Monday, November 4, 2019
Catch of the day

While her team may have lost their first ODI match against West Indies by a single run, Harmanpreet Kaur was undoubtedly a big winner. The reason: this jaw-dropping catch at the boundary. Gravity is no match for this superwoman. 

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The unbreathable air in Delhi 

On Sunday morning, residents woke to a city shrouded in a thick and unprecedented smog, triggering anger and despair… all over again. The nation’s capital is trapped in a toxic version of ‘Groundhog Day’—and we explain why.

How bad is it in Delhi? The level of pollution was the worst in recent memory, triggering extraordinary safety measures.

  • The city's overall Air quality index (AQI) was 625 on Sunday morning, but went as high as 708 by the evening. Air quality monitors in some parts of the city were stuck at 999. Gurgaon recorded an AQI of 833, while Noida hit 720. 

  • The concentration of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 hit the season’s highest level at 558, while that of PM10 stood at 648.

  • The visibility was so poor that 32 flights were diverted to Amritsar, Jaipur, Mumbai and Lucknow.

  • On Friday, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority declared a public health emergency. Schools in Noida, Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad have been shut down until November 5. 

  • How bad was it? Delhi/NCR residents tweeted out hundreds of photos and clips that captured the dire situation. Here is a telling clip of Noida. Also: an equally telling set of photos that capture how quickly the air quality deteriorated over 24 hours. Another person tweeted this photo from his balcony, simply saying, “I can see nothing.”

  • NDTV anchor Nidhi Razdan tweeted, “There is no other way to say this. Leave Delhi if you can. Take your parents, kids and get out. This toxic smog is killing us all.” A sentiment shared by her fellow residents. A recent survey showed that over 40% of Delhites want to leave the city.

  • But hey, we still played that T20 match against Bangladesh. 

Explain AQI to me, please: The Air Quality Index measures the level of pollution on an hourly, daily and annual basis. On a range from 0 to 500, an AQI between 0-50 is ‘good’; 51-100 is ‘moderate’; 101-200 is ‘unhealthy’; 201-300 is ‘very unhealthy’. And anything above 300 is ‘hazardous’. There are no other designations for the insane heights that are routinely charted in North India. The safe level of AQI: anything below 30. 

And what is PM2.5? PM stands for Particulate Matter, and the measurements—typically 2.5 or 10—refer to the size, i.e. less than 2.5 micrometres or less than 10 micrometres. Smaller the particles, and more prolonged the exposure, the more hazardous they are to human health. PM2.5 is more able to burrow deeply into our lungs, which in turn can trigger heart attacks or strokes. Pregnant women, babies and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

And this is really bad for you, right? Dirty air in Delhi is responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 deaths a year. In other words, the capital loses 80 lives every day to pollution from PM2.5. If we do nothing to improve our air quality, this number is expected to rise anywhere between 20-30%. Air pollution kills a child every three minutes in India. A leading medical expert sums it up: “It is like smoking 20 cigarettes a day, and this includes newborns too. 

Why is Delhi like this every winter? Main causes for air pollution— not just in Delhi but across North India—are the following:

  • Crop burning. Every year, farmers burn the dried stalks of rice crops to make room for the cultivation of wheat. The smoke spreads from Punjab and Haryana to Delhi where it mingles with the winter fog to create a toxic smog—which hangs over the city with no winds to dissipate it.

  • Construction. The colossal and continuing sprawl of cities is fueled by a relentless pace of construction. All that dust flies up into the air and stays right there. And let’s not forget the many natural air-purifiers—i.e. trees—that are felled to make way for concrete.

  • Vehicles. Yes, we can blame the trucks all we want, but one of the biggest reasons for spiking pollution levels is the growing ubiquity of taxi services like Ola and Uber. Point to note: Delhi adds 537 cars and 1,158 two-wheelers every day.

  • Burning industrial waste. Scrap yards are a leading cause for toxic fumes, sparking angry protests in Mayapuri last year. Landfills—such as the one in Bhalswa—also often catch fire, often tipping air quality over the edge.

  • Indoor stoves, as in coal-fueled chulhas.  

