The dreaded winter sky of the Indian capital Delhi has made an early comeback this year, for a few days. October is normally a delightful month here, clear skies and perfect temperatures. It’s especially saddening since Delhiites have enjoyed quite an amazingly clean air since the lockdown came into effect by the end of March 2020, followed by the monsoon that always thoroughly cleans up the sky with its abundant water buckets and air brushes ! So, the inevitable gloomy winter days have been given a precocious foretaste, onto which of course the coronavirus pandemic will add its special touch this year. I wish I was not in Delhi next winter…
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The sky seen from the earth, the sky seen from the sky… The earth seen form the sky I leave it to those who can afford. The Cloud, on the Cloud, you hear this too much nowadays. So be it then, long live the clouds! It’s been now some years I collect skies. Because the pleasure to shoot those incessantly moving surfaces, captating the subtle light games at the corners of the days is a simple and immediate pleasure. Never ever the same, but in those big blue sky days maybe. Yet we all ‘live under the same sky’ so to speak. Those vapors, gaz, clouds have inspired many an artist for centuries, since mankind discovered the colour pigments I believe. I am inspired too. Who never fell in awe and contemplation from behind the aircraft’s windows? There are such subtleties in the gracious dance of vapors and light that Photoshop gets lost. On this picture here, I tried the basic act of color correction by checking the levels, drew the cursor towards the curves’ foot, and what a disaster! So on these end of the day amazing lights, best thing to do one has to is possibly to keep close to the raw file, and by memory and instinct try to find back the magic of that instant, without cheating. There’s no need of cheating if you were out there with your camera at the right moment.
Delhi’s government is trying to get ready to face a surge in the number of cases and an amplifying health crisis in the capital city, despite a long and very strict lockdown which had started by the end of March. It is now setting up a massive Covid-19 patient’s facility, said to be the biggest in the world, to treat non-vital cases (those in need of CPU support will be sent elsewhere), with the help of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas spiritual center, which dedicates a fraction of its immense campus; 29 acres under a one kilometer long shed will host up to 10.000 beds, and is supposed to be air-climatized and fully operational from July the 3d, 2020. Add to this a 1500 places parking and an additional 50 acres for the services attached, intendance, medical staff etc…
People of two slums in Geeta Colony area are queuing to get a basic meal provided by the government. In Mayur Vihar people of a modest neighbourhood and an adjoining slum are queuing to get drinking water. The police crews are there to make sure the rules of social distancing are respected. With around 400.000 urban poors having lost their jobs due to the national three weeks lockdown declared on March 24th, the state government of Delhi has set up over 500 hunger relief centres across the capital city, which ensure free lunch and dinner daily. Distribution of drinking water is not directly related to the pandemic, it always happened, but the contagion situation makes it a lot trickier.
Since April 8th at midnight, India has geared up to fight against the virus : the new containment strategy identifies hotspots – even when only one case is declared in a given neighbourhood – and runs a full-blown lockdown. No one can enter or get out of the designed area. No shop, not even a grocery store, can remain open. Government services assure the daily delivery of food on some edge of the sealed zone at given timings, where inhabitants have to come and purchase. Getting vegetables and fruits can take up to 1 to 2 hours. In the meantime some disinfection drives are taking place here and there. Difficult situation for those who are in the “wrong” lot. Thankfully it’s not my case yet.
One has never seen Old Delhi like this, but on some major national holiday maybe. I actually saw it once in such a quietness, it was the afternoon of Holi, or festival of colours, a national holiday. But that lasts one day. The new coronavirus will last a lot longer, everyone knows it now. This human beehive so still and so empty, it is surreal, still! Dozens of thousands of daily labourers normally operate in this crazy network of alleys of the old Mughal town, noticeably the cart pullers in their permanent ballet.
The Indian government has declared 10 hotspots in the country of the coronavirus. Among those 2 are in the capital Delhi. Among these 2 is Nizamuddin West, a well-known muslim pilgrimage centre, home to the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah.
