Curious Bends – air pollution, menstruation, self-admiration and more

1. The air that Indians breathe is dangerously toxic

“Last year the WHO assessed 1,622 cities worldwide for PM2.5 and found India home to 13 of the 20 cities with the most polluted air. More cities in India than in China see extremely high levels of such pollution. Especially to blame are low standards for vehicle emissions and fuel. Nor, for different reasons, are rural people better off. Indoor pollution inhaled from dung-fuelled fires, and paraffin stoves and lights, may kill more than 1m Indians a year. The WHO says the vast majority of Indians breathe unsafe air. The human cost is seen in soaring asthma rates, including among children. PM2.5 contributes to cancer and it kills by triggering heart attacks and strokes. Air pollution is likely to cause vastly more deaths as Indians grow older and more obese. Indoor and outdoor pollution combined is the biggest cause of death, claiming over 1.6m lives a year.” (5 min read,

2. In India, girls almost never talk to their coaches about period problems

“In a country where menstrual blood is widely considered impure and inauspicious and barely 12% of women have access to sanitary napkins, how do sportswomen in physically demanding sports deal with menstruation and its taboos? How much do periods impact their games? Anju Bobby George, India’s long jump champion from Kerala, won three golds, two silvers and two bronzes at major international competitions between 2002 and 2007. And she is convinced she could have added two more medals to her kitty if it had not been for menstruation.” (6 min read,

3. Wealthy Chinese kids are twice as likely to be nearsighted as the poor

“East Asia’s high levels of childhood myopia, also known as nearsightedness, has long been a mystery: It affects as many as 90% of urban 18-year-olds. Researchers have identified possible causes including intensive studying, less time spent outside—even the Chinese language itself. And now a new study has made the mystery even stranger.” (2 min read,

4. Mongolians have decided the country’s future by text message

“Mongolians received a text message last week. It asked them to reply to vote for one of two futures for the country: budget cuts and economic austerity, or the controversial expansion of copper and gold mines, which could bring in billions of dollars in foreign investment.” (2 min read,

5. When Indian scientists can’t show humility, what can you expect from its politicians?

“India’s most famous and highly decorated scientist is C.N.R. Rao, a Fellow of the world’s most prestigious scientific academies, and a recipient of his country’s highest honour, the Bharat Ratna. Some years ago, an admirer decided to lobby the Bangalore Municipality to name the circle outside the Indian Institute of Science (of which Rao had been director) after the great man. Now circles and roads are normally not named after living people. But here was C.N.R. Rao in the flesh, actually present when a circle named after him was being inaugurated.” (7 min read,

Chart of the week

“No one knows how long the change will take. Lots of bright ideas exist for tackling air pollution. Their widespread implementation, however, depends to a great degree on how much the public makes a fuss about inaction. As lorry drivers might say, honk please.” (More on