Cityscapes

Just how bad is Delhi’s pollution? People are driving through smog to grab time in an oxygen chamber

Plants and air-purifiers can only provide temporary respite. Experts say the real crisis began when Delhi’s Ridge was destroyed.

A few steps away from the congested HUDA metro station in Gurugram lies an escape from the gas-chamber of the Northern Capital Region. An artificially created green zone called O2 Chamber offers an artificial and private sanctuary for breathless city-dwellers to breathe fresh and clean air.

Literally an oasis in a region choked with smog, the enclosed area and garden space sprawled over an extensive 13,000 square feet works on a powerful synergy of nature and technology. In the enclosure, hundreds of NASA-approved air-purifying plants absorb harmful gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, xylene, benzene, releasing oxygen. Mechanical air purifiers in the room remove hydrogen from viruses, bacteria and allergens.

Initiated by the Delhi Metro Rail Cooperation, the project is the brainchild of NCR-based company Nurturing Green, a pioneer in green gifting that specialises in green décor and landscaping services. The chamber has a nursery along with a greenhouse, where visitors can buy exotic varieties of indoor and outdoor air-purifying plants like aloe vera, areca palm and sansivieria. Amardeep Singh, who manages O2, said that a minimum of two such plants are required per person, to clean the air one breathes in an average-sized room.

On a weekday, several NCR residents, desperate for fresh air, were beating traffic to come to the chamber. Animesh Srivastava, an advertising professional who lives in Gurugram’s Sector 82, was pleasantly surprised to read a low AQI PM2.5 reading of 8.3 at the oxygen chamber. “It’s a great place to meditate or practice yoga,” he said. “I never even knew there were such things as air-purifying plants. It’s a great concept. We badly need something like this at such a time.”

An interior designer, Vikas Garg, drove nearly 40 km from his home in Sector 23 of Faridabad when he heard about the oxygen chamber from his wife. “It is worth the distance,” he said. “You feel refreshed the minute you come here. The best part is that you get to see various garden themes and can choose the one you want for your home.”

While it costs nothing for visitors to inhale fresh air at the chamber, driving through a polluted city to get to the chamber defeats the purpose. Kailash Pathak, who commutes daily from Delhi to his office in Gurugram, said: “Wading through the city’s toxic pollution in order to reach somewhere where you can beat it is a bit of an oxymoron. Even if one does go, how long can you stay holed up in such a place – or at home with a purifier on? Sooner or later, one has to go outdoors and face the reality.”

The statistics are stark. The Indian Medical Association has stated that the national capital is in a state of “public health emergency”. The air quality index is severe with high particulate matter in several places. A recent report in The Lancet medical journal stated that pollution had claimed as many as 2.5 million lives in India in 2015, the highest anywhere in the world.

Enterprises like the O2 Chamber are cashing in. Residential societies, homes, hotels, district centres, offices, schools and recreational parks are all looking to build dedicated oxygen rooms. According to Nurturing Green, there are plans to open six more oxygen chambers at various metro stations in the city. However at best, the chambers are a temporary solution.

Shubham Mishra, an urban planner based in Delhi, said: “We have come to a situation where the natural oxygen chambers of our cities have been destroyed and are getting replaced with some logic-defying resolutions. So we first destroy the Ridge [a green belt that once functioned as the capital’s lungs, protecting it from the hot desert winds of Rajasthan], encroach upon the Aravallis for real estate, build glass buildings and then ‘go green’ with such artificial solutions.”

Mishra believes that the native flora of metropolitan cities is increasingly being replaced by alien features that are more or less ornamental in nature. As to whether massive oxygen chambers of this kind are practical in the long run, he said: “How many such massive structures can cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Gurugram and Bengaluru provide? How are they going to be sustained in the long run? Even if they continue to remain free, how accessible will they be to the public at large?”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.