Also, Delhi has a geography problem: The most critical factor that impacts air quality is the speed and direction of wind. Cities like Mumbai and Chennai have a built-in reset button thanks to coastal winds. Delhi, OTOH, is landlocked, and sits on a flat plain blocked off by the Himalayas. When northwesterly winds blow in—carrying dust, soot etc from Thar desert or even the Middle East—they are effectively ‘trapped’ in a bowl that extends from Punjab in the west to West Bengal in the east. More importantly, there is hardly any wind speed in Delhi during the winter—which also keeps the smog in place.

Wasn’t this a better Diwali? Pollution levels before Diwali promised a cleaner winter for Delhi, but then this happened

  • On the evening of Diwali, October 27, pollution levels suddenly skyrocketed thanks to fireworks. There was a 10-fold jump in PM2.5 levels between 5 pm and 1 am. Delhi’s AQI surged to nearly 1,000 after midnight, as people defied the Supreme Court’s 10 pm deadline for fireworks. 

  • Added to Delhi’s woes: Satellite imaging showed more than 3,000 incidents of stubble burning last week in neighbouring states—contributing to 44% of Delhi’s pollution.

  • Third, the wind direction changed after Diwali, blowing in far more smoke from Punjab. As a result, stubble burning—which typically only accounts for 15% of Delhi’s pollution—caused far greater havoc, accounting for 30% over the past few days. 

  • To make matters worse, wind speeds died due to broader weather patterns—such as cyclonic activity in the Arabian Sea and the late retreating monsoon. 

So farmers are to blame? Yes and no. The real culprit is mechanisation of agriculture and poor government planning:

  • Farmers today use combine harvesters—machines that combine the jobs of cutting and threshing the crop but leave tall and sharp stubble behind. 

  • They typically have between 14 and 21 days to get rid of this stubble and plant the next season’s crops. 

  • The easiest and fastest solution is to burn the stubble —and pay the Rs 5000 per acre fine. 

  • But the government stepped in last year by subsidising “happy seeders”, which plant wheat seeds with the stubble still in place. Better versions of these machines chop and spread the stubble into the soil.

  • Unfortunately, there are only 2,150 ‘happy seeders’ in Punjab and Haryana. The number required: 21,000.

Point to note: Two million farmers burn 23 million tonnes of stubble in north India every winter.

What is the government doing? There has been a huge flurry of activity— especially in the last 24 hours:

  • Five million masks were distributed at schools by the Delhi government. 

  • Construction and industrial activity has come to a standstill. 

  • The Prime Minister’s Office stepped in after a review meeting on Sunday night. 

  • Punjab and Haryana governments have been asked to send enforcement teams to immediately stop stubble burning.

  • The teams will also patrol the seven major industrial clusters in NCR and key traffic corridors to ensure there is no burning of industrial waste.

  • The three states have been instructed to close down coal-based industries, barring power plants.

  • The centre also instructed Delhi to increase water sprinkling.

  • Burning of municipal waste will also be halted immediately in Delhi.

  • The odd-even scheme kicks in today but two-wheelers—which account for the greatest number of vehicles in Delhi—are exempt.

How do I stay safe in Delhi? Get yourself a purifier and a gas mask ASAP. Here’s a quick guide based on recommendations of our trusted Ambassadors:

  • Air purifiers: Ionic air purifiers are cheaper but they do not work as well as those with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters—which trap 99.97 percent of particles. These are more expensive. Their filters can't be washed and reused, and need to be regularly changed—especially at such high AQI levels. 

  • Jyotsna Sharma recommends Sharp for a room upto 600 sq feet. She says the Rs 25,000 price tag is worth every penny. Arcopol Chaudhuri recommends Xiaomi as a great option for purifiers under Rs 10,000. On the more affordable end, Ashwin Row swears by the SWARN air purifier. Read more reviews and recommendations here and here.

  • Our friends in a mother’s WhatsApp group in Delhi recommend Vogmask, which costs Rs 2,000-2200. If you are looking for a cheaper option, try N 95 and N 99. But, as Jyotsna underlines, a mask is only as effective as its fit.  

  • Get indoor plants like Areca Palm, Neem, Aloe Vera, Tulsi, Peepal, Orchid that give off oxygen at night as well.

  • For more on how to tackle Delhi air pollution, check out this highly useful google doc. 

