The One Threat That Lurks Unnoticed Inside Our Homes

“Oh, you’re from Delhi! How on earth do you manage to BREATHE in that city?!”

This was an acquaintance, sipping coffee while sitting in the chair opposite me, airing her views on everything about the world around her. She had lived all her life as “an international citizen of India” and really wanted nothing to do with the “filth that lurked everywhere” back in the country where she was born.

She displeased me – oh, a lot – but somehow, I couldn’t think of an appropriate response. What she said wasn’t untrue. Over time, Delhi had become this potboiler of dust, chemicals and grime; it had achieved notoriety as the home of all things evil – from air pollution to crime. And yet, it didn’t seem all that long ago when the air in Delhi had been fragrant with shiuli flowers on Durga Puja, chicken cooking deliciously in the neighbourhood, fresh leaves sprouting in spring.

I came back home that evening and looked around my home. My conversation with that irritating acquaintance had made me feel unsettled. But now I was home. And home is where nothing can get at you, right? Not the monsters who lurked in drains, not the smoke that lurked in Delhi’s air and triggered hateful diseases. Home is safe…

And yet, every other day, I hear of someone suffering from a disease triggered by pollution, when many of these people spend most of their time in the safety of their homes. Women, little children, senior citizens. Scores of people coming down with an eye irritation or a nose congestion every now and then. Nursing an allergy or a flu. Getting hospitalised for bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart problems. People who don’t walk around in traffic and on crowded streets, or inhale the smoke from factories.

 Turns out, our homes are not as safe as we had thought.

According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 13 of them are in India. And while we realize the seriousness of outdoor pollution, indoor pollution can be even more dangerous! As per studies, indoor air can actually be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air!

Many of us mistakenly believe that if the house smells fresh, thanks to air fresheners, or if we have mopped it up with disinfectant, or got it freshly painted and renovated, nothing can harm us anymore. However, there are several sources of indoor pollution – this silent threat that so many of us overlook.

Most Commonly Ignored Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

  • Scented candles made of paraffin or chemicals
  • Carpets (and other home furnishings too)
  • Pets (all that hair!)
  • Deodorants and perfumes
  • Even some air fresheners (ones that contain ‘phthalates’)
  • Lead-based paint
  • Insecticides and pesticides (yes, that cockroach-killer all of us use liberally)
  • Asbestos (for example: from that house being constructed across the street)

Many of these sources release toxic chemicals into the air, including formaldehyde (one of the most common and harmful indoor pollutants), carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other toxins that have been linked to asthma, respiratory and skin problems, even cancer.

Mom and I are obsessive cleaners; no matter how tired out we are, we try to keep the wardrobe in order, the kitchen counter spic and span. But I’ll admit, if it hadn’t been for recurrent illness in the neighbourhood, or well-timed advice from doctors, many of these indoor pollutants would have escaped our notice.

When young adults in the colony fall ill, some of the elderly uncles say – “We didn’t have all these diseases back when we were young. You modern people are just weaklings…” And while I don’t want to argue that, it is true that we live in a harsher, dirtier world. This is why it is critical to take some proactive steps to let our homes continue being the safe havens they are supposed to be.

7 Things We Do to Reduce Indoor Pollution Inside Our Home

  1. Indoor Plants to the Rescue

We keep some purifying indoor plants at home. There’s a little nursery close to our home in Delhi and they have some beautiful plants that are also excellent at absorbing indoor toxins. Aloe vera and spider plants are our favourite. It helps that nani also makes these cool concoctions with the aloe vera, which are “excellent for your skin radiance”. Oh well.

Aloe Vera

  1. A Clean Kitchen Exhaust

We are a Bengali household and there is plenty of heavy-duty cooking happening through the day. So, we ensure to keep the kitchen exhaust working in good condition, cleaning it periodically to ensure no blockages. My granny thinks we are making a real fuss about the kitchen (which is where she usually lets in no intruders) but she cooperates by handing out dusters and eco-friendly cleaners.

