Sometime back I did this solo trek to Anapurna Base Camp. I have a lot of beautiful memories from that trip, but one particular incident stuck to me. Just a few kilometers away from the base camp I saw this Chinese girl, she was trekking with a pollution mask on her face. I found it absurdly funny, in one of the world’s most unadulterated places, where nature is at its purest, she has decided to filter the air. At the base camp, I saw the same girl taking selfies with her mask on. I was alone, so I decided to chat up with her. Skipping introductory greetings I asked her what’s with the mask, don’t you think its a little unnecessary right now? To which she rather non chalantly replied that she is from the Xingtai province in China where pollution levels are one of the highest in the world. She said that she is so accustomed to wearing a mask that it feels like a part of her body, she only takes it off when eating or sleeping. She mentioned she rarely stepped out without wearing a mask. Living in Delhi I did empathize with her, but not to that extent. I never saw her again but I would often use her story as a funny anecdote.
Now that the Coronavirus epidemic has brought the world down to its feet, I am reminded of that Chinese girl I met on the trek. Only in hindsight, I can connect the dots of her calm and emotionless reply. She must have been witness to the SARS epidemic, the panic and hysteria it created among people, and how life got back on its feet and got moving again. My funny anecdote is not a joke anymore, who would have thought this could happen to us but here we are in the middle of this pandemic. The roads are empty, businesses are shut, countries are under complete lockdown just to stop this pandemic from spreading. Even in the best-case scenarios, this horror episode is not going to end soon. Countries can’t remain in a state of limbo and will ultimately have to come out of lockdown. We would have to back to our offices, our universities and come back homes. As we can get on our with our lives, we will need to be wary at each step.
In this body of work, I took my imagination a little far. We consider our homes the safest of all places, here we are free from all of our worries be it physical or mental. As we fight Coronavirus distancing ourselves from society in the safety of our homes, I imagined a dystopian world where we are not even safe in our homes. We can’t risk letting our guard down even in our homes. In this photo essay, I imagined a household that had accepted the dreaded mask in their life. As the entire country was in lockdown, I turned towards the people you always look up to in case of a crisis, my family. My parents were skeptical of being photographed, but they finally gave in to my incessant requests. More than often in life, we turn towards music for solace, so for the captions of my photos, I turned to music again. Through my camera, I want to show the normalization of panic, how we accept even the absurdest of realities and the past few weeks have shown us that it takes very little time for an imagined dystopia to become a reality.
Jyotirmoy Gupta is a student of photography in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia