A matter of Cycle – Madhu Menon

This expression of feelings that you may call an article is the result of my experience of travelling on a two wheeler in my own city, “aapnu amdavad”. Recently, I had traveled hardly 4 kms through the roads of Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat and I had a message, a fms – fast message services-, from my lungs that said, “stop troubling me, stop killing me this way, it is in fact killing yourself and remember you always said suicide was not the solution”. I tried to take the message lightly but to my horror I started coughing. May be, because I spend most of my time in forests and mountains around the country where I have unlimited fresh air, I find it really difficult to breath here.

Look at the crossroads anywhere in the big cities. If you are waiting for the green signal, counting the seconds, (whether you like it or not, the electronic clocks installed in the cross roads force you to count, you should be thankful to the traffic department of our city that they discontinued the practice) you will realise the impact of pollution. You will realise that with every breath that you take, lots of unwanted things enter your lungs. At least in this regard there is parity with all our cities, whether it is Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad or Bangalore.

Yeah, back to the experience, I was on my two-wheeler, waiting for the signal, I rubbed my irritating eyes and looked at the auto rickshaw with full of school children. I really felt sorry for them; the wait of 30 to 40 seconds at these busy cross roads must certainly be reducing their life span by a few years.

They were unknowingly exposing themselves to the dangers of poisonous gases, with all the possibilities of breath related diseases. Really I felt sad, is this what we offer to our future generation? Don’t we have the moral responsibility to give at least clean air to our children?

My eyes moved from the children and located the struggling traffic policeman. Right in the middle of the crossroad, he is trying to control the heavy traffic. He must be standing there for long hours, exposed to the smoke coming out of thousands of vehicles. He has no devices to protect himself; I wonder whether he is aware of the hazards of his duty. A thought passed as a flash in my mind, all the talk of development and economic enhancement become meaningless when we fail to get even the very basics needs of life, clean water, clean air and a clean environment to live in. And failing to provide such fundamental rights to our citizens should be a shame to our leaders. Who will teach our leaders what is shame? That is another question.

Friends, do you know that close to 40 percent of students in major cities stands the risk of being poisoned? All of them are less than 14 years old. This is because of the lead present in the exhaust fumes of vehicles. I am not talking in the air. This has been revealed by a study conducted by the reputed organisation, National Institute of Occupational Heath.

It has also been established that there is a direct connection between lead levels in blood and one’s body development. In children it affects their height and weight. And lead is one of the major particles present in the smoke coming out of vehicles. I think it would be relevant here to know more about pollution.

If I ask you, “is the sky blue?” You will surely think the question is very ridiculous. Even children in kindergartens will definitely tell you that the sky is blue. But, do you know that few years ago, some young students in a particular area of Delhi painted the sky in grey in their drawings. This is because what they saw every day was the grey sky. Owing to serious air pollution, people living in industrial cities like Ahmedabad can hardly see the blue sky.

Air pollution is mainly caused by waste gas emitted from industrial chimneys, exhaust from automobiles and other means of transportation as well as from other industrial production. Fortunately for us, the great amdavadis, we have adopted to CNG at least on a three wheeler level.

What is the harm of these pollutants to mankind? Let’s take smoke dust as an example. It often contains a certain number of harmful metal elements and carcinogen substances. Now, you may ask what is carcinogen: carcinogen is any substance that produces cancer.

The 20th century will go down into the annals of history as the one that saw how human activity threatened the very environment on which its survival depended. The new millennium as a natural consequence, brings many unwanted realities from the past including the gravest that mankind has ever faced, the climate change.

Though some of the manifestations of this dreaded phenomenon are experienced by the most, generally they escape our notice. Some of the global impacts of climate change include global warming up, depletion in ozone layer, flooding and submergence of coastal areas, melting of arctic and Antarctic ice caps and number of others.

Recent surveys have revealed not just holes but huge depletion in the ozone layer through which the radiation reaches the earth’s surface. Exposure to this kind of radiation in excess can lead to skin cancer among humans and affect other forms of life as well. However, the effect will not spare any part of the world. For example a coastal state like Gujarat may lose much more than just a few kilometers of coastal land. Scientists have estimated that by 2050, a number of coastal towns, cities and ports of Gujarat would have been written off the state’s map if the sea level continues to rise at the current rate.

Even if one gives such projections a go by, the reality is still scary. It is better if common people acquaint themselves with the process of climate change, if not to prevent then at least to understand what the future has in store for them.

Ideally, we should be able to adopt newer, more environment friendly life styles. Minimising the use of motor vehicles is one of them. Why can’t we use a bicycle for shorter distances? In my opinion, it is the most environment friendly vehicle. It is not only non-polluting but also helps in maintaining our health. Instead of getting into highly expensive methods of weight reduction treatment and diets, it is advisable to cycle regularly. It will keep a check on your extra fats and also apply breaks to the increasing air pollution.

Suppose you have to travel long distances and cannot avoid motor vehicle, still we can do something to help check the pollution. Car-pooling is another attitude. Instead of just one person driving a car from home to office, it would be a nice idea to offer a regular lift to your neighbors. If individuals of a particular society or apartment come together and decide to use their vehicles collectively, this will go a long way in making the surrounding more livable and in the bargain you would cultivate a strong friendship also.

Having said all that, I think it is the right time to get down from the motor bike and start bicycling. How many of you are ready to take the challenge?

Madhu Menon:
A freelancer communicator specializing in the field of development communication, he produces educational and motivational video programme. At present he is Director ANALA, an NGO working in the field of environment education. He holds a Masters degree in Developmental Communication, Bachelors degree in Science and Post Graduate Diploma in Environment & Ecology.

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