Learn more: Dhruv Rathee’s excellent explainer on why air pollution is not just a Delhi problem. Hindustan Times offers a solid overview of what needs to be done to fight air pollution in Delhi. Also in Hindustan Times: a handy guide to pollution masks—and their limitations. Quartz explains why Delhi’s location is a geographic curse. This Medium essay breaks down AQI and PM2.5. Quint rounds up the opinions of medical experts on the effects of pollution. Since it is better to laugh than cry, here are two examples of dark Dilli humour: the cover of ‘Tintin in Delhi’; and these quintessentially Delhi cigarettes.

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eyeing every missed WhatsApp call in alarm

Your WhatsApp snoopgate update is here: and it includes the following: 

  • Congress claims that Priyanka Gandhi’s phone was hacked using the Pegasus spyware—and she was informed of the same by WhatsApp.

  • Huffington Post looked at a client contract of NSO Group, the firm that makes Pegasus. And it makes clear that no sale could have occurred without the approval of the Israeli Defence Ministry and extensive access to local mobile and internet networks, which only the local government could grant. 

  • WhatsApp says it twice notified the government about possible vulnerabilities—including the fact that 121 Indians may have been affected. Government sources say the company’s letters were too vague and employed “too technical a jargon.”

  • Cybersecurity experts have since put forward fairly damning proof: information of the WhatsApp notification shared on public pages of government websites—and now hastily deleted. It mentions both NSO and Pegasus.

  • Need a refresher on what this story is about: check out our explainer.

Your Maha drama update is here: The Shiv Sena is standing firm on its demand for a rotating Chief Minister post. The BJP refuses to share the gaddi, but is willing to split the cabinet posts equally. The Sena is now openly mulling an alliance with Congress and the NCP, claiming it “is in the interest of Maharashtra.” 

Saudi Aramco all set for an IPO: The world’s largest oil and gas company—owned by the Saudi government—will soon be publicly traded on the stock exchange. We don’t know which one as yet. What we do know: it will likely be valued at $1.5 trillion, making it the biggest IPO on record—and dwarfing the valuation of the likes of Apple and Microsoft. (CNBC)

Remember that cyberattack on Kudankulam? Did you know that India suffered the most cyberattacks on its internet-connected devices and infrastructure in the world? Between April and June alone, recorded cyber-attacks rose 22%, with 2,550 unique samples of malware discovered in all sorts of places. One of these places was the Kudankulam nuclear plant—a report first denied and then confirmed by authorities. But they insist it was a single “administrative” computer. Given the malware used, experts think it was likely an intelligence-gathering mission by North Korea—either to aid its nuclear ambitions or for money paid by another party. (Economist)

Your fave website is ‘fingerprinting’ you: Everyone from CNN to WebMD and are secretly collecting information to create a digital fingerprint of anyone who visits their site—even if you’ve blocked cookies or turned on the ‘do not track’ feature or use a VPN. (Washington Post)

Online slave markets on Instagram: Hundreds of maids are being sold as human slaves to countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia—using either platforms like Insta or local trading apps. They include minors whose sellers encourage potential buyers to take away their passports, work them all day and keep them locked at home. (BBC News)

OML founder stages post-MeToo comeback: thanks to the Aam Aadmi Party. Accused of serial sexual misconduct by a number of former employees, former CEO Vijay Nair is now busy helping the party gear up for the upcoming Delhi elections. Senior party leader Atishi—and head of its ICC committee—insists since he is doing “ad hoc work,” Nair will not be in a position of power over any employee. Ok, then. (Caravan)

Ma Anand Sheela stages a post-Osho comeback: So what if she spent 39 months in a California prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder, arson, wire-tapping, and assault for poisoning hundreds of people. Indians heart even our most notorious NRIs. As The Week notes, “Sheela is the toast of the super-rich in Mumbai and Delhi, with movie stars, politicians and socialites falling over backwards to host lavish soirees in her honour.” Now, Karan Johar and his production team are teaming up with her to do a Netflix documentary on her life. A senior member of his company says: “[W]e're excited to be producing a peek into the life and journey of the feisty Ma Anand Sheela.” Well, feisty, homicidal, tomato, tomahto… 

