View across the rooftops
In his new photo series, Sohrab Hura chronicles stillness of the lockdown in his Delhi neighbourhood from the roof of his barsati
Every evening, armed with his camera, Sohrab Hura climbs up to the roof of his barsati in the south Delhi neighbourhood of Alaknanda. This has become a personal ritual of sorts during the lockdown, for his own emotional well-being. The photographs that emerge are just a “by-product" of this practice. “I never set out to make a series or work consciously," says Hura, who is an associate member of Magnum Photos.
For nearly two months, he has been chronicling scenes of isolation from his rooftop—of a man reading in the balcony with just a lanky cooler for company, a dog looking at the street longingly, with its forelegs perched on the windowsill, a couple taking each other’s photographs on a cloudy evening.
Hurahasn’t met anyone—including his parents, who live in Gurugram—since he returned from Europe on 11 March. “I am usually making films or working on a photo series. But I got into a bit of a lull during the lockdown. I am mostly very happy to be on my own. However, this has been a different zone, as I have not been able to meet friends or have a change of scene in any way," he says.
He started going up to the roof in the evenings just to see what was around. “Just this act of going upstairs and seeing how large the sky is above me—feeling this expanse—has been a way to nourish myself," he adds.
These evenings on the roof have resulted in a novel sort of social interaction. Even though some people are too far away for any conversation, a sense of familiarity has set in. “There is an acknowledgement, a waving of hands, from people I didn’t know earlier. So many little islands have come up around me, creating these temporary bonds," says Hura.
He talks about a man, a few rooftops away, who has created a makeshift gym on the terrace and puts on loud techno music. In usual circumstances, this would have annoyed the neighbours; now, it has become an alarm clock of sorts. “When the music starts, it’s almost a cue for people to come to the rooftops. This is, perhaps, a new kind of normalcy," says Hura.
Similar little rituals can be seen on other rooftops as well, giving Hura a window into the lives of his neighbours. “I feel like a voyeur and I guess, so do they," he adds. “I feel so lucky that I have this moment of reaching out on a daily basis—it’s incomplete but it’s there."
His images, as part of a series aptly titled Rooftop, make one realize just how much one takes for granted in one’s personal space—small details, which existed all along and had escaped notice, have suddenly come to the forefront. “I have photographed my mother in her room. So I have experienced this finding of something within a limited space. But in the past few years, I have been so used to being on the move. This sudden coming to a standstill is not frustrating but it has made me realize how huge limited spaces can be," explains Hura.
In Rooftop, one can see the changing texture of social energy on the rooftops through various phases of the lockdown. In the beginning, the presence of people was marked with a certain energy and enthusiasm. Hura’s neighbours, living a few houses away, would come up with innovative ways to keep busy—flying a kite or playing wall tennis with a ball stuffed in a pair of stockings that was then tied to a rope on the wall just so that it wouldn’t fall off the roof. The gymmer would pause between sets to play with his children, throwing them in the air and making them laugh. Then there were the intimate moments between couples as they snatched a few minutes together on the roof.
“People were really high on energy and were consciously keeping themselves motivated during the first phase, which they thought was for a limited time period. But then, in the second phase, that energy seemed to have crashed. Things got really quiet, except for the guy who gyms, who is always amazingly high on energy," laughs Hura. In the third phase, the restless lull gave way to a certain acceptance and calm. People kept up with the daily ritual of coming up but they would just sit and look out—they would just be.
“If I had to retrace my steps and think about all that I experienced, I think this work would be all about time and waiting," says Hura.
Rooftop can be viewed at www.sohrabhura.com/Rooftop
FIRST PUBLISHED22.05.2020 | 06:03 PM IST