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‘Dialects of Silence: Delhi under Lockdown’ review: More than a thousand words

It is said that a picture paints a thousand words and if proof of this is required, Dialects of Silence:Delhi under Lockdown, a coffee table book by Parul Sharma, furnishes it.

At a time when everyone was terrified and locked themselves in their homes, reminiscent of the Egyptians in the wake of the pestilence caused by Moses’ terrible curse, Sharma travelled through the length and breadth of one of the world’s largest and busiest cities to capture it in its starkness. Covering a panorama of sights from the beautiful streets and buildings of the colonial city, to the bylanes of the old city; from the terrified faces of those abandoned in the streets to the loneliness of death in the abodes of the grim reaper; from the hope of the warriors fighting this pandemic to the despair of those who fought and lost, she has seen it all.

Darkness visible

It is said that a photographer chooses the subject and gives vent to the unlimited options they offer. Sharma has chosen the darkest, most horrific time any of us has seen as her subject and shows it to us in ways one may not have otherwise noticed or imagined. The book displays her passion for photography, as indeed she must possess, having left a successful and profitable career in the corporate world to pursue her calling.

If the hallmark of a good photographer is depth of a picture, then Sharma has excelled in this through her riveting photographs —the aerial view of Connaught Place and the majestic peepal tree of Amrita Sher-Gil Marg particularly catch the eye. If another sign of a great photographer is the ability to capture not only the face but also the soul, one only has to look at her photograph of the migrant mother with her child.

While a writer or poet needs a turn of phrase to convey something, a photographer has the camera to click the whole portrait without losing nuance and detail. Two photographs, one which shows the homeless being fed with social distancing norms, and another of the CISF guard at the entrance to the Red Fort with a thermal scanner in his hand instead of the gun we have become so used to, stand out.

A photographer’s skill also lies in exposing hope and despair with equal fervour. Her picture of love and lust in the city of masks as the last photograph in the book with the faces of despair in her earlier photographs tells us why the human race survives, against all odds.

Beauty over despair

There are, of course, a few things a critic will always find missing. There are no pictures of the hordes of people forced to put social distancing aside and find some mode of transport to get to food, shelter and security once the lockdown was announced.

She zoomed in on individuals but one misses seeing pictures of the multitudes of masked despair that one saw in Delhi. While sharing the majesty of a beautiful colonial Delhi, shorn of its pollution, overpopulation and filth, it appears that Sharma has been tempted by the photographer’s desire for beauty. Perhaps her aim was to show the beauty of Delhi despite these terrible times and sacrificed some of its horrors to achieve this. It is possible that portraying such beauty gives necessary relief from the reality of the horror of the times whose exposition the book attempts. While portraying the lonely dead in the burial grounds and cemeteries bereft of mourners, one is left wondering what the expression on the faces of those who lost a loved one, a child or a parent to this modern day plague would have been.

But this does not detract from Dialects of Silence being a must-have, must-see and must-see again book. Perhaps in the years to come it will remind those who have no memory of these times either due to their youth or old age that there was a time so starkly different from the Delhi we know.

Dialects of Silence: Delhi under Lockdown; Parul Sharma, Roli Books, ₹2,995.

The reviewer is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 2:46:09 PM |

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