The streets of Bhalswa Dairy are infested with buffaloes and cows. After five minutes, you get used to the stench and flies. You breathe through your mouth, not your nose, being careful to allow just a narrow gap between your lips. You are less likely to inhale the ubiquitous flies. The cowshit is made into patties (or “cutlets” as my colleague calls them) and dried to use as biomass fuel for cooking.
The lake which separates Bhalswa from Mukundpur is truly toxic. The stink makes you gag. Unfortunately, breeding mosquitoes don’t mind if the water is polluted. It is getting cooler now, but I still see fresh bites on the faces of children. The lake does not sport a yacht club, but the nearby Bhalswa Golf Course is pretty exclusive, even if you can’t see the flag from the tee because of smog.
Beside the lake there is a sunken area with some grass and a pond. A couple of weeks ago, my driver stopped there because he could see a commotion ahead. He got out of the vehicle to find out what was going on. A buffalo was stuck in the mud and men were trying to pull it out with ropes. “I thought it was a dead body,” he said. “They find many dead bodies in the lake.”
Towering above the western part of Bhalswa is a mountain of smoking rubbish. It is several hundred metres high. There are makeshift shacks on its slopes and a road which trucks use to carry more garbage up to the summit. Flocks of kites (fondly known as “shite-hawks”) wheel and turn overhead, relishing the thermals coming from the smouldering trash.
The air pollution here is an order of magnitude worse than at the Meteorological Department office on Lodhi Road in New Delhi. The vile chemicals make my eyes sting, and my nose run. We issued all our staff with good quality masks that filter out the largest particles in the air.
There is more poverty here than Jahangir Puri. There is more violent crime, too. But the people are resilient. Children still go to school in clean white shirts. With ties. There is commercial activity. We get large crowds of people at our health education events. There are private schools. There is hope.