From March 13th to 15th, before the nation-wide lockdown was announced (on March 24th), a congregation organised by Tablighi Jamaat – a global Islamic missionary movement set up in 1926 – drawn about 2000 followers, among which foreigners from Malaysia and Indonesia, at Alami Markaz Banglewali mosque. But it is said that it violated a Delhi State order restricting religious and public gatherings at that time.
Nizamuddin West, a popular and also quite poor neighbourhood, has been cordoned off for 2 days now, and authorities are proceeding to medical tests and evacuations. While some 330 have been sent to hospitals, over 700 have been sent to different government-run quarantine facilities. 10 people related to this event have died to this day. Many returned to their home place and are being tracked down.
Urban migrants laborers fleeing the Indian capital, at Laal Kuan where they can find buses organized by the government to help them get back to their villages and hometowns, being sprayed with a solution of bleach. Everyday they flee the big cities of the country, trying to return to their villages or hometowns where they’ll be sure to be in better conditions to go through the pandemic (a proper shelter, food,…)
In the region of the Indian capital, Delhi NCR, the great exodus continues. Daily wage labourers / migrants are fleeing massively away from their shacks and temporary dwellings to reach their hometowns and villages (mostly in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), where they’ll have better chances of food and survival they think. However the risk of a large community transmission of the virus is now immense.
After the sudden announcement by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a total lockdown over the entire nation, they got into panic. These people earn little, usually don;t have much savings, and live in slum-like conditions quite often. Rumor mongers it is said would also have kicked off this panic movement, that can’t be stopped any more. So federal States are organizing in an emergency fleets of buses to help those migrants on the roads go back home and saving then several days of march. Two people died today before they could reach their final desrination.
An assignment from Les Echos Week-end magazine, along with Carole Dieterich, correspondant based in Delhi. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ (Clean the Country) is one of his electoral big promises. The aim is to put an end to open defecation in the country. So, dozens of thousands of toilets have been built. It is a nice idea, but as usual this government is prompt to make grand announcements, and twist some figures or hide some facts… Some progress has been achieved, this is undeniable, but why say that the problem is totally fixed? Is it enough to quickly build concrete blocks with a hole inside? No of course, maintenance and a properly built structure are most essential. But the women we met took it seriously and thanks to the funds allocated to this program they could build, with quite some pride, their own toilets in their gardens. Then it works fine.
This time it’s not a magazine that sent me there, but a travel on motorcycle company – for which I happen to also guide tours -, Vintage Rides. Out of the obvious pictures with ‘bikes in it’, I have a true pleasure to shoot so freely, no topic, no constraint, just what comes to me. It was a fantastic month riding, guiding and shooting in these endless steppes.
Else, this country would be loosing it totally. Ritwick Dutta leads an attorneys cabinet specialized in environmental issues, in Delhi. Looking at the ecological policies and the growing disaster underway in India, you realize people like him are so precious, so indispensable, so worth of praise.
An assignment of the French daily Le Monde.
A marriage out of love still poses some problem in the country of rigid castes. But imagine you infringe both your caste AND your religion, oh my God, you’re seriously in trouble if you weren’t lucky enough to be born in a more liberal family, or slightly open-minded at least! Pride crimes and anti intercaste marriages’ crimes are still running in India.
An assignment of Grazia magazine France. With Carole Dieterich, correspondant based in Delhi.
Since I settled down and got married here in India, it is very difficult if not impossible to make a decent living out of photography. Assignments are scarce, and working for Indian magazines or whatever institutions is not really an easy option. So thanks to another skill I have, I know how to ride a motorcycle, and moreover I engaged in a love story with those formerly British bikes, the Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc. I have learnt how to drive in this country also. All this made opened the door for me to guide groups on motorcycle tours organized by a French agency, Vintage Rides. Guiding, shooting pictures, filming, creating destinations also as well as helping in the production department… This time I managed to guide a group and sell a story to this French magazine at the same time. A nice deal indeed!