Reporting from India: ‘Pandemics have a painful legacy here’

Our South Asia correspondent on how coronavirus has affected a country’s livelihoods, faith and democracy

Pacing through the labyrinth of old Delhi, a place where life usually leaks out of every crack, I found myself straining my ears for the familiar sounds of chaos. But gone were the noises of the teeming vegetable markets and the horns of rickshaws piled so high with baskets they seem to defy the laws of physics; gone were the calls of the chai wallahs, the hiss of parathas on the griddle and the loud bleating of the goats who, in winter months, are dressed in bright jumpers to protect them from the cold. This was late March, days after a nationwide lockdown was imposed across India, and Delhi had never seemed so silent.

Reporting on south Asia during the pandemic has been a strange, and at times frustrating, experience. The strict lockdown meant state borders were shut, trains were stopped for the first time in history and all domestic and international flights grounded. I was stuck in Delhi, a city I love and call my home, but which is also a notorious bubble in which it can be hard to get a real sense of what is going on across the rest of India.

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