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Capital in lockdown: Stories from around Delhi-NCR amid coronavirus pandemic

Mayank Austen Soofi aka Delhiwale picks six stories that capture the essence of what has been lost, as life in Delhi endures during the pandemic. Read on to find out which one is the most heart touching.

ht-weekend Updated: Sep 06, 2020 16:11 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Stories from around Delhi picked by Delhiwala Mayank Austen Soofi
Stories from around Delhi picked by Delhiwala Mayank Austen Soofi(Mayank Austen Soofi)

Mayank Austen Soofi aka Delhiwale picks six stories that capture the essence of what has been lost, as life in Delhi endures during the pandemic: a couple holds a religious reading without community, for the first time in decades; cellphone numbers on walls tell the story of small businesses hit the hardest; a young poet finds the sublime in the ordinary; a happily married autorickshaw driver and domestic help grapple with the fallout of the lockdown.

Which one touched you most? What’s your story? Mail, tweet or share to let us know.

Yellow Pages on Walls

When the markets shut down, Metro trains stopped running, and those who had the luxury of a house exiled themselves within it, some left their phone numbers behind.

Mobile phone numbers etched on boundary walls or on makeshift boards hanging from tress and light poles stared at masked passersby on traffic-less streets.

A wall in Green Park was scrawled with the number of a mat seller. One a wall near Nehru Place, the number of a tailor. The barely perceptible number of a ‘Bijli Walla’ or electrician scratched on a wall in South Extension, etched in desperation.

TO MEET THE VOICE BEHIND ONE SUCH NUMBER, GO HERE

ALSO SEE | Photos: Stories told in photographs from a capital in lockdown

From choir to duet

Every July, Kshetra Pal and his wife, Pushpa, hold A Ramayan Paath, a 24-hour reading of the Ramcharitmanas, at their home in Ghaziabad. Every year, their drawing room would be converted into a makeshift mandir. Sofas and coffee table cleared, floor covered in mattresses topped with clean sheets. Hosts and guests would take turns to read the verses aloud, ‘with emotion’.

In the pandemic, one option would have been to postpone the reading, but “that was out of the question,” Pushpa says. Instead, they both stayed awake for 20 hours straight and finished the reading of the epic themselves, sitting face to face.

TO SEE THE PALS AND READ THEIR ACCOUNT OF THIS YEAR, AND YEARS GONE BY, GO HERE

Vowels of the street

Each door on the long winding street of Old Delhi’s Chatta Sheikh Mangloo is marked with an ‘O’ or ‘E’ painted in yellow. “O stands for odd and E stands for even,” a chai stall owner explains. “Our market’s pradhan got these signs painted.” So everyone knew when they can open shop. That was in May. It is now September and all shops are free to open daily. The hand-drawn signs have remained.

Curiously, some are even drawn on doors of residences. “It’s because the man painting just went along without bothering what kind of door it was,” says an elderly man, gazing upon a green doorway painted with an O.

TO SEE THE DOORS, AND MEET SOME OF THE RESIDENTS, GO HERE

ALSO SEE | Photos: Artist Sudhir’s Patwardhan’s Mumbai

Her elegy to the ordinary

She is in purple palazzos and pink kurti. And a mask, of course. Jonaki Ray has a day job in an IT company, as a technical editor. And a passion for poetry. She wrote a pandemic-era poem for HT, titled The Art of Not Losing Breath (after Elizabeth Bishop)…

At the corner of the market was Maxim’s

with its air blending butter into rising cakes.

Outside, on the crescent-shaped street, cars honking

at walkers evading rickshaws, passengers hopscotching

with potholes, the three brothers’ self-proclaiming

their ‘permanent’ vegetable store—

twenty-five years and counting—

the diners queuing for Belgian chocolate shakes,

while handing leftovers to the waiting children…

TO READ THE FULL POEM, GO HERE

ALSO SEE | Watch: Javed Akhtar recites Hum-safar (Co-travellers)

Housekeeper of Hauz Khas

Her husband makes a very good chicken curry. “But we haven’t had it for a long time,” says Kamni, who goes by only one name. “I no longer earn as much as I used to before the lockdown so we can’t afford maas-machhi.”

For 20 years, Kamni has worked as housekeeper to scores of one-room pads in Hauz Khas Village, rented mostly by singles. Most of Kamni’s employers gave up their accommodation in the lockdown, because of job losses or salary cuts, leaving Kamni with a shrunken income. “I used be responsible for more than a dozen rooms... now just 3 or 4,” she says. She has two

“Every day I pass in front of those empty rooms. These people I have worked for… I hope they are fine wherever they are.”

TO MEET KAMNI AND READ MORE ON HER LOSSES AND LIFE IN LOCKDOWN, GO HERE

A Capital driver’s new auto etiquette

His earnings have shrunk, but Sunil Kumar still spends a small fortune on sanitiser. ‘I must keep the customers protected... if they’re safe, chances are I will be too,’ he says. Despite his smiling demeanour, he admits that life is “full of tension”. “The world has turned upside down. sometimes things get so desperate that my wife is forced to work as a maid in people’s houses.”

TO MEET SUNIL AND READ MORE ABOUT HOW THE PANDEMIC HAS AFFECTED HIM AND HIS FAMILY, GO HERE

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