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New Delhi Lockdown Diaries
Photography Bharat Sikka, illustration Callum Abbott

Lockdown Diaries: New Delhi

New Delhi Lockdown Diaries

In India’s capital territory, young Indians are experiencing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns – in the first of a new series, creatives in the capital share their experiences of ‘the people’s curfew’

TextClaire Marie HealyPhotographyBharat SikkaStylingAmeetIllustrationCallum Abbott

We’re living through unprecedented times – the current, very unusual alteration to the way we live life right now calls for solidarity, togetherness, and communication. So on Dazed, we’ve created the #AloneTogether community. Across the days, weeks, or months of the coronavirus pandemic and concurrent isolation measures, we’re connecting with our audience to offer URL experiences, art, and advice made with you and talent from across music, fashion, art, tech, and politics. We may be alone, but we are together.

It’s been just over a month since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the “janata curfew” (people’s curfew), followed by the wider measures that meant the country would enter into what is officially the biggest, and one of the most strict, lockdowns anywhere in the world. In the second-most populous nation anywhere, the consequences of widespread transmission would be fatal, but the lockdown is also driving the country's daily wage earners deeper into poverty. What's more, in a turbulent year of riots flamed by government policy, the virus in India is all too easily politicised – despite its own brutal lack of discrimination. But for young people in New Delhi, some of whom had already taken to wearing facemasks in their hyper-polluted city, the view from their window also feels hopeful: the clear, blue skies are brand-new.

What’s it like to be living through one of the world’s most widespread lockdowns, and how does that shape your ability to create? That’s the question we posed of the local Delhi artists, musicians and writers featured in our spring/summer issue: they each, in turn, sent us their written and visual journal entries from the past week.

For the full spring/summer feature, also published today, click here.

BHARAT SIKKA, PHOTOGRAPHER

Bharat Sikka, Friday 24th April: The irony of it: the sky is the bluest in Delhi it’s ever been and no one goes out without a mask. The streets are empty: all stories being made and told behind closed doors. There is peace and beauty in the simplicity our lives have been reduced to... a blessing in disguise? Being in the moment has never been more relevant .. and then I escape to ... the rolling hills and the ruggedness of the virtual world... or reflect back on notes and journals that were getting dusty.

As of now I do not miss much, I like the peace and want things to settle down. I am kind of switched off, but then I circle around on my small roof all the time. My black scrap book journal makes me feel good. Shooting between reality and fantasy.

TANYA MAHESHWARI, ILLUSTRATOR

Tanya Maheshwari, Saturday 25th April: The lockdown has been on for over a month, I’m doing quite okay. Not the best, but not the worst, and in many ways I’ve gotten pretty used to it, it’s an interesting solitude, and makes me reconsider a lot about isolation and loneliness at large. I was trying to work when it began, and eventually I realised this is a global pandemic and I just felt like staring at the ceiling and it’s okay if I don’t end up making work right now. Just being is enough.

AVANI RAI, PHOTOJOURNALIST

Avani Rai, Saturday 25th April: The country has been under lockdown for a month now. I have been home for all of it. There is hardly anyone outside on the streets. The good thing is that the colour of the sky has changed, the environment has developed a new language – which has brought a shift in my own perspective as an observer.  

Because I am a photographer and I have spent most of my professional career photographing traveling in the country, it has affected me a lot. I have never been able to sit at home and do nothing. A lot of photography that I have done has been for myself. I feel the need to photograph the times we live in.

Sitting now in our comfortable homes, as middle class or upper middle citizens we can afford social distancing. But those who are daily wage earners and migrant workers, which is most of India – and Mumbai specifically where I’m from – they are in a dangerous as well as an economically disastrous situation. Economic disparity in the time of this pandemic is so real – that is our reality which needs to be addressed.

I was a nomad and now I'm forced to have a home. At first I was voluntarily exposing myself to the world outside. I had never gotten the time and chance to explore the world within, and even my own space for that matter. This is a very new form of introspection for me that had to be experienced at some point in my life, but it’s now. Although this is a very tough period, I feel that when I finally get out to do my work – it will be extremely refreshing. (My) approach to life and to the work I do will be very different. And I'm looking forward to that. We should be aware that we will walk into a new world, with new responsibilities, a new way to take care of each other and not take nature for granted.

What do I miss the most? I miss the sky. I miss wearing jeans :) And the first thing I will do when the lockdown is over? Go shoot!

TANYA BEDI, ARTIST

Tanya Bedi, Sunday 26 April: I’m not sure how to start this diary entry, I’ve never really been a fan of writing down my thoughts, especially when I can’t be of much help as people face sorrows. Today I spent my day cooking, cleaning and watching TikToks, just like every other day it seems. I’m a freelancer graphic designer and I work from my home so my daily schedule isn’t as different – I do miss the occasional coffee runs or gigs though. When you attend a musical event in New Delhi, it makes you feel like you’re part of a community. Every Wednesday and Saturday you’d see similar faces dancing to the music and we all might not know each other but we’ve danced in close vicinities so often that you know of each other. Maybe I’ll visit Club Quarantine one of these nights, till I can go hug my friends.

