When a blockade was imposed in a very short time, I jokingly told my friends and family that I had been well prepared for such moments since 2013. That year I left my job at the BBC in London and returned to India, choosing Delhi as my hometown. But I’ve never lived here, except for a short period of three months, about ten years ago. That’s why I didn’t have a large social circle. The past seven years my life in Delhi has been mainly dedicated to working from home and enjoying the fact that I am here alone.
But as much as I love my loneliness, my legs, which were already itching, were itching more and more during this period. Almost every month I packed my bags to leave with my renewed interest in birdwatching and nature photography in the Terai and Himalayan forests closer to home; Or in winter I wandered through the vast permafrost fields of the Arctic Circle, hunted for the appearance of the boreals, fished the pits of the frozen lakes of Lapland, passed the megaliths of the white deserts of the eastern Sahara, wandered the markets of the ancient Maghreb in Africa, took a public bus through the narrow valleys of the Balkans, admired the dazzling architecture of Samarkand, Bukhara or the land fortresses and palaces of Khiva in Uzbekistan, stand on the shores of the last waters of Lake Aral, climb the Gandum-Beriyan plateau – the hottest place in the world – in the Lut Desert and visit the sanctuaries of Hafiz and Saadi in Shiraz in Iran or sit at the tomb of Rumi in Konya in Turkey.
Author Nazes Afroz
For those who live such a peripheral life, it is difficult to accept such a sudden interruption of work. I had to accept that I could not imagine any kind of travel in the near future and I was satisfied with what was around me. The garden of my residential complex and my kitchen have become my refuge.
I’m one of the lucky ones who can see Delhi Heaven well. The two balconies of my two-storey corner duplex on the second floor open up to a messy garden with shrubs and trees large and small – he, figs, acacia, ashoka, pipella. After the infamous air pollution of Delhi had almost stopped, I could sit on my balcony at sunrise, caress the sweet scent of flowers and watch the birds, butterflies and bees that became hyperactive in late spring. Never before has the air been so pure, never has the azure blue of the air seemed so untouched.
I photographed 25 species of birds, from native ravens to Blithe reed warblers, migratory birds from Europe living in the undergrowth of aloe vera, and nomadic pink starlings returning to their habitat in Central Asia at the end of their winter migration. The sparrows were clearly absent from the house. The squirrel cats learning to climb trees or the adventurous mongoose running through the excitement of the bushes have become a daily spectacle.
James, my young friend, now works in the forestry department in Ladakh, after completing his forestry studies. He sent an open invitation to visit him with the proposal to take me to the high Himalayan desert to photograph wildlife. I look forward to accepting this invitation, but I am not inclined to two weeks of isolation after I have flown there. The best thing I can do after that is to walk to Sanjay Van, one of the four city forests, just three and a half kilometres from my house. The Jacobin cuckoo – chatak in Bangla or papihara in Hindi – the messengers of the monsoon have certainly already arrived.
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My kitchen has always been the most important part of my home. I grew up enjoying food, and when I had my own home, a passion for cooking developed from there. In addition, I bring new flavors, new dishes and new kitchens on my travels. This persistent blockade freed my imagination, which led me to imitate my grandmother’s dishes or to improve the dishes I tasted on four continents.
The children’s literature I grew up with was full of indelible images of a warm house where people who loved each other ate together. My grandmother also served us around her coal stove in a small town in West Bengal.
I am waiting for the first chance that the young people who have become like my children in recent years can safely come from other parts of the city, so that we can sit at the stove with food from far away, both food and candy that I have prepared myself; and there will be stories, loud laughter, singing, and joy.
Nazes Afros has worked as a journalist for more than three decades and has worked in both print and broadcast media in Calcutta and London. As editor in chief of the BBC, Nazes was responsible for South and Central Asia for many years. Passionate photographer and compulsive traveller, he returned to India in 2013. He currently writes in English and Bengali for newspapers and magazines. He recently moved to a country far from home: Saida Mujtab Ali, a Bengali woman living in Afghanistan, published by Speaking Tiger.