City Style – The Masks of Zamrudpur, South Delhi
Life in the corona.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The spice seller is sitting behind sacks filled with powdered mirchi, haldi, dhaniya and garam masala. The boyish butcher is sitting with his knife, his chickens cooped up in wired cages. The pavement cart is stacked up with mangoes. The young man at the stationery shop is showing notepads to a customer. A bunch of women are chatting in a circle.
Who said that life would never be the same again with the coronavirus pandemic? It certainly feels normal here. It is early evening in this south Delhi’s Zamrudpur village, and due to the recent relaxation in the lockdown, the narrow alley is returning to its former life.
Or at least to some semblance of it.
Indeed, every person here, including the aforementioned spice seller, butcher, mango hawker, stationery shop owner, and chatting women, is in mask. But this mass transition to wearing this face wear appears to be effortless—the mask is looking like an integral part of one’s daily costume, just like a shirt or a sari would be.
A few steps ahead, two masked women are bargaining with a masked vegetable seller over the price of cucumbers—their eyes intently reading each other’s eyes. (Next to them: a masked baby perched on a masked man’s lap.)
Nearby, a small eatery is alive with the hissing sound of piping hot oil. The masked owner is deep-frying samosas—it feels like a novel experience to see a snack shop in function. “We opened two days ago,” the cook says—the tone of his voice suggests that he is smiling, but it is impossible to find out because of you-know-what.
How much the world has altered over the previous month can be ascertained by simply gazing upon the pavement. There is a new kind of litter now. The ubiquitous green face masks, the kind that were formerly seen only in hospitals, are now dispersed by dozens along the roadside; some half-buried with piles of fallen tree leaves.
Atop a boundary wall lies an abandoned pair of white plastic gloves, along with broken idols of Ganesh and Lakshmi that were probably left there because it’s not considered a good omen to keep damaged statues of gods at home.
But, of course, the city is still in inertia. The few cars parked outside the village lane are covered with dust and fallen leaves, indicating that the vehicles haven’t been touched by a human hand for long. A singularly striking sight of pink boungenvillea creepers wounding themselves about a white car can easily rival the dazzle of an art biennale installation.
The most unusual scene, however, is to be seen in a ramshackle shed built under an amaltas tree, currently blooming with golden yellow flowers. An elderly man is sitting alone on a bench—without a mask.
Change gone viral