Did we learn anything from Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown that followed the pandemic? Will we change our ways to re nurture our Capital? Will kindness be the new norm replacing greed?
Photographers live for that one moment or period to capture visual history in the making. And so it was that when Delhi’s lockdown of March 23 was announced by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, I spent a miserable week reeling from the babel of imagery and information spewing from the ether. By early April, I knew that I had to get out there, to see what was happening to and in my city.
My father came from New Delhi, my mother from Old Delhi. I grew up, exposed to the city’s magnificent architecture, continuously evolving through many centuries and avatars. In April, Delhi’s streets and vistas, bereft of people, traffic, or movement, were a blaze of the city’s solitary glory. Dogs, monkeys, and birds were out in force, reclaiming lost territories and drawing new lines of control. Capturing the concentric circles of Connaught Place’s maze of colonial pillars, the constellation of Delhi’s galaxy of flyovers, the grand canvas of India Gate and symbols of power in that landscape, the monuments, markets, and Havelis of Old Delhi and Lutyens Delhi, was the Eden we all wished for.
I was not prepared for May and June, the locomotive moments that crushed Delhi’s soul in crematoriums, burial grounds, and cemeteries. And the migrants who could not get out, crouching under flyovers, their fierce mien, and hurt eyes, reflecting the city’s chronic apathy, as they battled hunger and disease. To capture Covid bodies, coming in endless Vans, wrapped in Amazon white plastic, seeing clinical last rites bereft of loved ones, sharing the kindness of crematorium workers and gravediggers, and witnessing extraordinary self-sacrifice and bravery in the corridors of AIIMS, and other hospitals while the city’s doctors waged a relentless war against the virus, will remain my holocaust of emotions.
In July, hope slunk into the city as partial lifts of the lockdown tried to bring some semblance of sanity and normality to a city that has always survived countless, invaders, marauders, and rulers. As people gingerly stepped out of their doorways, covered with masks, and brandishing sanitizers, the count of cases rose too, in a last defiant unfurling of its death throes.
In August Lodhi Garden opened. Khan Market opened and regained its tony identity of linen-clad waifs and leering studs. Streets hugged the litter of discarded masks, and mosques and churches drew believers by the hordes who had rediscovered God, cooking, and Netflix in one course during their captivity. Swagger was back and for a moment it looked like everyone woke up from a bad dream and said lets party again.
Did we learn anything? Will we change our ways to re nurture our Capital. Will kindness be the new norm replacing greed. I cannot say. But there is a roll call we need to respond to soon with a yes or no.