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Soot, loath and eyewash

SLOW MURDER·National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi·Organised by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi·November 6-20

 
By Max Martin
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- DIESELMANIA is the epidemic that our cities forget to control when their roads get choked with soot-spewing contraptions running on subsidised diesel. They suffer not one but 'two-stroke(s)' when their arteries get clogged with thousands of two/three -wheelers that burn petrol inefficiently, belching out hydrocarbons and noxious oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, A doctor in a leading heart institute at the capital says pithily, after cutting up scores of damaged thoraxes: "A city-dweller? Oh, you know him from his blackish lung."

Black humour. That is what the "deadly story of vehicular pollution" was all about, Visually narrated by the CSE at the exhibition titled Slow Murder, held at a place which is all but a 10- minute-drive from the ITO crossing, among Delhi's most polluted spots. Slow Murder, which was an off- shoot of a seminal study with the same title, was part of a clean-up campaign. The untold story is a cruel joke played by a few known and artful dodgers, namely, an inert government for which pollution control is an eyewash; a vintage automobile industry that grudgingly spends 1.2 per cent of its income on research and development and throws a fit every time standards are improved, and a state network that peddles a toxic cocktail called petrol. As one entered the exhibition, a sooty speech bubble that shot off the rump of a Maruti listed what we inhale on the roads. And carcinogenic benzene is only one of them.

The problem is that all the powers to be are trying to plug pollution from the rear - an end-of-the-pipeline solution as management gurus would call it, but "tailpipery", as CSE would put it. These are mere contraptions shoved in by the government as a quickfix wonder - the catalytic converters that look like artillery shells (obviously without fire-power) simply fail in our choked roads as we jerk rather than drive our vehicles. As for those pollution- checking devices which read your car's tailpipe and the carbon monoxide it emits to give you a clean chit, they blissfully ignore the other more potent toxins you emit. Clean cheats they are. Some of these made an appearance at the exhibition - a graffiti-covered petrol pump, a charred exhaust pipe (that's normal, or jack up and check your car's) and so on. A graph that could very well be the uphill leg of the Himalayan car rally depicted the rising number of vehicles and a sobering highlight revealed the vehicle concentration in Mumbai, Chermai and Delhi - almost half of the country's total.

Slow Murder also pointed an accusing finger at the concerned' ministries of transport, petroleum, environment, urban affairs and industries. The exhibition exposed government plans to import high-sulphur, heavy cruac. It criticised by narrating the history of pollution laws and their dilution. And it enlightened by telling you to chip in your bit to the mess.

Slow Murder was meant for you: the Bajaj-riding, Maruti-driving cityfolk. So it was packed with punch, laced with hunlour, agitprop images and cartoons but with an underplayed use of audiovisual media. It was educative, cerebral... , perhaps a bit too wordy. A media- illiterate viewer would have missed the point. As if not to be accused of not rising to the occasion, a government official dutifully got some of the exhibition titles translated into inaccurate shudh Hindi, and painted them over each section. Whoever said the government does not act?

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