My creative energy is at an all time high as the pressure of,“What is your next career step?” has been removed but I haven't been able to act on the thoughts as much as I’d like. I’ve always been curious about filming short videos so I’m trying learn how to do that (I am failing thus far I might add).

Lockdown in India has been particularly strict, because of which the daily wagers and the migrant workers are still trying to reach home where they could have shelter and a sense of safety. While we sit at homes and try to grasp at what our new normal is, maybe we could think of ways to better the future for people who aren’t as privileged. Till then, if you can, please donate to feed the households that aren’t able to feed themselves during the lockdown: like to charities like Feeding India.

TARINI SETHI, CURATOR AND ILLUSTRATOR

Tarini Sethi, Friday 24th April: 

12pm.

I hear

the birds

the dogs

the rain, when it comes uninvited

my sister, who never visits, playing the piano downstairs,

my dad, who never cooks turning pages of a recipe book

My mom, the loudest alarm clock, sitting silently, typing away to finish her research

My dog, who sleeps half the day, now awake and asking for constant attention

And then I hear my own heart, usually anxious and making the loudest lub-dubs,

breathing calmly, happy that I have people around me for the first time in ages.

NAMITA SUNIL, MODEL AND ILLUSTRATOR

Namita Sunil, Tuesday 21st April: All I feel these days is a heady stream of boundless, nervous energy. I dislike sleep. If only I could stay up all night and keep drawing, reading, cleaning, anything. I am addicted to the preparation for battle after this, after the standstill. This is the teetering of a roller coaster car at the very top, right before deafening screams – for some a joyful game and for some, immense fear for their lives. I hope my art will save me. The Panty Girl piece (above) is a self portrait of myself quite literally patting my back for how I am taking care of myself during these tumultuous times.

NISHANT MITTAL, RADIO HOST, DIGGING IN INDIA

Nishant Mittal, Wednesday 22nd April: I was feeling struck in the initial few days of lockdown, but then I came to terms with the fact that I am privileged enough to have a comfortable enough room and food readily available to me.

I'm not complaining about the changes that have occurred in my life, or that I can't go out to meet my friends and spend money on things I don't even particularly enjoy or need. My problems are way too minuscule as compared to what most of the daily wage earners and small business owners are facing.

SATYAM BORA, PHOTOGRAPHER

Satyam Bora, Sunday 26 April:

They lockdown the city few days ago and my travels

at night are growing deeper 

soundless are the nights

they cut the wings

and smashed the cigarettes

smoke is being extracted don't know if it is the smoke or the city

it's the extraction

not just the city but the self.

KAVYA TREHAN, ARTIST AND MUSICIAN

Kavya Trehan, Wednesday 22nd April: Woke up after 10 frantic calls from the delivery guy - Saurav Kumar was flashing on the screen of my phone. I had to pick up coffee from the main gate of my colony. And for that I had to show my ID, order information and swear to the security guard that I will not get any closer than 2 metres away from the parcel delivery bench. It looked a lot like Fed-Up boxes pretending to be soldiers standing in attention in the April sun. Yet, after the 8 minute drive back home, I couldn’t feel happier for the little joys of life. It’s for certain that I’m seeing the details in things for what they are and after 31 days of Delhi’s Lockdown since the announcement of “Janta Curfew... drinking this coffee was going to make it on my bucket list.

After sanitising the doors, my phone, taking my mask off, it was time to begin the self-motivated drive and head to my to-do-list so that my day doesn’t turn into a biscuit that’s been in tea for too long, delicious, detached, and full of regrets. I have goals. I have lists of over-night popularity “collaborations” to adhere to. To go live on Instagram for 30 minutes to cheer everyone, but mostly myself… so that I can call this day “productive”. And yet, I feel like I’m being used in some way or form, because I never really stopped making music to express myself and cheer everyone up in the first place! Here arises my conflict: what a bitch she is, doesn’t (she) care for solidarity? But wait, shouldn’t we also find a way to support artists in these tough times. There will be no tours until 2021 and spare some mercy here too, right?

PFFT. RIGHT.

I miss standing on stage and making sure my laces are tied a little extra tight, my in-ears are traveling like an obedient snake through the back of my shirt and resting on my neck. That way, when I sing and dance, they don’t rebel and pop out. But, I love it when I can continue making music in my little studio on days when I battle my conflict and sing to just sing, like today. I miss hugging my mom and telling her that she has to make sure that she reads books and wears the new spectacles that we got for her on her birthday. But, I love Skyping her especially when she shares that she has finished reading “Many Lives, Many Masters”. I miss going for Japanese. But, I’ve learnt a few recipes myself to keep my greedy tummy happy. 

I also hope for more than my little bubble. We’re going to get through this with hope. I hope we all respect each other. I hope we respect nature. I hope we start taking care of each other. I hope we smile the next time we cross a stranger. I hope the health workers are rewarded like kings and queens. I hope “make money, make more money, make money and don’t think about anything else”, isn’t our motto. I hope we learn our lessons.

I hope I can take a rick and pick up coffee myself the next time round and say ‘Hi’ to Saurav Kumar bhaiya. I hope the future is filled with kindness and humour. Delhi hasn’t breathed better, by the way.