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.”
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.
“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.
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:
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