By: Anvisha Manral and Suryasarathi Bhattacharya
How does the 'everyday' change when you're living through a pandemic?
As the coronavirus crisis continues, what are the objects and signs that have become part of our day-to-day? Visual storytellers from across India trained their lens on their immediate realities to record the subtle and not-so-subtle shifts the pandemic and resulting lockdown had wrought.
Taken together, these photographs tell the story of a crisis as seen through everyday objects.
While governments continue to issue guidelines to control and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, business owners in India set boundaries: no mask, no service, they warn. Even though self-regulation has been highly recommended by authorities, snapshots below tell stories of individual as well as community efforts amid the fourth phase of the nationwide lockdown in India.
Above photograph: "What is unsettling for a lot of people is that the pandemic is forcing them to make choices. And they must make the right one every single time if they want to live in the world they now long for."
— KARAN hangkhim RAI
(Left) "The three Cs which seem to be ruling our lives: coronavirus, consumerism and comfort (or lack thereof)."
— SAMUEL GEORGE
"While we begin to rebuild our lives, we must acknowledge those who may need a little more of everything, including aid and hope. And so, pictured above, a pick-up truck carrying bags full of groceries for those in need at ward number 12 of the Kalimpong district."
— BIRAT RAI
As we continue living under lockdown, staying put in our homes, the idea of space — of what is indoor and what is outdoor — seems to be getting blurred. While the confines of the four walls of our houses keep us isolated from the world outside, we tend to yearn for that outside either through the grilles of windows, the shade of balconies or the unshielded expanse of rooftops.
These make for both — our indoors as well as our outdoors...
Above photograph: "I found this kid running around the water tanks on the terrace. Sometimes he would just go under the tanks and suddenly emerge running from the other end. That was his play, and also his playground."
"These days one begins to wonder how simple things in life can actually be so extraordinary and a source of joy and happiness."
— AMAN RAJ
"I am stuck alone in Mumbai, I couldn't go back home.
"I have been photographing my daily life in quarantine — be it the time I spend on my roof, or the walks I take late at night, feeding the stray cats when nobody is out there."
— ALI MONIS NAQVI
"My mother’s new obsession is strange. She washes clothes to ‘kill time’ but there’s only so much our terrace and rooftops can accommodate."
— NAWAMI GURUNG
What does a country that is often characterised by its chaotic streets look like under a nationwide lockdown? While ‘social distancing’ may have become a common practice in Indian towns and cities, it has, indeed, unravelled another contemporary reality — daily inequalities that are perceptible now more than ever and the myriad ways in which people attempt to overcome them.
Above photograph: "Since some households do not get a regular supply of water, their members have to rush to Bagdhara, home to the only spring in the neighbourhood. However, the main passage to the source is closed. Therefore, those who wish to fetch water must take the alternate route on which a wall reminds them to ‘STY HOME’ or simply, stay home."
— BIRAT RAI
"Apart from its devastating effect on human lives, the pandemic has especially hit small businesses hard. In such a time, small initiatives such as the circles painted outside a local store situated in Murshidabad, remind us constantly to adapt, our only way around the worrying present."
— SOMSUBHRA SAMANTA
"From the beginning of the lockdown, the only trip out of the house has been to the grocery store and each trip has been a planned endeavour. A detailed ritual of using the face mask, hand sanitiser and cleaning the outfit has to be followed. And once we reach the store, we are faced with long lines, marked with circles on the road and we stand patiently for our turn. This tedious exercise is done once a week but is cherished as the sole reason to experience the outside world.
"With the searing summer heat, the line outside the local ration shop has been swiftly replaced by small items to mark each person's respective spot in the line, while the people rest in the shade. Seeing these items reminded me of the days when seats in buses used to be blocked with a kerchief. While it may be a long time since we travel in crowded buses again, our habits find ways to exhibit themselves."
— KISHOR KRISHNAMOORTHI
"Some locals, separated by traffic cones to ensure social distancing guidelines are followed, wait to receive meals from the municipal authorities, which distributes food packages to the needy three times a day."
— BRIHAT RAI
Has the world around us completely changed in the wake of this pandemic crisis? This is one of the most pertinent thoughts that one comes across, as we continue living in silos — some alone, some with their families.
