People from across India share their experiences of living through the second wave of COVID-19, in blogger The Delhiwalla’s new series
The phone rings barely twice before Mayank Austen Soofi picks it up. A mechanical ‘Hi, how are you’ is met with a mechanical ‘I’m good, how are you?’. But now, he pauses: “I am sorry, I didn’t realise the absurdity of the question when I asked it,” he says.Helplessness brought on by the second wave of the COVID-19 has caught the popular blogger (who goes by the moniker The Delhiwalla) anew, as he documents stories of people under the pandemic in a series called ‘Feelings of the Time’ on his Instagram page.
In more than 98 self-portraits, the country’s citizens have been telling their stories of what it is like to be alive in a time and place as this.Saharanpur’s Anita Bhatt talks about giving birth to her son without a gynaecologist nearby, in a COVID-19 facility. From Rampur, Saber Hiba Khan writes of not being able to meet her father, admitted in the hospital after he tested positive for COVID. In Noida, Saurabh Singh has tested positive himself and feels too exhausted to help others as he had been doing for the past few weeks. And Aiman Shams in Delhi, is waiting for a video call from her home in Muzaffarpur, to see the last rites of her aunt. She has lost her mother and two of her aunts in the span of a few months. “We can share our griefs and fears, but can’t pretend to fully understand them — each of them are unique. I wanted to make sense of what was going on around us, I wanted to document what we are feeling,” says Mayank. He hesitates, “I don’t know if it’ll help you in any great way, but I think it might make us feel less isolated.”In this togetherThe pictures people send him are often selfies, some spontaneous, others posed and deliberate. Some send in screenshots of video calls or of their past happy memories. The text that accompanies them varies from cryptic one liners to streams of consciousness and even poetry. Mayank puts them up without editing.
“It is not a question of whose sadness or whose crisis is greater, who is posing better, who is being more poetic, whose language is better… Everybody is feeling something, and they should be able to share it,” he says.Mayank hopes that the comments and DMs consoling those who have shared their fears and grief, will make them feel better — even if those words come from strangers.“Yes, sometimes you might get comments like ‘Stay positive, God will take care of everything, it will be better from now on…’, and that may be frustrating. But I also get that all of us don’t have the right vocabulary of the perfect psychiatrist. It is a way of saying that they are here, they understand and are sending prayers your way,” he says. The stories, as terrifying as they are, are also moving, he says. “Today, a pregnant woman in Ghaziabad shared how she misses sleeping next to her husband, with their feet touching. She can’t because she is worried for the safety of the life inside her. It is very intimate, but at the same time relatable,” he says.
As we talk, Mayank’s email pings with notifications every 10 minutes or so. In two days, he has already received over 100 self-portraits. He says that he will end the series when we cross the pandemic peak and cases begin to come down. “I don’t have an end date for it, it is not like a ‘project’ for me. It was born out of spontaneity and will hopefully taper off, when things are better — soon.”