Yoga is bad for its teachers: All those surya namaskars may be fab for your health, but it is triggering serious hip-related problems among yoga teachers. According to a leading UK physiotherapist, “the problem lies in people repeatedly pushing their bodies into "prescribed" positions, when their physiology prevents it.” (BBC News)

The story of an NRI stalker, a UK journo and… ISIS? A UK court issued a restraining order to prevent Konika Dhar from harassing a Sunday Times journalist, Richard Kerbaj. He had interviewed her for a documentary on relatives of ISIS members—since her brother ‘Jihadi Sid’ was a notorious ISIS executioner. But she became obsessed with Kerbaj and was convinced he was her husband (?!). (The Telegraph UK)

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ gets a remake: John Legend and Kelly Clarkson arek releasing a non-pervy version of the song just in time for Christmas. The revised ‘woke’ lyrics include lines like “It's your body and your choice.” Not everyone is happy. (Daily Mail)

Am I fat? So?: Broadsheet Ambassador Ameya Nagarajan co-hosts a brilliant new podcast —titled ‘Fat. So?—that celebrates “the pain, the joy, the learning, the dark humor and the silver lining” of being “fat.” The first episode rolled out yesterday. Check it out on AudioBoom. It is also available on Google, Apple, Spotify and Castbox.

Weekend reads you might have missed: 

  • Wall Street Journal has a must-read on New Delhi-raised Rajeev Misra—head of SoftBank’s Vision Fund—who chews paan, consults astrologers on office layout and is responsible for its chaotic culture.  

  • Vanity Fair has the encounter between David Letterman and his former employee who publicly called him out on his sexism. TLDR: He apologised, profusely. 

  • Mint takes a science-based look at meat-eating cows—called out as a new scourge by Goan leaders.  

  • Scroll explains why athletes toe the government’s PR line—as many Indian female stars recently did. 

  • Also in Mint: A closer look at what rising sea levels will do to Indian cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. 

  • Harvard Business Review explains why female founders are a trillion dollar opportunity. 

  • OneZero explains why looking at cute animals everyday is good for your mental health—and why we offer a daily diet of the same:) 

  • Five rules to follow when you are in Japan 

  • Jezebel explores the weird history of the Ken doll’s (largely absent) crotch 

  • Vice uncovers a widespread Airbnb scam—made possible by its customer-hostile rules. 

  • The Telegraph offers useful if unsurprising advice on how to detox after Diwali—so you can slide right back into your decadent ways during the wedding season and Christmas. 

  • Sandip Roy in Times of India offers an insightful look at the American TV agnipariksha that Bollywood stars—and we—endure. 

Your daily quota of sunshine items:

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The best place for the best advice

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How to ace that work-new baby balance

Editor’s note: Our Executive Editor Sunainaa Chadha went back to work when her baby was nine months old. She shares her hard-won knowledge on how to juggle a baby, a full-time job and that greatest burden of them all: maternal guilt. Also: Please be sure to share this guide with friends and family who may need the resources and advice.

You love your kid and your job, and you don't want to compromise one for the other. Guess what? You’ve got this except... you have to ditch your guilt, negotiate at least a somewhat flexible schedule with your boss, get your husband to do his share, and make some time for self love please!

Say goodbye to perfectionism: Junk that ridiculously high standard you have set for yourself. The only awards for being a ‘super mom’ are exhaustion, low self-esteem and, often, depression. There will be good days and bad days, and that’s exactly the way it is supposed to be—kinda like life. Also: Research has shown over and over again that having a working mom has huge benefits for a child.

Find support: Friends are excellent, and your partner will always be your rock. But new moms need support from women who can answer their zillion questions. True fact: My support group helped me realise my true potential and motivated me to return to work and even start my own venture! MomNest is a WhatsApp support group that treats members like family. You can also check out Breastfeeding Support For Indian Mothers on Facebook

Swap chore time for child time: As working moms, we are always struggling to get through our to-do list. We then end up spending very little time with our kids—and then feel both overextended and guilty. I sorted this problem by prioritising baby time. Spend quality time with your child straight after work and leave the chores or errands for when they are asleep. And where possible, make chores fun and make it part of your child’s play time. Also: it’s okay to drop a few balls and lower some of your high standards. See: Say goodbye to perfectionism.

