A shehnai erupts from a nearby auditorium hosting a cultural event as a band of brave men lower their heads in silent prayer.
On all four sides, they are surrounded by visuals of ruin, pain, violence, hope and compassion mounted on makeshift black walls at the PL Deshpande Academy in Prabhadevi.
Over an exhibition of images that date back to the city’s darkest hours in November last year, the city’s photographers took stock of their emotions when confronted with their work.
“We unanimously decided not to focus on the bloodshed and horror. The attacks were unique for a majority of us because we witnessed a live unfolding of horror and had to keep our wits about ourselves because we were on duty,” said Mahindra Parikh, the president of Mumbai News Photographers Association.
The week-long exhibition, titled Bearing Witness, abounds in images that we are all familiar with.
“I was one of the first people to arrive at The Oberoi after the initial firing. I had no clue what had transpired or that if it was still dangerous inside. I saw a window and entered the lobby, shot pictures and let my photographer’s instinct guide me. It was after 24 hours that I realised that with the terrorists still holed up in the hotel, I had made myself a soft target,” said Hindustan Times photographer Anshuman Poyrekar.
Gambling with their lives, with deep attachment for their city and for the people under siege, many photojournalists confessed that this assignment qualified as their most challenging to date.
“No creative productivity is impossible in a heightened state of emotion. It’s very mechanical, but when on the field, we have to deliver and can only take stock of our feelings once the deed is done. While shooting wars in alien lands, it’s easier to detach, but in your own city, your involvement is the hardest bit,” said Reuters photojournalist Arko Datta.