomsday declarations.

The smog situation in Delhi is by many yardsticks a public health crisis.

Cows stand by the side of a road as a truck drives with lights on through smog in Greater Noida, near New Delhi, on November 8, 2017. ( AP Photo/R S Iyer )

But clearly, there’s not much of an escape. So perhaps it’s best to deal with the symptoms and the first order of business is tackling panic attacks when dealing with environmental disasters. While pundits endlessly debate on the best-practice strategies and tried-and-tested coping mechanisms such as going out for a walk to clear one’s head are definitely not an option here are some ways to stay sane during smog season:

1. Dress the part: The commonest way to deal with air pollutants is to invest in a mask but to be mentally calm as well as physically safe, you have to be prepared to bear a greater – some will argue uglier – cost. You can only beat the Delhi air at its evil game by donning an apparatus that makes you look like Bane from Batman. I can’t promise that Batman will save you from this treacherous season but maybe you can scare away lung cancer if you leer hard enough with a Bane mask on. The times call for replacing grinning-and-bearing with leering-while-coughing. It’s no time for playing around, you gotta act tough and be a badass to...well, breathe, I suppose. More traditional approaches to mental wellbeing have included meditation and deep breathing, but in these nuclear-winter-simulation times meditation needs some special equipment.

2. Engage with the community: As any mental health practitioner will tell you, the first step towards recovery is asking for help. In these fraught times, the Chief Minister too has issued a call for solidarity because hey, if Mumbai can demonstrate spirit during floods, so can we during a crisis situation. So open another tab on your work computer and tweet away. You will come have to make difficult decisions like whether to use the hashtag #DelhiChokes or keep it short with a sweet and simple #smog when running low on character count. Some of you will be brave enough to go all the way with #delhiairpollution but the important thing to remember is, there is no wrong hashtag. And when you want to take a break, you can open up another tab to browse discounts on air purifiers.

3. Become an air purifier owner: Gone are the days when one asserted adulthood with a home loan. As a millennial your chances of owning property will reduce by half by the time you finish reading this article anyway, so you might as well focus on the bare necessities, hence why not begin with breathing. The true mark of contemporary adulting is paying EMIs till your dying breath to breathe easier, no pun intended. An air purifier won’t make your rented matchbox any more of a home than rented furniture makes you a property owner, but you will have your very own oxygen chamber. Maybe you can personalise it by giving it a name and spending (good air) quality time with it. These are dark times and that friend who constantly bails on you might ultimately flake with a broken windpipe, so best not to form human attachments.

A boy in Delhi uses a handkerchief to cover his face as he waits in the smog for his school bus. ( AP Photo/R S Iyer )

4. Focus on the positives: I was going to say focus on the brighter side, but my vision is a bit blurry because of the *cough, clears throat* smog, but you get the general point. I don’t know about these acid rain clouds but good old-fashioned ones have silver linings. So what if you cough and splutter your way through life (or what’s left of it)? Life is best lived in the moments. If anything, this season of smog has given us plenty of gifts in the form of romantic time with bae whereby in a classic game of hide-and-seek you can replace the trees in Bollywood movies of yore with some serious air pollution. Besides, you really haven’t lived (or died) until you snog in the smog (geddit?) Running low on Instagram content? Worry not, smog works as a great filter. You can even pass off your unsteady hands and utter lack of photography talent with artsy photos of fashionable silhouettes, i.e., decent men and women trying to survive in this gas chamber we call home.

5.Kick the smoking habit: Giving up smoking has been on every new year resolution list you’ve made for the past few years and with a couple of months to go, maybe 2017 is the year you’ll finally do it. Because, you see, the complex chemical combinations in the air currently would put even the richest Virginia tobacco to shame. Nicotine, you say? Pssh, child’s play, says Delhi. Breathe in, and soon enough you are coughing and fearing lung cancer like the best smokers in the business. It’s a sweet deal considering you’re consuming toxic chemicals that you thought you could only get by smoking without paying a penny and sans judgment by those obnoxious non-smoker types. Remember that person who shamed you back in the day as you lit up by throwing that awful ‘passive smoking’ phrase? Well, you can at least have revenge in the knowledge you’ll both end up in the same smoky hell.

Editor’s note: We strongly suggest you don’t follow the advice in this piece as the writer’s brain was quite foggy owing to the copious amounts of cough syrup she consumed at the time of writing.

Sneha Khaund works in a publishing house in New Delhi and has degrees in literature from St. Stephen’s College and SOAS. She tweets as @Pakhee

First Published: Nov 11, 2017 13:59 IST

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