  1. Renovation, Painting & The Right Paint

A house needs to be maintained from time to time not just to keep it looking beautiful but also to keep it clean and disease-free. A thorough renovation should ideally cover repair, pest control and a fresh coat of paint.

The last time we got the house painted, I threw a big fuss about creating a personalised wallpaper for my bedroom. Thankfully, our contractor realized that there was more to renovation than mere aesthetics, and briefed us in-depth about choosing eco-friendly paints and materials. Making the right choice of paint is more important than we realize as this is what we are going to live with, and this is what we will breathe. A wonderful new solution that keeps the air clean and the house beautiful is Royale Atmos, Asian Paints’ latest offering. What’s unique about this rich matt-finish paint is its activated carbon technology which actually helps clean the air of harmful air pollutants. This paint has been tested to clean the air of formaldehyde, nicotine, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide, and what’s more, it can continue to reduce air pollutants for up to 2 years after application!

Royale Atmos

Plus, Royale Atmos also absorbs various foul smells and makes the indoor air fresher. This means you have a paint that also acts as a soothing air freshener.

  1. Cleaning – and The Right Cleaner

Like I mentioned before, we are a bit obsessive about cleaning. Part of the reason is because we have many cats living with us, some of whom are generous shedders. So, there’s a lot of mopping and using-the-broom happening every day. I am also a bit finicky about the cleaner we use, so I make sure to get an eco-friendly one as opposed to one laden with synthetic chemicals. (This is partly why we end up spending hours in grocery shopping as granny has a fairly long list of requests. For example – “If it smells like phenyl, I will ban it. I am not going to have the house smelling like a hospital!”)

  1. Limit Pollutants From Outdoors

We make an effort to limit the contaminants entering our house from outdoors. So, we keep large footmats outside every door and stand there smiling till people wipe their feet. There is no smoking allowed in the house.

Cats on the footmat

Note: The above picture explains why we need to change our footmats periodically 😉

  1. Stop Spraying About

Deodorants and perfumes make my head swirl. Back when I was a child, it was diagnosed as some innate pet peeve. However, mom loves perfumes. Granny loves air fresheners. And Dad loves all things remotely to do with machinery, including polish. Many of these products release toxic chemicals into the air. It hasn’t been easy, but over the years, we have tried to limit the household’s usage of such aerosol sprays, and switch to more natural alternatives such as using lemons for a nice indoor scent and asking Dad to take his machinery work outside the living area.

  1. Keep Humidity Under Control

One last thing we do is to keep the humidity inside the house regulated. Excess moisture in the air promotes the growth of mould and other allergy-causing agents. This becomes especially important in the hot and humid summer when there’s sweat and grime everywhere you look. This is also why infections and allergies are at an all-time high in summer and monsoon. Little steps like fixing any leakages, using an exhaust fan in the bathroom, and not letting any water stagnate in the house can make a big difference.

The day has aged into afternoon as I wrote this post, and my home is now bathed in a pleasant, late September afternoon light. It looks lovely and makes me feel at peace. The world we live in can be unforgiving and tough, and there are pretences, charades and lies we have to battle with every day. It only stands to reason then that back home, in our favourite armchair and the cat snuggling at our feet, there should be no #MaskedLife. There should be no reason to be afraid of anything, including pollution.

Cheers, Royale Atmos, for offering such an eco-friendly and thoughtful solution for our homes. Here’s to #CleanAirBeautifulHomes! 🙂

Pictures 1, 2


This Is Why I’m Giving Up Scrolling

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A friend checking into a shopping mall. A marriage. Baby’s first birthday. An advertisement for an Indian restaurant in Vienna. Random philosophical quote with a spelling error. New brand campaign, meme or GIF on the latest trending subject. Some food that’s bright red. A shocking video or two. A dozen pictures clicked with the same background and people starting petitions (oh, not for the dozen pictures). Continue reading

