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A Lonely Mind in Northern India's Busy Cities

By Guan Tan

 
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

A bird's eye view of the town from a hill. The two boys live in the houses below. They spotted and followed the photographer's drone, eventually begging for money. As they refused, the boys stay behind to wait for other tourists.

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Bikaner, Rajasthan

A man walks down the back alleys of a marketplace.

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Bikaner, Rajasthan

From left, a textile stall; a man selling bangles in boxes; a man sitting outside his stall, waiting for tourists and customers.

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Bikaner, Rajasthan

A dilapidated and vacant haveli, otherwise mansions that rich businessmen used to live in. Right outside this frame is a local, a male caretaker who guards by this vacant building.

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Chandigarh, Punjab

Four university students look into the sky on campus grounds.

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Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh

In this city where Tibetan refugees reside in, a man waits for a bus outside a marketplace.

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Amritsar, Punjab

A boy takes him time with a holy bath and worship.

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Pushkar, Rajasthan

The sacred lake of Pushkar will soon get crowded as worshippers drop in for a holy bath.

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Todgarh, Rajasthan

Worshippers quietly pray to Lord Shiva in a temple.

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Todgarh, Rajasthan

The neighbouring town, pictured from a high hill in Todgarh. The man in the picture lives in the next town and is strolling downhill. Yards behind him is his flock of goats, following him home.

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Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Women and their children quietly observes the scenery from a fort.

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The Thar Desert, Jaisalmer

Two locals guide their camels across the desert as the riders, tourists watch the scenery pass them by.

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Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

A boy in school uniform waits by the corridor of his house at 7 AM.

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"You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people," British writer Olivia Laing wrote in her book, 'The Lonely City'. "The revelation of loneliness, the omnipresent, unanswerable feeling that I was in a state of lack, that I didn't have what people were supposed to, and this was down to some grave and no doubt externally unmistakable failing in my person," Laing wrote.

There's an eerie, stomach-churning sense of emptiness as you navigate a busy crowd. It stems from relativity – a comparison between the self and others around you. Often we find little moments of silence as we reel in the incomprehensible vacantness. We don't often make sense of the loneliness but look for distractions to expel these feelings.

Singaporean photographer Reuben Foong embarked on a trip to northern India. Strolling through the picturesque deserts and dense cities, he spotted locals who were lonely in the crowd. Most of them were caught mid-action. They stopped in their steps en route to somewhere else. Foong observed them from a distance. "I caught them experiencing a silent moment. I guess they were kind of waiting for something. The kid waiting to go to school, the boys in the university looking at the sky, and the two kids in Jaisalmer waiting for people to come by and beg for money."

To Foong, the sense of emptiness was obvious. The locals he photographed looked forlorn and lost in thought for a couple of seconds. "What makes it really human is when you have a thought, are at a standstill thinking of these things. You're vulnerable and... you are trying to grasp your environment and come to terms with things," Foong muses. 

In fact, Foong travelled to India two months ago. Yet, now that the year is drawing to a close, he looked back on his travel's photographs. It was a vacation, so Foong did not have an agenda to what he photographed. He, like us all, pointed his camera at what interested him as he travelled. Yet, he unknowingly photographed a series of lonely locals in the crowded city. "It showed my inner feelings, that I wanted to find some solitude. And it's so ironic that I went to [a crowded] India." He continues to wonder if it was a subconscious decision to visit densely populated places – so he could find lonely moments by himself in the crowd. 

And while he rubbed shoulders with the locals in buzzing marketplaces, forts and havelis, he made sense of this profound sense of loneliness. In a world where we're often kept occupied by people and beeping phones, these lonely moments come as a rude shock to us. Yet, we shouldn't be escaping from them. It's only when you're not with anyone else can you figure out who you are, and come to terms with your life. "Not a lot of people look into themselves but look at everything else... It's okay to be honest with your circumstances and find peace in that."

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