For many, the nationwide lockdown was a reminder of how lonely they were – or could be. The need for social connection had never felt this urgent before. Till March 24, 2020, we’d been busy with our jobs – commuting to and from work, surviving bumpy roads and crowded trains. What were we going to do now that we had to do everything at home? How many books could we read, how much Netflix could we consume, and how long would decluttering hold our attention?

For those who started to work from home, the days began to feel endless. Work seemed to have no set timings, and Zoom meetings could take place whenever the boss said so. For those like me who were looking for work, there was suddenly a void that felt large and ever expanding. If I couldn’t go to a café with my laptop, where would I work? Apart from work, how would I look at the same four walls, walk around the same building, and smile at the same neighbours for months?

Soon, the claustrophobia of the indoors became unbearable. I began going out every evening to buy fruits, vegetables and other essentials. It was a legitimate way of being outside. I’d often hide my DSLR in my jhola because I desperately needed to do something different. But without a press card, I had no reason to be out taking photos. Or so I thought after seeing WhatsApp videos of the police beating people up for violating the restrictions of lockdown, perhaps one of the harshest in the world. This photography business had to be clandestine.

As the days wore on, I realised that the police had bigger things to worry about than a woman roaming around her neighbourhood with a camera. So I started to pull the DSLR out of the bag and take photos. I also managed to convince my senior parents that I’d be safe and that I’d always wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

Interestingly, taking photos became a way of reducing the distance between myself and others, and connecting with them even through silence. Whenever I could, I talked to my subjects and asked them: How’s the lockdown treating you? We shared stories with each other and felt a little less alone.

“I don’t understand this corona,” a rickshaw driver told me. “I meet 100 customers daily. I talk to them, give and take money. I use a sanitizer each time and know that this plastic [sheet] keeps us both safe.”
The bus stop became a place to eat, sleep and socialise.
“Why have they closed the wine shops?” he asked, slurring. “I called Uddhav [Thackeray] about this, but he won’t listen to me."
The katta – the raised area on the side of a road where people sit and talk – in a bylane refused to empty out.
I haven’t taken any lockdown photos or selfies. Will you take one?” asked Preeti, an actor from Himachal Pradesh, who lives in Versova with her cats.
“Earlier, I used to make up to Rs 500 a day,” said Peter, who sells a cup of chai for Rs 6. “Now it’s difficult even to make Rs 100 or Rs 200.”
Every day, Maya and Sunny come to get food at the langar organised by the gurudwara opposite my building. I often see their romance playing out on the footpath.