Love in the time of pollution.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The evening air is pleasantly chilly. Fairy lights are strung around the trees. It will soon be Christmas. The Delhi Walla is in tony Khan Market. A kiosk has come up beside Mercury Audio Video. It is stocked with a rather new sort of consumer product: premier filtering face masks to ‘Breathe Clean Air’. This is certainly a thoughtful service for the doomed inhabitants of the world’s most polluted city.
Not soon after a woman in a dark-blue blazer is seen walking flamboyantly on the market’s Front Lane. She looks elegant in her French béret and tomato-red jeans. But her face is invisible. She is wearing an anti-pollution mask, almost the same sort as is now available in Khan Market.
The woman briefly stops in front of Bahrisons Booksellers, but continues to walk ahead. She turns to the Middle Lane and enters the stairs going up to Café Turtle. There, she orders lemonade and, at long last, she removes her mask. She is beautiful beyond belief.
The woman finishes her drink, and as she gets up to leave, she again puts on the mask.
She walks down to Full Circle Bookstore, which is in the same building, and flips through Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s book Convenient Action: Continuity for Change. A minute later, she keeps it back in the New Arrivals section. She goes down and walks back to the Front Lane. She enters Faqir Chand & Sons bookshop but doesn’t buy anything. Next, she steps inside Good Earth store. But it has closed for the day. She comes out, and suddenly she starts to run towards the market’s exit, as if she has recalled something urgent.
Suddenly, the woman stops. She turns, waves her arm, and then again she starts to run away. Soon she disappears. There is now nothing but smoggy air. It is a terrifying moment.
A beauty in the smog