Aman’s Climate Story
New Delhi, India 110057
How are you sensing climate change?
14th November, 2018. I remember looking forward to going to school on Children’s Day, excited to ditch the uniform for my own clothes, and to hang out with my friends without the pressure of classes. As I began to leave for school, my mother barged into my room to tell me my classes had been cancelled. Schools had been shut down in Delhi due to the hazardous and deadly levels of air pollution, which had just crossed 999, the limit for the measuring scale. I remember looking out the window in confusion, and seeing….. nothing. A dense smoky haze shrouded my neighbourhood for as far as I could see, until it merged into the vastness of the rest of the city. ‘Turn on the air purifier!’ my father shouted from his room, and I leapt into action as the sound of my younger brothers coughs echoed in the hallway. That was the first time I felt helpless – even though I was in the comfort of my home, and the arms of my family, there was nothing I could do to fight the problem that had arrived at my backyard.
It was now 2019. I remember planning my summer trip to the city of Udaipur with my family, picking out the parks and national heritage sites we would visit. My mother barged in yet again, almost in a cyclical manner, holding the same expression she had had on her face last year. She told me our trip had to be cancelled – this time, a heatwave had struck India, especially the northern regions. Again, like clockwork, there was a nation-wide shutting down of schools, and this time even deaths in public areas due to heat exposure.
Now, it was 2021, and the covid lockdown had just been lifted. The relief of this lift wasn’t a new feeling for me and neither was the dread of its re-imposition – I had experienced lockdowns every single year I could remember. Due to pollution. Due to heat. Due to a system’s failure to provide me a normal childhood and a safe environment. I remember going to the jungle, my first trip after 2 years of the pandemic, and feeling lost. Where were the birds, the animals, the wildlife I had been watching over the last few years? Where was the forest? It reminded me of an iconic line from an American film, ‘Run, Forrest, run!’ The forest had, truly, run away. Gone. Gone with the lockdown, there was no more forest but spans of dried up trees. Ailing, sad, brown – the place I had once loved and known to be full of birdsong and butterflies now ceased to exist. The birds had all left – Delhi was simply too hot for them, and the animals migrated – no water due to the extreme heat had caused them to relocate. The leopards had left, the flamingoes had left, the bees had left. Life, had left. What was left now was me, and a figment of what once was – a memory of the ‘had been’, and a reminder of the present. Growing up in India bereft of climate privilege, I knew the only power I had was my voice, and I had to use it. I had to be seen. We, people of colour from global south countries, had to be seen. I started headlining a petition on declaring a climate emergency to the Indian government. I guess that was where my climate story started afresh – one where I wasn’t just the victim, but also the hero!
How do these changes make you feel?
These changes instilled within me a deep fear of being ‘stuck’. Stuck in a loop of feeling helpless. Having nightmares about climate lockdowns over and over again. Climate anxiety, a term I had only heard of, became something I lived with. But these motivated me to work towards system change, and that work brought me hope. Hope for a brighter future that starts with marginalised communities getting able representation and agency, and having their voice heard in matters that affect them the most.
(I also wrote a song called Go Easy, which describes my struggle of dealing with climate anxiety, and the burden of feeling like you have to ‘save the world’, an overwhelming notion for a child/teenager. This song is a part of the 5 episode documentary Inside Change, where one episode focuses on my climate work. The song tells my climate story, which is why I would love to share/attach it here. While I have written the whole song, I sing from 1:09-1:30, sharing vocals with Grammy’s jury member and singer Justin Michael Williams.)
New Delhi, India 110057
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