Fair admission before I begin – the following was not intended as a photowalk. In the earliest stages of India’s Covid-19 lockdown, things were mighty confusing. Partly, it was down to our denial that we were actually just entering a phase that would restrict the ways of life as we knew them for months, or maybe years to come. Partly, simply because many of us had not faced such a crisis in our living memory. When I was assigned to a day of shooting city scenes out in Mumbai back in early April, I was somewhat content, because back then, I reckoned that the 18 days of confinement that I’d already faced at home was too much. What it turned into was a photowalk that I’d never forget, and given that we are celebrating World Photography Day in 2020, these photos seemed about the most apt photos for the ‘occasion’.
Services of Mumbai’s spinal life line, the Mumbai local, were shut for all barring staff members. As a result, the bustling Andheri station’s premises were cordoned off. Vacant EMU rakes stood still across Andheri station’s empty platforms, in what made for a scene straight out of fiction. Gate closures in Andheri station further added to the dystopian atmosphere. Hawkers and vendor stalls, which typically sell a wide variety of snacks right opposite the station, were all shut down at that point, barring a solitary general store for essential items.
The main staircase of Andheri station’s main west gate was likely never this empty ever before, and might not ever be so again. At around 10AM on April 7, there was no office crowd thronging the area, and the eerie visuals of barrenness struck home hard.
Inside a BEST bus that stood parked at the Andheri bus depot, the setting was as desolate as the photograph shows. The station road in Andheri West, which is typically choc-a-bloc with auto rickshaws, kaali-peeli taxis, Ola and Uber cabs, private cars and a steady stream of pedestrians walking by, stood as empty as the public transport lifelines of Mumbai.
Inside Churchgate station, the most important terminus of Mumbai's Western line, empty EMU rakes stood idle as the entire station was empty for what might have been a hand-counted number of times. All passenger entries were shut, and the cavernous station hall buzzed with silence and a distant generator. The photos barely do justice to the void.
The iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was also emptied out, and wore a look of complete shutdown. Mumbai Police officials confirmed to News18 that only freight train services for essential items remained functional at CST. Being one of the busiest train stations in the world, the vacant CST premises aptly summed up the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 151-year-old St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, in Marine Lines, was one of all educational institutes that have been in indefinite shutdown since April. While some have opened gates for faculty and administrative staff to start working from premises, the shutting down of educational institutes amidst peak academic season have seldom happened in India, barring emergencies and crises.
The iconic Marine Drive promenade was deserted and locked down until close to the end of May, and seen here is the opposite end of The Trident hotel, close to Nariman Point. While activity has partially resumed in Mumbai's favourite centrepiece, the visuals of a completely empty Marine Drive in between a weekday will stand as yet another testimony for the pandemic's far reaching impact.
The vital Bandra-Worli Sea Link was perhaps the hardest hit, with police-controlled entry and egress from either end. Under any other circumstance, driving down an absolutely empty Sea Link might have been a one in a million opportunity to savour.
To be absolutely clear, we do not assume that the worst of Covid-19 is already over, even though we would very much like to do so. We still stand quite some time away from a clearly viable vaccine for all, and with every passing day, the total number of those affected continue to rise. As we urge everyone to continue staying at home as far as possible, and take all forms of precautions, we also look forward to you marking this Covid-19-hit World Photography Day, by sharing images that show how our world has changed this year.