The streets of Delhi feel like they have metasized into a time warp of the past. Wide open pristine boulevards, and telling architecture that harkens history with compelling contemporaneity, presented formidable flashbacks while we fought an unseen and merciless virus banging on our doors. I grew up in Delhi, a city that gave me a treasure trove of memories of streets walked on, buildings visited, parks strolled, laughter shared, sorrows unburdened, hopes realised, failures endured, friends made, chaat and chatter, pomp and power and din and tranquility.
It made sense to me to unlock those memories and capture both the alienation and the bonds of a lockdown. Dialects of Silence,published by Roli Books, is a selection of black-and-white photographs culled from over 1,000 images I captured between April and July as the pandemic raged and the city fought back.
I was driving back home after shooting one afternoon in the first week of April when I stopped at the Vijay Chowk red light. Towards my right were the looming vistas of Raisina Hill, the seat of power, completely abandoned. I pressed the camera shutter while sitting on the driver's seat to arrest the frozen reality of life we had left behind while hiding from the virus.
It is memories that make a place a part of your very being. My father came from New Delhi, my mother, Uma Sharma, from Old Delhi. My childhood was spent in Gole Market. Most weekends my brother and I would walk with my parents to Regal Cinema to catch the first day, first show. The excitement of busy stalls, ice cream and toy vendors, the silver screen buzzing and the full occupancy of the hall, was a tremendous rush for us. But that afternoon it was as if the past got trapped in an empty present.
Indian railway isolation coach ward
The Indian Railways converted 5,000 coaches into isolation wards for Covid care like these at Delhi’s Anand Vihar railway station. The Railways ensured meticulous sanitisation on the platforms and in the coaches, and I was particularly struck by the caring face of this patrolman of the Railway Protection Force.
The aura of absence
Delhi is the city of soaring flyovers trellising it’s skies like spatial highways to its future. The crisscross of two of Delhi’s busiest flyovers at the Dhaula Kuan intersection presented an ominous symbol of warning to the rare traveller who ventured out with its in-your-face advisory “Avoid Travel Where Possible’.
Aerial view of cwg covid care centre
Delhi rapidly created mega isolation infrastructure in the city with two traditional bitter rivals, Kejriwal’s AAP and the Home Ministry under Amit Shah, joining hands to set up centres for COVID affected citizens. This aerial view of the Commonwealth Games Village Isolation Centre looked like an avant garde chess board with humans checkmating each other.
Tri-services, drdo Working with the Home Ministry and Tata Sons
DRDO created this huge Covid Care Isolation Centre near the domestic terminal of Delhi airport, manned by the Indian armed forces. It was a magnificent air-conditioned facility created in 12 days with over 1,000 beds and 250 intensive care modules.
Life from the frontlines
The head of Delhi’s Covid Care Unit at AIIMS, Dr. Rajesh Malhotra worked an exhausting 18-hour shift, seven days of the week, staying within the Hospital complex, and caught up with his favourite Talat Mahmood songs before snatching a few hours of sleep. He and his team of doctors, nurses and health workers, led by AIIMS director Dr. Randeep Guleria, saved hundreds of lives and became Demi Gods we prayed to, as Delhi faced the fury of the virus. PPE suits and face masks and shields made it important for doctors and nurses to write their names on their suits to reassure frightened patients that they were in safe and familiar hands.
The new abnormal
In Paris, the moment the lockdown lifted women rushed to Sephora and other perfume stores and to hairdressers. Delhi was no different. In July, the capital’s beauty business unlocked its doors and hairdressers donned Star Wars uniforms to guarantee infection free cutting and snipping of locks of fashionable men and women who started to prepare to go back to their pre COVID lives of hard core partying. (Looks Prive Saloon at The Claridges Hotel)
Love and lust
Objects in the rear-view mirror appear closer than they are. The gradual lift of the lockdown brought love out on the streets and parks. Masked couples held hands in India Gate and Lodhi Garden and Nehru Park. Expats who chose to stay and not flee also celebrated their post lockdown by romancing like this couple on Delhi’s Ridge area as they struggle with the complexities of a kiss with masks on.
Also read: In love with the Eiffel Tower
Lost and found
Lodhi Garden opened and Delhi’s Mecca for all walkers, runners, strollers, lovers, power wielders and seekers buzzed again with life and the pursuit of wellness and the incredible physical talents of Delhi’s youth. This young Afghan refugee named Khalid was in his elements as he kick boxed and showed of his martial arts skills to admirers including myself.