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Indian photojournalist records life in quarantine

Indian photojournalist records life in quarantine

All photographs by: Rafiq Maqbool, Associated Press

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Rafiq Maqbool remembers never flinching while covering high-risk news assignments such as the war in Afghanistan, the Sri Lankan tsunami or the conflict in Kashmir, where he grew up and decided to become a photojournalist.

But a call on April 20 filled him with a dread he had never felt before. The caller told the 43-year-old Associated Press photographer that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

India has reported more than 30,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1,000 deaths. Since March 24, its 1.3 billion people have been living under one of the world’s strictest stay-at-home orders, forced to remain indoors except to buy food and other necessities. Essential workers including hospital staff, pharmacists, grocers and journalists are exempt.

At the urging of health authorities, more than 160 journalists were tested for the virus in Mumbai on April 18. Fifty-three tested positive, including many who were asymptomatic. Maqbool was one of them.

When Maqbool learned of the results, he cut short an assignment and drove home. Fear and despair gripped his mind.

“I knew I was a mess,” he said.

Maqbool was placed in quarantine in a hotel along with 40 other journalists, with the remainder quarantined elsewhere. The staff would ring his room’s doorbell, put food outside and leave. Every morning there would be phone calls from the nurse or doctor on duty to check his health.

He spent hours looking out the window at birds flocking on a tree outside. The scene brought him comfort.

But 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, Maqbool’s wife was feeling increasingly strained.

The children demanded to know where their father was. Neighbours had to be assured everything was fine. Authorities sealed his apartment building.

Maqbool turned to prayer, which helped him feel better.

Over the next few days, a chat group formed by the hotel residents became his second family where other journalists talked about their experiences.

“It was our little ghetto in the time of the coronavirus,” he said.

He would also spend time taking pictures, his camera clicking images that would form this photographic essay of his time spent alone.

On day 5, he and the other hotel residents were tested again. When the results come back two days later, Maqbool and his colleagues were found to be negative for the virus.

Later that day, on April 27, he was reunited with his family.

A reflection of  Associated Press photographer Rafiq Maqbool in the glass of a window during his quarantine at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this April 22, 2020, photo, A prayer mat, cap and a good luck charm lay on the table of photographer Rafiq Maqbool at a hotel during his quarantine in Mumbai, India. “Keep it with you, daddy. We made you a good luck charm. It has special powers,” Maqbool’s younger daughter said after he tested positive for COVID-19 and was leaving home for a hotel turned quarantine center. On the seventh day, the test from his second swab test turned out negative and he was allowed to return home to be under home quarantine for 14 days. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, A food tiffin, along  water and milk is seen at the door of  Rafiq Maqbool’s room  during his quarantine at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, Hotel staff in protective gear keep their distance while delivering food to journalists at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, Fruits, mask and food lay on Rafiq Maqbool’s hotel room in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 24, 2020,  A civic worker is seen through the room’s door eye hole as he waits for Associated Press photographer Rafiq Maqbool to fill the. swab test form at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

See Also

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, The photographer’s bed at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this April 23, 2020, photo, A bird flies at sunset as seen from the hotel room of Associated Press photographer Rafiq Maqbool, where was quarantined, in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, A mask hangs on the good luck charm of Associated Press photographer Rafiq Maqbool at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, Rafiq Maqbool watched a Bollywood film at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this April 24, 2020, photo, Rafiq Maqbool’s video chats with his daughters (on screen) from a hotel room where Maqbool was placed in quarantine in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 24, 2020, A  stamp by a doctor advising  home quarantine for 14 days for the photographer Rafiq Maqbool at a hotel in Mumbai, India, Sunday, April 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 24, 2020, A message written on an elevator said “only for doctors” at a hotel where Rafiq Maqbool was quarantined with many other journalists in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 24, 2020, A civic employee comes to collect the form which said that the photographer would be in home quarantine for 14 days at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 24, 2020, The photographer’s praying mat is laid out before the start of his prayers at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 25, 2020,  Rafiq Maqbool read the holy Quran on his mobile phone during the first day of Ramadan at a hotel where he was quarantined in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

In this Photo taken on April 23, 2020, The view from the window during Rafiq Maqbool’s days spent in quarantine at a hotel in Mumbai, India. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

StoriesAsia, a collective of independent journalists from 16 South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, seeks to replace the present-day parade of faceless numbers with humanising narrative nonfiction – a largely ignored journalistic genre in the region.

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