Book Review - Breathing Here is Injurious to Your Health

'Breathing Here is Injurious to your Health' falls short of turning into some bleak futuristic movie, where humans have ruined all they could on this earth, governments complicit, citizens irresponsibly unaware and still continuing to live like nothing happened, creating new ghastly normals with every decade passing by. The writer however chooses to keep the narrative human and hopeful, and the story has turned out to be equal measures of shock, denial, acceptance, struggle and small victories in the air quality scenario of New Delhi.

What holds you in, early on in the book is the story of the writer's mother, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, last stage, a devastating reality that Jyoti has a hard time accepting. This, in spite of the fact that she has been fighting for cleaner air ever since she moved to India from California USA in 2006. Her denial comes from the fact that her mother never smoked, obviously had great lung capacity as she was a trained singer. But what she realises gradually is that her mother has lived in the polluted air of north India since her childhood and that finally she has succumbed to years of breathing polluted air. As the book quotes Dr Arvind Kumar, Head of Chest Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Centre for Chest Surgery, New Delhi "In Delhi today we are all smokers from our first breath, whether we have ever held a cigarette in our hand or not." He further goes on to call out air pollution an epidemic, stating that he is now seeing pollution ridden black lungs even in infants. The book is filled with such damning evidence of air pollution's impact on our health, on the liveability of our cities and on our economy.

The diagnosis of the writer's mother's condition and its aftermath, is a turning point in Jyoti's life. The book is replete with the horror of people leaving the city because their children and they themselves realise the sneaking, omnipresent virus that is air pollution in Delhi. It documents well how the writer is pulled deeper and deeper into the issue, realising that everything that needs to be known about air pollution is right there for anyone to look at and yet we are losing so many lives to air pollution in the country.

As quickly as the initial pages turn over, the later chapters are heavy with the writer's struggle, the constant determination required to keep the issue alive and to reach out to as many people as they can, informing them about the hazards of air pollution. They leave almost no stone unturned in this quest - the media, the judiciary, the grass roots and the elite. The journey of making air pollution an issue from a non-issue is long and marked with small victories in spite of disappointments.

The interspersing of the writer's own experience, be it with the ailing mother or her own children who sometimes fail to understand the mother's obsession with air quality, with the way the struggle against air pollution got organised and gathered ground is what holds your interest as a reader. It gives a chronological, compact view of the long journey of air pollution to date, something that is a difficult task considering the various layers of the issue, the different stakeholders involved, all while maintaining a human touch.

This book has a wide reader base, it is a must read for many at once - parents, adults, teens, senior citizens, professionals, government officials, civil society representatives - all people who can drive change and who are as yet unaware of this silent killer. 


Written by Shweta Vernekar, Parisar

Parisar interviewed the writer Jyoti Pande Lavakare, where the book is discussed in greater detail.

Watch the interview here 


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