Mom, The Birthday Girl

Today is my mom’s birthday. I went to wish her in the morning and she wasn’t in her room. I wondered where she had gone. Usually, she’d be fussing about, dusting this, arranging that, making me some coffee. Mornings were supremely busy for her – not that the rest of the day wasn’t. She has never enjoyed napping in the afternoon and usually undertakes massive projects like turning out old cupboards, finishing an entire novel, cleaning my bookshelves, making me a new dress, or sorting out Papa’s documents. And these projects tend to continue all through the afternoon, often alongside me, both of us working steadily on something or the other. Continue reading

Poison Pen Writing

“We call this kind of thing ‘poison pen’ writing, when the writers are grown up, and they are held in universal loathing and hatred, considered the lowest of the low.” – Miss Potts

I grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton books – a new title purchased every week of my summer vacation – and this was among the little lessons I picked up from there. Anonymous letters were just not done. They were, I always thought, sent by people who hadn’t the courage to say what they wanted to your face. And courage was important.

Turns out, things have changed and how. Anonymous writing is now not only acceptable but even favourable. Recipients of such letters don’t burn the notes or throw them in the bin but publicise them on their ‘wall’ for everyone to see. Many do this even when the contents of the note are not complimentary – and this, it seems, is the new definition of courage.

In the past weeks or so, the Sarahah app has befuddled, puzzled and upset me. In case you have been fortunate enough to miss out on these notifications on your Facebook or Twitter timeline, Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service that lets people leave you ‘constructive feedback’. The recipient can then showcase these golden nuggets of feedback on their social media profiles.


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Top 3 Tips to Survive an Awkward Phone Conversation

First, some creds. What makes me an authority on phone conversation tips? Just this – I am the queen of awkward. Many conversations with me are awkward, but phone conversations top the lot.

There’s something about not looking someone in the eye, not catching their facial expressions, and the very theme of talking on the phone (small talk) that just lends itself to awkwardness. Strange silences. Throat clearing. Repeating questions about the weather and “what did you cook for lunch/dinner?”. Asking whether “you can hear me?” a few times. Trying to sound chirpy and charged because hey, look who called. So, I have several years of experience in trying to evade, whine over, and eventually endure phone calls.

Awkward Phone Conversations

Here are the three valuable tips that have held me in good stead. Sharing this at the risk of personal offence to people I have tried these on – but hey, those times were genuine, I swear. Continue reading

In My Brown Skin

When I was in school, we didn’t have modern ideas about equality across communities, race and colour. (It is another story that equality was there anyway, without any of us talking about it much). So, it used to be fine and non-offensive to make personal remarks about someone’s hair-tie or school-bag or curly hair. It was all in good fun and nobody held it against anyone.

One afternoon, in the school bus, a classmate started a discussion about skin-colour. I think we were in class VIII or IX – that time when you start lingering in front of the mirror for longer moments than usual. She was a rather chubby, loud girl who loved airing her opinions about everything from the food at the canteen to the school song. Continue reading

No, Depression Does Not Just Mean Sadness

“I am depressed.”

It seems like such a simple thing to say, really. We are human beings, capable of feeling a vast range of emotions. So, when it starts raining just on a morning you had wanted to picnic, you can say it’s depressing. As is the taste of the food, the colour of the walls, your mood after watching a TV series. We are all ‘depressed’ about something or the other, almost every day. Continue reading

Why Evenings Have Changed

It is early evening. I can hear the birds chirping excitedly, convening to discuss the night’s meal and if the chicks are going to be happy with what they are taking home. The lights have started coming on in the windows I can see from mine; there are candles in some. An old man is slowly walking on the pavement, carrying a bagful of pastries for his grandchildren. I can hear their faraway giggles from the neighbourhood’s park; they are glad the swings are no longer covered in snow. Perhaps they aren’t his grandchildren. Perhaps his grandchildren are away, in another country, and he only gets to talk to them on Christmas and birthdays. Maybe he is taking the pastries for his wife. Maybe for himself. But I digress.
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