Quality matters more than quantity: Remember, very young children don’t fully understand the concept of time. But they do know when their mother is always distracted and multi-tasking. Need to work on your laptop for a few hours? Take out little breaks to play with them. What they want is you—without distractions or interruptions! Since I now work from home, I manage to fit in 15 minutes every couple of hours with her, which works great for both of us!

Stay ahead of the breast milk crisis: For new moms, breastfeeding and returning to work can be hard—especially after you’ve been out for six months or more. Your baby still depends on your milk, and you aren't ready to let go! And that’s okay. You just need to do some advance planning: 

  • First order of business: inform your workplace that you require a pump room at least a month before you return to work. Be sure to let them know that you need a room with a latch, and somewhere quiet, preferably with blinds. 

  • Get your equipment in place. You will need a breast pump kit, containers to store the milk, an insulated bag, and ice packs to keep it cold (if you don't have a refrigerator you can use). 

  • Start pumping at least three months before returning to work so that you have frozen enough milk for your child. Your baby gets used to the bottle, and you aren’t scrambling to stock up. Note: you can deep-freeze breast milk for up to three months, or refrigerate it for two days.

  • Make sure you stock up on extra breast pads. You don't want to leak in the middle of a meeting!

  • Make a schedule and stick to it. Need help? Here’s a handy guide to help you figure it out. Remember: You cannot cut back on your pumping schedule as it will decrease your milk supply. The law says that your employer must allow you to pump as often as you need to. So make sure you have that conversation with your boss before you return to work. 

More on the pump: There are plenty of choices, but here are some essentials to keep in mind:

  • Any kind of pump will have parts that need to be sterilized—and before you know it, you are trapped in a pump-wash-sterilize-repeat cycle several times a day. A quick hack: drop the parts in a clean ZipLoc bag and stow it in the fridge until your next session. 

  • Metro, Uber, train or bus rides and an over-lactating you make for a messy combination. Just get yourself a hands-free pump. Insert it and forget about it. My personal two favourite electric brands are Spectra S2 and Medela. I’ve used the Spectra everywhere: at home, in the office, at parties. 

  • Make sure you invest in a good hands-free bra. They are expensive but so worth it. A tried-and-tested DIY hack from our ambassador Ankita Dasgupta: cut two holes in your good old sports bra and you are good to go. It’s not exactly pretty (who cares?) but 100% effective.

Opt for a gradual re-entry: Jumping straight back into an eight-hour work day is a nightmare. As much as possible, negotiate a more flexible schedule with your boss—or extend your maternity leave until you can do longer stretches at the office. I would strongly suggest considering a part-time schedule for the first few months. Or make more creative use of your leave allowance. For instance, reduce your annual leave, and then take those days to stay home for the first five Fridays after your return.

Say yes to daycare: Grandparents are usually the best caregivers for your baby. But if that isn’t an option—and you can’t work from home—look for a good quality day care centre. I personally think a quality daycare is better than leaving your child with a nanny all day. They learn to be more independent, are quickly potty-trained, become more social, and expand their vocabulary significantly.  

Feed yourself well and on time: It’s easy to eat less or very poorly when you are doing waaay too much. But skipping breakfast and then snarfing down packaged or junk food will not make you feel any better. Stock up on nuts, seeds, fruits and granola mixes (especially if you are still breastfeeding). Plan your meals the night before so you aren’t reaching for what is closest at hand. I usually make overnight oats combined with a fruit and dry fruit powder for the morning power boost, and carry three little boxes for in-between snacks (makhanas, roasted peanuts or channa, energy bars, fruits and plenty of dates.) 

Exercise, exercise, exercise: I know the last thing you want to do when you are feeling overwhelmed is head to the gym. But any kind of physical activity is a new mom’s best friend. Three months after I gave birth, I couldn't handle the hormonal changes, mood swings, and the feeling that I was a glorified 'milking cow'. My lifeline to sanity: a 60-minute gym time which kept me from burning out, gaining weight, and ending my evenings mindlessly scrolling through other people’s Facebook posts with #FOMO. Think of exercise not as a punishment but as ‘me time’ —and make room for it in your schedule.

The other option is to turn playtime into work-out time. I take Freya to the local club or Siri Fort and do outdoor workouts while she runs about. In fact, now my daughter pulls out the yoga mat everyday and demands that I do a surya namaskar when I am being lazy.

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