They are sometimes shrines to fallen soldiers of the city, at other times armour for those still battling. By Chirodeep Chaudhuri
It was a Bombay-monsoon evening. Black and grey. And then there was the crimson—the blood. I remember it vividly, a ghastly accident on the highway many years ago. As the victim’s limp body was being lifted off the road by passersby, someone removed the helmet from his head and placed it gently on the pavement, next to his mangled motorbike.
For the next two weeks, I continued seeing that helmet by the roadside. Like a memorial to a fallen soldier of the city. The spot was next to a bus-stop. Some days there would be a crowd of people. They would walk around it or even jump over it to catch their buses. No one seemed to take any notice of it. It gathered dust. Then a splash of bird droppings. Finally it fell on its side. The strap had by now come undone. Then, one day, it was gone.
Not all the helmets I have since found and photographed are shrines to fallen soldiers. But their owners were soldiers in this brutal city—its potholed streets their battlefield. Life in this megalopolis is nothing less than a daily battle and these flimsy helmets a feeble armour of sorts.
I see them everywhere, like decapitated human heads—battered, bruised and muddied, left to the elements, as if on some medieval battleground. Like ghosts or spirits they linger, hanging off trees, impaled on a railing, lying by the side of the highway, or kicked into a gutter, awaiting deliverance.
This essay was published in Jan-Mar 2020 issue.