Being locked down at home, every single day, we are unravelling the essence of our existence — of who we were all this while and what we will be from now on. In the process of finding answers to these questions, we are also taking mental notes of the most ubiquitous and ordinary aspects of ourselves, our family members and the common space we share among ourselves.
Above photograph: "As captives of time, imprisoned within dwellings that we had taken for granted, we begin to find poetry within the pores of everydayness. With heightened senses, we’ve begun discovering things that were mostly oblivious to our vision...
"The thin coat of dust upon the dark wooden desk, how light floats and sits upon empty walls, punctuating the silence with a shifting song...
"The grime settled within the nooks of the kitchen sink and by the edges of the stainless steel plates...
"The books that kept waiting patiently within the tired, drooping shelves, now have been befriended and embraced within our geography of vain...
"The yellow of the yolk never looked as yellow, the white of the sugar never as sweet..."
"Poetry is no longer bound to the writings of Plath, Whitman, Elliot or Pessoa, it is now spilling all around us, yearning to be understood and laced upon our tongues...
With every fifteen seconds, our life breathes or fades a bit as we rub our hands with soap and lather.
Through this process of figuring and becoming, as the layers of our existence, slowly peel a bit with each passing day, will we ever go back to being who we were...?"
— NITESH MOHANTY
"I often used to think of how in all these years I have never been able to take photographs of my family and my home.
"Having lived almost a nomadic life for around fifteen years, I never got a chance to stay at home at a stretch, until this lockdown happened and made me do it. So, this time, using my phone, I am trying to create mini portraits of my time at home.
"From capturing my nephew Kirubakaran and my niece Kirthi playing hide and seek (left, in the above picture), to finding my first-ever camera, a Nikon FM10, from an old suitcase in the attic of my house — I am collecting magical memories."
— JAISINGH NAGESWARAN
"Just last night, there were two tubs of Baskin Robbins. And now, they have vanished without a trace, leaving nothing behind but a whiff of chocolate that still lingers in the stuttering freezer.
Could it be his own wife, the woman he has known and trusted for all these years? Or maybe his son? He has been acting stranger than usual lately...Or worst of all, could it be his trusty sidekick, Chloe, the Dachshund? This last thought is too much to bear.
He takes a long puff on his pipe and shakes it off, watching a masked man wander onto the empty streets below.
Someday, Chloe will write about this case and others like it, in a best-selling series (maybe titled - The Adventures Of Sherlock Pops) that will change the course of literature forever."
— VIRAJ NAYAR
"We are a family of five and this is the first time we all are spending so much time together. I realised life in lockdown is like an infinite loop where we keep coming back to where we were the previous day. Unable to step out, I started seeing things that remained unchanged for years and, more often than not, unnoticed in our house.
My dad started walking on the treadmill that has been untouched for years. My granny went back to reading letters that were written decades ago. My wife started making zines and making use of the stationery that was stocked since I was a child. My mother is the most worried person in the house because of the virus. She spends much of her time watching the news and keeps all of us updated even if we don’t want to."
"We always had plants in the house, but during this time, I started spending more time with them. Watching them grow has been my favourite past time in this lockdown.
Being locked down made me see a totally different home where I became an explorer from within with eight boxes of found Instax film."
— VINOD BABU VENKAPALLI
In dealing with one of the largest calamities of modern times, people on the streets and in homes face the onus of protecting themselves against the disease. With social distancing the norm, Indians in different parts of the country navigate a strange unfamiliarity in neighbourhoods they have known all their lives, as friends and acquaintances pass by them, their faces covered.
Above photograph: "For my family and me, life has mostly come down to three tasks: buy masks – throw away once fully used, even better if washable – scramble to buy new ones again."
"It was the first week of the lockdown and Kalimpong already looked like a ghost town. The vendor in the photograph had stepped out wearing gloves and a mask to ‘at least recover what he had spent on procuring his fruits’ – which would soon begin to decay."
— BRIHAT RAI
"The image is from a series called Accepting The Mask, Imagining A Dystopian Reality. The objective was to show the absurd becoming the new normal and what the process would look like when pictured between the four walls of the safest place we know — our home."
