Pre-Diwali, post-chikungunya: Not the Delhi I used to know

Neha Sinha
Neha SinhaOct 18, 2016 | 10:43

Pre-Diwali, post-chikungunya: Not the Delhi I used to know

It's not easy being in Delhi before Diwali. You anticipate what you will do on Diwali night - should you be totally quiet and stay at home to avoid choking on the fire-crackered air; or be a social butterfly in nice clothes, flitting from sly party to family event.

You plot and plan how to avoid snarling, hissing traffic jams created by drivers and chauffeurs dropping off gifts to friends, colleagues, and in-laws' friends and colleagues. Your eyes hurt from the excessive bling; red, yellow and golden lights flashing their mad psychedelia on street corners.


This Diwali, the anticipation before the festival has been more than harsh. First, Delhi and North India isn't as cold yet as one would expect - blame global warming, lopped off trees, or just the pollution our countless cars spew.

Second, while waiting for the "nip in the air", one is really scared of getting nipped by the Aedes mosquito, that tiny missile which has the capital in the throes of a chikungunya and dengue epidemic.

While everyone discusses Trump and Clinton, Kejriwal's voice proclaiming "dengue ka macchar din me hi kaat ta hai", drones over all competitors for political attention. Will the mosquito not bite in the night at all? What about twilight and early mornings? What if it's disturbed by public announcements - where most of our civic authorities' mosquito eradication efforts are centred?

It is the end of October, and the onset of winter should be here. Sarojini Nagar Market, that mecca for every fashionista, seems to think winter is here. The great bottomless flea market of Sarojini has heaped on its trench coats, pea coats, non-warm sweaters, military jackets and woollen scarves of alarming length, on its lanes and shelves. When spaghetti tops get replaced overnight by bulky sweater dresses, and workers in the store line up to dust lint off sweaters, you know winter is coming.


But the nip, the nip in the air, where is the nip? Has Delhi over-romanticised its famed winter nip in the air? We certainly have romanticised winter mist in Delhi.

Every person who has ever lived in Delhi claims how astonishing Delhi's winters are, how surreal the mist, and how decadent the fog. Well, for one of the most polluted cities in the world, the mist is usually smog, but the general opaqueness does impart a sense of place and location.

People thought they could escape getting bitten by avoiding "dirty" areas... (Photo credit: Reuters) 

The sun goes down at 6pm, not 7, and the smoke-smog-fog thing spreads itself deeper, reminding us how different we are from Bombay or Chennai, and reminding us all to pull out shawls and Nehru jackets.

There is a jacket each Delhiite has for the nip in the air, that little chill just before the real tongue-clenching cold. For many of us it's a denim jacket, maybe ten-years-old, lived in, a bit frayed, very romantic.

For some it's a Kalamkari quilted jacket from the emporia on Baba Khadak Singh Marg. For the strong-hearted, it is wet-look leather with studs and fringes. For the India International Centre crowd, it's a Nehru jacket or bandhgala. For teens thronging pubs, it is a jacket that's casually slung over shoulders but never quite worn or buttoned.


The air is not really nipping yet, but the AC's in the night have been switched off. I want to fling open my windows - there are only a few days when Delhi is pleasant enough for open night-time windows.

But there is a different kind of nip to contend with - that of the well-fed Delhi Aedes mosquito. Cases of dengue and chikungunya in Delhi are only rising-and the yearly graph of these periodically fatal diseases reads like the graph our GDP aspires to be. Ever rising. Shattering records.

This year, there have been 7,425 cases of chikungunya in Delhi, and over 3,000 cases of dengue. Scores of people have died. Young children have died. For a city which hosted the Commonwealth Games of 2010, boasts one of the richest municipalities of the world in the form of NDMC, and has world-class roads and facilities, we have squarely and fairly lost the game to the pervasive mosquito.

The Aedes mosquito breeds only in stagnating, clean water. Someone once remarked that this means there isn't that much dirty stagnating water in Delhi, but the failure of government and communities in checking the menace is a collective slap on our faces.

Children go outside and play, but with mosquito bands on their wrists and odomos gel smothered on their faces. Effigies of dengue and chikungunya were burnt on Dussehra, proving once and for all that this was no longer a problem that could be pushed under a municipal rug.

People thought they could escape getting bitten by avoiding "dirty" areas, but really, winged insects, like the smell of trash, know no boundaries, and even the posh NDMC area have reported several cases.

One mosquito proves that we need to take civic issues into our own snooty hands, opening up gardens, community parks, coolers and drains to inspection and self-regulation, and not leave it all up to a safai karamchari or a populist government ready to blame adversaries for everything.

As Delhi's environmental and civic consciousness grows weaker, the Aedes macchar grows stronger this Diwali. To borrow Marquez's words, instead of love nipping in the time of cholera, Delhi could well be thinking of love in the time of chikungunya.

Durga Puja is over, Navratras are over, and people are back to work, with the hope of not getting bitten by mosquitoes and/or not getting caught in Diwali traffic jams while also not getting bitten by mosquitoes.

This week, I struck up a conversation with children selling balloons at a traffic light, asking them how they protected themselves from mosquito bites. They said they weren't getting bitten, because there were no mosquitoes near the livid car fumes and bustling activity at red lights. Ah Delhi, you and your twisted ironies.

Last updated: October 18, 2016 | 10:43
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