Sushmita Pathak

New Delhi's air quality has already reached its worst level this year. And the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, which starts this weekend, is likely to make things even worse as the traditional rounds of firecrackers add to the air pollution.

During the five-day festival, revelers set off smoke bombs, sparklers and aerial fireworks that spew clouds of noxious gas.

"It's a very critical, dangerous week ahead of us," said Delhi-based environmental activist Vimlendu Jha.

Sometimes the call comes from a teenage girl.

She is pleading for help, "saying her parents are trying to get her married but she wants to stay in school," says Vijay Muttur.

He's the child protection officer in the town of Solapur in south-central India. After India went under a coronavirus lockdown in late March, his phone has been ringing off the hook. He's hearing from girls under the age of 18, from village elders, from social activists and child-care workers.

India has surpassed 8 million confirmed coronavirus cases, making it the second country to reach that milestone after the United States.

Daily new cases in India are continuing to drop after a record high in September, and a government-appointed panel of scientists has said that the country is past its peak.

But the Hindu festival season, local elections and seasonal air pollution are raising concerns that the virus could surge again.

India's recorded coronavirus case total has surpassed that of Brazil, making India the second worst-affected country in the world after the United States.

India overtook Brazil on Monday after registering 90,802 fresh cases — the highest single-day increase any country has recorded so far during the pandemic. India's total cases are now more than 4.2 million.

V Unbeatable is a Mumbai-based acrobatic dance troupe whose members range in age from 12 to 28 and come from the city's slums. NPR wrote about them after they won America's Got Talent: The Champions this February. They'd hoped the win would help improve the financial situation of their families and open doors to new opportunities.

A picky 25-year-old from Mumbai whose unwillingness to marry raises his mom's blood pressure. A headstrong 34-year-old lawyer from Houston who says she doesn't want to settle for just anybody. A cheerful 32-year-old Guyanese-American dancer with Indian roots who simply wants to find a good person to be her husband.

India's confirmed coronavirus infections have surpassed one million cases. The country crossed that threshold on Friday after registering nearly 35,000 new cases — its biggest spike so far in a 24-hour period.

Heavy rains lashing India's northeastern state of Assam have triggered severe flooding and landslides, killing at least 80 people. More than a million people have been moved to relief centers. Thousands of villages are underwater as authorities try to rescue people — and animals. Large swaths of a national park, home to a number of rare species, are submerged.

When India imposed coronavirus restrictions in late March, Arman Rathod's work dried up.

The 29-year-old had made a living washing cars and painting statues of Hindu gods in his hometown of Valsad, in western India. Broke and bored under lockdown, Rathod and his friends started recording videos of themselves in April on the social media app TikTok.

The narrow lanes inside the slum in east Mumbai where Swati Patil lives flood every year during the monsoon season of July and August.

"Even if it rains for half an hour, we have waterlogging," says Patil, 46.

Homes remain inundated for days and many people pile all their belongings on beds floating in the water, she says. Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria dengue as well as water-borne diseases like typhoid and leptospirosis are common. But these aren't the only obstacles.

This monsoon season, Patil and her neighbors have one more thing to fear: the coronavirus.

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