What do you think of when you think of cities? Its history, monuments, modern structures? Well, Ankur Ahuja thinks of its people, and more specifically, people in public spaces. The 45-year-old cinematographer, who shuttles between Delhi and Mumbai, has been documenting Delhi’s neighbourhoods at a ‘micro-level’ as a pet project on her Instagram account called @papersingh.
“This series serendipitously brought together some of my favourite areas of interest – people-watching, public and urban design, precipitated by two of my favourite activities – drawing and walking,” says Ankur.
She adds, “Delhi has such a diverse population that is so vibrant and visual. Although there is a plenitude of stories and characters wherever you look, it often comes alive in Delhi’s abundant parks.”
There’s a beautiful park near Ankur’s house that she has been visiting for the past 15 years. “A few months ago, I started collating images of people and moments from my walks – kids on their way back from school, old people taking a walk, people sleeping in the shade, vendors selling their wares, young ones romancing,” she narrates. “In India, with our predilection for public living, there are stories everywhere.”
Along with the drawings, Ankur adds interesting captions in her Instagram posts, capturing not only the form but the essence of her subjects as well. “I take a lot of pictures on my phone, sometimes specifically to capture a pose or a pattern. Sometimes I commit details to memory. Often I combine two separate events and that becomes a story,” she explains. Ankur likes to look for playfulness in situations: “And I never have to go seeking it. It’s there in small things,” she says.
“Sometimes spaces evolve around the habits of its community,” she comments, giving the example of Paris cafes, Cairo tea houses and the Harajuku crossing in Tokyo, “which is the hub of Japanese sartorial sub-culture and has a unique public personality.”
Such places come to define the character of the city and even country, she says, talking admiringly of “the amazingly inventive natural refuge flanking Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul, over 10 km long in the middle of a developed, crowded city that was replenished as an urban renewal project.”
She quotes from Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese sculptor and landscape architect famous for his dialogue on playground design: “You find that the city becomes a place for endless exploration, of endless opportunity for changing play.”
First published in eShe’s June 2019 issue