Two years ago when Gardiner Harris, South Asia correspondent of NYT, wrote about being forced to return to the US because of how much the polluted Delhi air had hurt the health of his child, it got people really agitated.
There were many who agreed with him about breathing being hazardous in the Indian capital. But also vociferous were those who said that Harris had exaggerated; after all other big cities of the world suffered similar challenges; not to mention how upwards of 20 million Delhiites would just go on living the life he had so coldly pronounced unlivable.
A similar mix of responses has greeted the Sri Lankan cricket team raising objections against the playing conditions in Delhi this Sunday. Many of them entered the field wearing masks, even as off-field a debate raged about whether these masks afforded protection of any significance whatsoever.
Sri Lankan coach Nic Pothas reported that the fast bowlers in particular were struggling, players were coming into the dressing room and vomiting. He said: “It is not normal for players to suffer in that way while playing the game.”
But the crowd booed, “Losers, losers.” A suspicion prevailed that it was all a ruse, to force India into an unplanned declaration. The Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun pointedly noted that Virat Kohli had batted for two days and he hadn’t needed a mask.
BCCI acting president CK Khanna speculated: “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have problem and the Indian team did not face any issue, I wonder why Sri Lankan team made a big fuss.”
In all this noise it’s worthwhile repeating what TOI had pointed out while publishing Harris’s article back in 2015: “Many will feel Harris’s account is exaggerated, but if this is how expats feel about the city’s air, there is a clear risk of Delhi being regarded as a blackhole in Western capitals. That, in turn, could threaten India’s quest for economic growth and global stature.”
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