“India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.” Shashi Tharoor (Indian politician)

It made perfect sense to me to fly home from Delhi. After all I’ve been in northern India, Delhi’s the main urban area up here, and there’s at least a day’s worth of touristing—supposed to be a great bookstore (my idea of the perfect souvenir shop) in this neighborhood in fact.

Not a good decision. For the first time in my long and inattentive life, I grasp the seriousness of air pollution. I didn’t visit LA in the bad old days although I was in and out a few times when it looked pretty hazy. So I’ve only grasped the consequences intellectually—not up close and personal—like right this minute.

This is serious in an everyday, sickness-and-health kind of way, can I get up and function today kind of way, will I die from this kind of way. ‘ Yes,’ I said, ‘pollution is bad, especially for old people and babies and the other weaklings among us.’ … ‘but it’s not the same kind of immediate danger as a gun or a speeding truck or an earthquake, right?’ Wrong.

It is an immediate danger. Now. Today. Breathing the thick air of Kathmandu, Varanasi and Delhi has and continues to make me sick. Right now. It’s hard to breathe. My scabby bloody nostrils sting and bleed even more when I blow my nose. My eyes hurt. The article I’ve included with this post says this level of pollution is comparable to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. I read that and said omg, that’s awful…and then remembered I used to do almost that. You can imagine how stupid and yes, guilty, it makes me feel to know that I created a little mini-Delhi all around me every day for more than a few years…and subjected others to my poisonous presence.

Just to say…It’s not usually this bad in any of these cities…and I do not in the least regret going there. They’re major cities of economic, cultural and geographic interest; go there, it’s worth a little heavy breathing. But don’t stay very long in Delhi.


I don’t go to the airport until 8:30pm. What to do? I could start on the piece I want to write about this almost-always magical journey which is just now ending. Maybe I’ll wait for the clear air of high desert country to do that when my nose heals and I can find a kind word for the Taj Mahal.

I could venture out…no need to even shower—as the tuk tuk weaves through the clouds of carbon dioxide/monoxide/nitrogen oxides and the dust blends in and the smoke binds it all together (that’s how I imagine it happening at least) I’ll just be recoated. I’ll simply brush my teeth, put on yesterday’s travel clothes and brave the soupy air for a trip to…find books. It appears Delhi has a good selection of substantial bookstores, some closed today, but the Oxford Bookstore is open and has a coffee shop inside. Should be able to kill a couple of worthwhile hours there.

Meanwhile, puttering about my pleasant room in an okay hotel.  Actually the hotel is fine; it’s upstairs in a tacky little shopping mall which isn’t perfect and above a nightclub that plays hard-beat stuff until 1am which could also be considered imperfect, but the service is amazing. They don’t have a dining area but they do have a kitchen so they prepare anything you want (although no BLTs on the menu) 24 hours a day. I wanted a glass of wine when I arrived about 3pm but there’s no liquor service so one of the guys went down the street and bought an inexpensive bottle of Italian wine for me.

Last day’s itinerary is unfolding. About 11am I’ll walk to the bookstore which is very close by. Then ‘home’ to finish this post and for a nap (and perhaps a wine) about 1pm. Nap until 3 or 4, shower, last bit of packing, almost through with The Handmaid’s Tale but will probably have something to read from my foray out into dirty Delhi on the plane. Airport at 8:30pm for a 1:30a  flight to Tokyo. Eighteen hours later I’ll be in LA. Little time to kill at LAX and back to Southwest Airlines and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I am happy…my usual travel condition…to have been away and to be coming home.

2:30pm now and the air index has improved to Very Dangerous. The bookstore was good. Lazy hours coming up. Over and Out. (Any chance to say that must be taken.)

Good article on Delhi and pollution.



  1. You should get one of those masks the Chinese use in their polluted cities. Indian and China are trying to rapidly change their dependence on fossil fuels and transition to solar and wind, etc. In the USA apparently we have found the key to this is clean coal. Who would have thought they could make coal clean? Well, they call it that, so it must be so. Soon you will be experiencing the delights of clean mountain air…well, pretty clean…most of the time. Do they still have all that pollution on Thanksgiving and Christmas as a result of 98% of the population using their fireplaces? At least the pinon smells good.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: