City Neighbourhood – Pandemic Postcard, Hauz Khas Village
Juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The evening breeze is cool. The blue sky is darkening. A pale moon has already surfaced. The air is filled with the incessant sound of ambulance sirens. The roads on which those ambulances are running cannot be seen amid the thick tree cover, but these desperate vehicles must be heading to nearby Safdarjung Hospital, or to All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
If you count out the sound of sirens, then this corner of south Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village is picture postcard perfect. Stony remains of the 14th century are speckled across an expanse of green. The Hauz Khas lake is glimmering in the distance. The village’s lanes are completely empty due to the pandemic-era curfew. The cafes are closed. The aggressive nightclub bouncers and touts who would crowd the Main Street in less deadly times have disappeared. A few stray dogs are snoozing here and there, immersed in peace. The monument’s rusting metal gate is also locked, with nobody inside but for a lone gardener watering the grass with a long green hose, and a handful of uniformed security guards.
The only antidote to the continuous wail of ambulance sirens is the continuous chirping of birds — mostly pigeons. They are settled on one of the monument’s domes, as if it were a community club, standing as close to each other as we humans would in cinema halls before the pandemic. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the birds all at once scatter away. Some go towards the balconies of the monument-facing village houses, many of which have been turned into AirBnB rooms. Some go towards an amaltas tree that will only bloom next month, with its golden yellow flowers. And some head to a rooftop cafe that was blaring pop music late into the night as recently as last month—which is like another lifetime.
Few moments pass. And suddenly a great flock of pigeons fly back from those many directions and settle upon the same dome. Perhaps they are the same birds. This intermittent communal merry-go-round continues for a long time. Finally, the night sets in. The moon is the only visible thing in the black sky. The birds have disappeared. The village is deathly quiet. But the air is still pierced by an ambulance siren now and then, not letting the village residents forget about the city’s unfolding tragedy.