NYT Correspondent Exits New Delhi’s Dark Cloud

A panoply of health hazards in an overburdened city.

GardinerHarrisHed_FeaturedAfter a three-year stint in South Asia, Gardiner Harris is this week relocating from India back to Washington. As he explained to New York Times readers over the weekend, it was a matter of his family’s well-being:

My wife and I were both excited and prepared for difficulties — insistent beggars, endemic dengue and summertime temperatures that reach 120 degrees. But we had little inkling just how dangerous this city would be for our boys.

We gradually learned that Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air.

Harris leads with a harrowing, middle-of-the-night anecdote and goes on to note that Delhi’s air quality is far worse than Beijing’s. He also writes that so many American families are choosing to leave the Indian city these days that it is severely affecting the enrollment rolls of the American Embassy School.

Reacting on India English-language website Firstpost, the site’s senior editor Sandipan Sharma completely understands:

Living in the Indian capital, as many others will tell you, is a punishment best avoided. If you have the option, if you can find employment and happiness in some other city, if you love your children more than the job, stay away from Delhi.

Just as Harris’ wife sobbed for hours on a return flight to India two years ago following summer in the U.S. with her sons, she no doubt is elated this summer to be heading in the opposite, permanent direction. Her husband does mention that in the midst of all this, life in India sometimes still managed to be “quite nice.”