— JYOTIRMOY GUPTA
If anything, this lockdown has altered the way we perceived time. As this period of uncertainty keeps getting extended, our sense of discretion — of when an hour ends and the other begins, or what day of the week is it — has completely gone for a toss.
It is almost like the entire human race has gone through a temporal shift, which, as a result, has warped their realities. However, the resilient species that humans are, we have found other ways of interpreting the time and space we are currently living in.
Above photograph: "There’s no easy way out of the loneliness and anxiety that comes together with isolation. You’re not alone, yet you are.
I use my plants as stress balls... Sitting and talking to them has been an easy way out of all the mental fatigue. I’ve always had plants around me but it’s been more than two months that I’m constantly running to them for emotional support because I’d rather talk to plants than humans right now."
— MENTY JAMIR
"I had not seen anyone knitting in the neighbourhood for a long time till I spotted the woman working her needles in the afternoon sun. Perhaps the lockdown is a time to slow down, reflect, and reattach ourselves to things we once held dear."
— BIRAT RAI
"For many Indian homes, the spring season, almost coming out of a wintery stupor, means elevating those lazy afternoons of the just-past winters to something more fun and productive. With a banquet of fresh fruits and vegetables (most notably, raw mangoes) available in the market, it is the ideal time for some pickles.
After all, achaar is not just food, it's a sentiment.
Remember those days when the worst of veggies on our plates would get spiced up, almost like getting a new breath of life, when a spoonful of that glazing, oil-dripping piece of raw mango or lemon came by the side as a rescue (both to the poor vegetable as well as our taste palates)? It would almost be like a reflex action: anything sad on the plate? (not wasting a second) Add some achaar.
This time around, it seems like a lot of other things, pickle bottles are also out of stock — be it on the rooftops, balconies or on the supermarket store shelves. From being an indulgence (also because it was available round the year), achaar has become somewhat of a luxury.
With so many alterations the pandemic has brought about into our lives, one often wonders if that sentimental value of achaar will be preserved when we come out of this crisis. Will it pass the test of time?"
— SURYASARATHI BHATTACHARYA
"It started as a joke, once the bottles started to finish during the lockdown. We decided to collect them and see how many we can go through during this time at home.
Over time, it has become an unexpected reminder of some of the memories of being stuck at home. As every day bleeds into the next, it seems like time has lost its regular flow. Work can be be done at 10 am or 10 pm, and there is nowhere but your computer you have to be at, even when it comes to meetings.
So the bottles serve as memories, of the family's first attempt to recreate brunch, complete with unlimited cocktails. The sparkling wine, topped with fresh watermelon juice, is a reminder of how I celebrated my birthday with my family during the lockdown. At the time it seemed like the family's first and only lockdown birthday, and as we've stayed indoors longer, it's clear that there might be more of such at-home celebrations. There are old bottles of wine that were finally opened, deemed too funky to drink and promptly finished over the course of weeks, being stirred into pasta sauces, glazes and even the odd oven roast.
As we've embraced life at home, the shelf of the consumed alcohol bottles gives us definitive markers for this uninterrupted pause. Let's raise our glasses and say cheers to that!"
— AATISH NATH
"I took this photo during the lockdown when only people dealing with certain emergencies were allowed to travel. In my case, it was to procure medicines for my father, a heart patient.
"Surprised to see an open shutter, I saw the man in his shop, repairing a watch. And I remember my first thought being ‘at least someone has a grasp of time’."
— KARMA TEMPO
(Left) "On some days, my parents and I turn to seek comfort that nostalgia can sometimes offer. As we open up old albums carrying pictures of an era long forgotten, including the day my parents married or the time I wore dark glasses indoors only for a photo, the future tends to seem slightly less intimidating."
— PRIYAL KHATTAR
(Right) "This year has so far been about dodging curveballs. I for one have been stuck in Bengaluru since March after my plans of travelling to another country were rendered useless. Therefore, making the best of this, I spend time with my loved ones, cook, learn, and play board games to not get bored..."
— PRAKRITI ARORA
On Firstpost — Eid in lockdown: Eight Indian photographers document quiet celebrations during coronavirus crisis