This is an Ode to photographer Danish Siddiqui who at the beginning of this month - May 2022, won the ‘Pulitzer prize for Feature Photography’ for these photographs he took of New Delhi, India in one of its most vulnerable states, who is now lost to the vacuous violence of the Taliban. It is an ode also to the people, the lost loved ones, taken before their time by an unprecedented and alien pandemic. It is an ode to the love that changed into grief, that will always stay with the ones who continue the act of living.  

This imagination of a hell on earth is from the Covid-19 days, a time when we were all enveloped in heavy smoke, but now, outside the other end of the tunnel the ghosts of the past seem to want to loom over us still; but we have made peace with the past so do we really want the ghosts to leave? Are ghosts just another form of grief, of transformed love?

The words in the title, It’s all hades, are taken from a masterfully written book, a personal favourite- “All The Light We Cannot see” by Anthony Doerr, a fiction about war-torn Germany during the time of World War 2, an analogous time. 

New Delhi fighting against Covid-19.
Photographer - Danish Siddiqui [19 May 1983 - 16 July 2021 (shot by the Taliban)]

Overlooking the carnage is a man with a camera in his hand, he sees everything but the immortal Hadean standing quietly on the periphery in his black trenchcoat, leaning on his scythe.

As far as the man’s eyes can see they see death before smoke obstructs his vision for good. The Hadean espies everyone but can’t decide who to guide into that white light and who to give a few extra oblivious moments with their family, the devout grandmother, the wise father, the youthful college student or the angry smoking wood which is desperate to turn to ash; however, he sympathizes in vain because the child who was loved most by his grandma, the compassionate wife and the college best friend who envisioned their friendship eternal, were not allowed a final goodbye as their kindred returned to dust. Instead he noticed a few hard workers gathering the wood, lighting the pyre, completely covered in a curious white attire, the wayward Whites which has now after months of use, desensitized them to the lifeless corpses may just break it’s defence and fail to protect them tomorrow. The Hadean itches to drape the living in his magic spell to make them forget all their worldly memories, howbeit there is already hardly any spell left for the deserving dead. There was never enough magic to heal their pain, never enough oxygen to fill their lungs and now not even enough land nor wood to burn their bodies because the Mortals were never supposed to see this, this was meant to be latent behind the iron doors of hell but the floodgates are wide open and overflowing now.

All this while as the Hadean like Hamlet was trapped in the high walled fortress of his own head The Photographer, in the silent company of the crackling wood, turned his lens to catch a bird’s eye view of this new, strange world when suddenly out his right he heard a splash in the water and glanced across only to see an array of bodies, released like morbid sky lanterns in the night sky, floating down the holy Ganges flood; he scrunched his eyes and took a deep breath in.

The man and his loyal camera could capture all sorts of hair raising experiences and knit them into exquisite stories, ones you could not help but stare at till a single tear had to come to the rescue to tranquilize your eyes that burned with the newly kindled fervour; however his most recent arts had been demanding progressively deeper breaths of air.

The man is not too different from the Hadean, he just has a different cage which has trapped him in bars made of constitutions, morals, boundary lines, languages, diversity and relations. In his churning mind he retraces his journey of the past two years from when everything shut down and a sudden silence enveloped the cities through to the dread in every voice and hope in every eye thinking “just not my family”, to the boredom of basking in still time to a hopeless callous smile which didn’t reach the eyes thinking “How much longer” and “What else will you take”.

In situations like these when we are alone but our thoughts run astray, rarely do we think about politics because deep in our minds we all know that to the wildfire fueled by a Despot’s desire we are barely but numbers - a tally of plants, some wild grass, some rigid trees which will burn down to build his black bare mire. It is times like these when we forget that we are creatures of beauty birthed by the mire itself, Phoenixes reborn from the ash. It’s hard to deter these creatures of imagination for only they can destroy their city of dreams, the city which consists of bygone kindred souls, where time is multidimensional, where they make the rules as this city in their heads fuels their reality.

It has been months now and the Hadean still stands there, deducing the mortal souls, their lives and stories tons as he stares and waits for the fires to die out but the wood is yet ablaze. To fill himself with a strong little hope, he looks to the sky but instead spots his comrade, the quiet photographer now lifeless, plummeting to the ground. His camera embraces all his stories which he would never live to tell. The Grim Reaper didn’t have a heart but this man he knew well, and to catch a few memories off this fleeting friend he walked and introduced himself.

The Photographer touched his bullet wound, smiled at his novel admirer and said,

“The world gave me wonderful memories, and I hope they amicably interpret my photo stories; I wish that the ones who cry today can smile some other day when they remember me by my photographs in their creative minds and realize that I will boundlessly live in their imagination wherein no bullet can take my life away”. 

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