2020 - The year of the pandemic: From lockdown to slow release

For a city that is always industrious, hard at work, assiduously getting through the tasks of the day, Delhi had to adapt, and adapt fast, to a change in rhythm.
Hindustan Times | By Mayank Austen Soofi
UPDATED ON DEC 25, 2020 06:46 AM IST

As the country went into a state of lockdown on March 25, our lives were disrupted in a manner unlike anything we have encountered before. For a city that is always industrious, hard at work, assiduously getting through the tasks of the day, Delhi had to adapt, and adapt fast, to a change in rhythm. Schools shut down, and the children had to start attending classes online.

Our offices asked us to work from home, and we stayed in — as instructed — for days on end, barely stepping out if we could help it. Many lost their livelihoods; almost everyone began to do a lot more domestic work than they had done previously. Mayank Austen Soofi captured this Delhi through his camera and phone, looking for new ways of telling the stories of our lives as we battled the coronavirus pandemic.

How we worked

1. Hair stylists Wakeel and Bali, both in their 40s, on the job in their white PPE kits in Khan Market’s Bharat Hair Dresser, late November. “It’s to protect ourselves and our customers from the virus,” said Wakeel. Their daily attendance in the salon, which opened on June 1 after more than two months of staying shut, emphasises the fact that while many professionals might still be working from home, there are others who are obliged to perform their duties in person, at work sites.

They wear their new uniform throughout the day except during lunch hours, and switch to a another washed set the next day.

2. The legendary Old Famous Jalebi Wala shop in Chandni Chowk is screened off with a plastic curtain on an early December morning. A special poster cane up three weeks ago asking customers to maintain social distancing. The masked cook, Vicky, has just finished deep-frying the day’s first batch of jalebis. The shop stayed closed for two months during the lockdown and reopened in early June. The owner says that the “business is as cold as the weather

How we coped

1. Janakpuri resident Radhika Singh, 52, irons her newspaper before any family member living in the three-floor residence touches it. In the early days of the pandemic, many discontinued the delivery of newspapers to their homes fearing that the paper might carry the Sars-CoV-2 virus within its folds. But Singh’s household didn’t. The fear was soon proved to be false given the sanitization procedures followed during the printing process. Even so, Singh believes that applying heat kills the virus.

She said she got the idea of ironing from popular English series, Downton Abbey. Singh still doesn’t meet anyone except she did visit her parents in Dwarka twice, on Raksha Bandhan and Diwali. She agreed, late November, to meet on WhatsApp video— a poignant reminder of how people are reaching out to each other.

2. A hand sanitiser bottle occupies a place of decorative reverence in the Sufi shrine of Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya during the saint’s 806th birthday celebrations in October. Closed for more than five months, the shrine re-opened to visitors in September, and this was the first major event held there.

The dargah was decked with flowers, balloons and buntings, with the hand-sanitiser bottles were installed attractively in various places so that visitors would be encouraged to use them. A team of volunteers were assigned to make sure that devotees didn’t linger for more than a few minutes. The saint’s grave continues to be surrounded by a plastic screen so that nobody tries to kiss it, as was the tradition in the BC era.

How we studied

1. Fourth-year engineering student Muskan Singh, 21, prepares for her ongoing final exams at her Ghaziabad home, December. Singh hasn’t been to her college’s campus in Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women since the lockdown began in March.

Even though her parents have resumed going to office in the past few months, Singh spends all her time in front of her laptop and on her mobile phone. “Soon we’ll complete two semesters without meeting our professors in person... can they recognise us as their students if we happen to pass by them somewhere?” she said, adding that she missed the pleasure of sitting amid fellow students. She however does play badminton for two hours with friends in the outdoor court of her apartment complex

How we were governed

1. Masked customers at a small roadside tea shop in Seelampur on a cool November morning. A Delhi Government-issued poster on the wall reads: “Not wearing mask is not a heropanti...” But, of course, the customers were obliged to take off their mask to dunk down their chai.

The government, through the district magistrates’ enforcement officers, continues to fine people who don’t wear masks — but roadside vendors and stall owners, at risk from customers with their masks down, don’t have a choice

How we interacted

1. Designer Elena Tommaseo, a native of Venice, on a Zoom meet-up with friends and relatives in Italy from her apartment in East of Kailash in April. This picture was taken at a time when Italy was witnessing a great many deaths due to the pandemic and Tommaseo, a longtime Delhi resident, was anxious for her folks, especially her elderly parents.

In her 50s now, it was an annual ritual to visit them during the summer, but this year she was forced to spend the months of May and June in Delhi due to the lockdown

How we played

1. Fitness trainer Muhammed Zaid, 30, exercises on an early December morning in a gym in Old Delhi’s Kucha Chelan. Before the lockdown, Zaid spent long hours in SolidCore gym — across the street from his home — where he trained 15 clients over a stretch of 10 hours. He’d also take out a couple of hours for his own set of exercises. While Zaid didn’t go to the gym during the lockdown, and even for a few weeks after it lifted, he didn’t miss exercising even for a single day. “I gathered many equipments on my roof where I would exercise without fail.” Zaid wears the mask as often as possible.

Twice a week, he jogs for 12 kilometres at Rajghat, a ritual he is following for six years. Sometimes, he plays snooker in a lounge near Delite Cinema. “I was about to move to Dubai to work as a fitness trainer, I’d gained all the appropriate certificates necessary for having such a job in Dubai... and then the pandemic arrived and my plan fell through.”

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