City Life – Covid’s Street Life, Old Delhi
Life in the pandemic.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This narrow lane in the Walled City doesn’t go past any historic monument. No beautiful doorway opens into it.
And yet, the lane shows so much. Especially these days, with its scenes conveying the oppressiveness and distress of the curfew and coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s an anthology of impressions collected over a handful of days.
6am: An elderly beggar is sitting on the street-side, his arm resting upon a cloth bundle of what presumably gathers his possessions. The man is without mask, and his back is resting against a shuttered store named Discount Medicura, a pharmacy whose banner announces “free home delivery” and “20 percent discount.” The street is otherwise empty, save for a few cats and dogs.
7am: Another beggar is sitting on another part of the street. He is in a mask. A cat settles close to him, but far enough to respect the codes of social distancing, and is staring at him attentively.
9am: The aforementioned pharmacy is open. A side-shelf is mostly decked with oximeters. (Until recently, that space was dedicated exclusively to glucometers for the diabetics.) The young man behind the counter is wearing two masks. His phone is playing the film song “Didi tera dewar deewana.”
11am: Two men are riding a bike. The man at the back is holding an oxygen cylinder.
1pm: A figure hesitantly appears from a side-lane. His mask is falling under his nose. The man has ventured out “because our whole family lives in a one-room house, with no balcony or window. I have come for fresh air.” He is coughing as he speaks.
2.30pm: A public announcement of a local resident’s death echoes through the street. It is coming from a mosque. The janaza, the departed one’s journey to the graveyard, will start after the evening prayers.
4pm: The street is filling up with a thin stream
of shoppers despite the curfew. Everyone is wearing a mask, if not always correctly. Sounds of coughing every now and then. A kebab stall has a poster stuck on its counter—“Please wear mask, no sitting permitted.”
6pm: A burial procession passes.
8pm: A rickshaw appears, with two passengers on the seat, and a masahri—a metallic bed to carry a body—on the roof (see pic).
Around midnight: Neighbourhood kids are playing cricket in the otherwise empty lane.
2am: The pharmacy is still open, still lit, looking like a lighthouse in the dark.
A street, transformed