parul sharma delhi lockdown photos
"I still wake up on most dawns in a sweat shattered with the horror and sadness and sheer aloneness of bodies that came, day in, day out, to the Nigambodh Electric Crematorium, the Muslim Burial Ground and the Christian Cemetery."
All photos courtesy of Parul Sharma, Dialects of Silence (published by Roli Books)

A Photographer Captured a Desolate Delhi in Its Harsh Months of Lockdown

Crematoriums, busy hospitals, shelter homes, and empty roads—Parul Sharma's works capture the soul of a capital city on pause.
September 21, 2020, 3:50pm

When a nationwide lockdown was announced out of the blue on March 25 in India, photographer Parul Sharma prepped herself to go through the long empty weeks doing what most of us were doing: cooking, cleaning, working out, and waiting for this dystopia to end. But as the fatigue of getting second-hand accounts of the harsh reality set in, she decided staying home won’t do anymore. She had to go out and see the city she belongs to, for herself.

And so, she set out on a project in April, that ultimately led to documenting the capital city on pause, through over 10,000 images telling the story of one of the toughest times in modern history. “The idea was to shoot Delhi in all its glory, because there was barely anyone on the streets,” says Sharma. “I was seeking the soul of Delhi, in a time like this.”

Delhi’s permanent rulers, Rhesus monkeys, recaptured North Avenue mocking the virus and the residents who cowered inside their government flats.jpg

Delhi’s permanent rulers, Rhesus monkeys, recaptured North Avenue mocking the virus and the residents who cowered inside their government flats.

Her photographic journey began in Lutyens’ Delhi and went on to capture all major landmarks of the city—Connaught Place, Lodhi Gardens, Old Delhi—without the visual component that all these photos would otherwise come packed with: Humans. She found people, instead, at places like hospitals, crematoriums, and shelter homes.

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New-born babies in a month of raging Corona. Neonatal ward, Lady Hardinge Hospital.

“It was a tedious process to get permissions to shoot,” says the photographer who went to the COVID wards of hospitals like AIIMS and Lady Hardinge and crematoriums like the Nigambodh Ghat, to dig out stories that have been told through powerful monochromatic photos. “The bigger issue was not about getting the permissions, but about getting the courage—the courage to go out on my own, while carrying the guilt of pursuing my passion and exposing myself to the dangers of it.”

Documenting times like these is important, but it comes with its own share of pitfalls, exacerbating the anxiety, fear and chaos that the times themselves come with. For Sharma, that meant sleepless nights from the emotional toll of capturing grief, fear of exposure to the virus, the guilt of potentially risking her family, and the mental exhaustion of the difficult time that this is.

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Parul Sharma

But, she insists, despite the scarier bits of it all, there was a lot of comfort to be found too. “The doctors and the healthcare workers risking their lives; the gurudwaras feeding people in thousands; the journalistic community out there documenting the moments of it—they are all things that gave me the inspiration to keep going,” says Sharma. “And most of all, individuals like you and me stepping up was heartening to see. For example, spotting women, often older in age, stepping out to feed the dogs who probably were starving because of the lack of people on the streets.”

These photographs, which document the pandemic-ravaged city and its people over three months, are compiled and now available as a newly released book, Dialects of Silence. “While this book is art photography, it is also news photography—it is about the documentation of a period in all its crucial aspects,” she says. “It is a proof of all the blunders the city did to its migrants. A proof of deaths that happened in the city.” And hopefully, she says, the photos will serve as a reminder of history for the generations to come.

Check out some of the photos from the book:

Waiting for hours to fill water. Where and when does it all end_ (1).jpg

A girl waits for hours to fill water.

The djinns of the old city lurking out of sight, but with watchful eyes.jpg

The djinns of the old city lurking out of sight, but with watchful eyes.

Stranded workers, stranded trains, stranded guard trunks at New Delhi railway station (1).jpg

Stranded workers, stranded trains, stranded guard trunks at New Delhi railway station

The head of Delhi’s Covid Care Unit at AIIMS, Dr. Rajesh Malhotra, worked an exhausting 18-hour shift, seven days of the week, staying within the Hospital complex, and caught up with his favourite Talat Mahmood songs before snatching a fe.jpg

The head of Delhi’s Covid Care Unit at AIIMS, Dr. Rajesh Malhotra, worked an exhausting 18-hour shift, seven days of the week, staying within the Hospital complex, and caught up with his favourite Talat Mahmood songs before snatching a few hours of sleep.

Out of business from April, Partap Florist owner, the go-to Janpath florist for all lovers, takes a bench nap next to his kiosk (1).jpg

Out of business from April, Partap Florist owner, the go-to Janpath florist for all lovers, takes a bench nap next to his kiosk.

Jama Masjid.jpg

Jama Masjid

Lodhi Garden..jpg

An Afghan boxer at the Lodhi Gardens

An aerial view of the Commonwealth Games Village Isolation Centre.jpg

An aerial view of the Commonwealth Games Village Isolation Centre

A migrant mother with her child wonders if she will get back to her village in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh (1).jpg

A migrant mother with her child wonders if she will get back to her village in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh

Aerial view, Connaught Place.jpg

Aerial view, Connaught Place

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