GEN Op-Ed: Stories from a landfill in Delhi

Show it Better: Stories from a Landfill in Delhi

3 November 2021

What do you share a love-hate relationship with?

Is it pizza? Is it Delhi? Or perhaps the rains?

We asked her the same question a while ago. And she said it was the landfill.

For her and her neighbours,

They can’t live without it.

They can’t live away from it.

Their source of livelihood is also their source of danger.

Did you know that groundwater could be yellow?

Well we didn’t. Until we saw these bathing stalls made out of fabric, encasing the few handpumps that exist at the edge of the landfill.

The mountain of trash is very visible to all of us, but the grave problem of polluted groundwater is fairly invisible. 

What do play spaces look like around a landfill?

Leachate becomes a river and ‘kattas’* full of garbage become boats.

Smiles and giggles abound, children find their own treasures in the trash every day.

These visual narratives resonate with Ankur Bisen’s words in his book Wasted: The Messy Story of Sanitation in India,

Perhaps I’m fine with the toxic river because I have never seen it in any other color during my adult life. I am fine with the simmering landfill because I have spent my entire childhood absorbing its visuals and inhaling its presence.


Given that the impact of our consumptive lifestyles and the manifestation of climate change is sometimes evident in our everyday lives and sometimes hidden from sight, Kanchan and Sukriti the artist duo, decided to investigate and engage with the waste pickers who live at the city’s periphery, in the foothills of Delhi’s largest landfill. 

In an effort to bring visibility to their life’s stories, aspirations and challenges, they explore a visual language and tone which is light-hearted and easy to understand. The intent is not to in any way lighten the seriousness of the subject, but nudge people to engage more deeply.

These are unpleasant realities which are most commonly revealed through shocking imagery and photographs, almost making one turn their face away, literally and metaphorically. Through conscious and sensitive re-imagination of storytelling, the artists are constantly experimenting and seeking to push the boundaries in digital spaces, storytelling, art and creative coding such as through their new media project ‘Suno’** for the Serendipity Arts Virtual Festival 2021.

*Katta in Hindi means a ‘sack’ or ‘bag’, typically the kind used to pack cement or grains

**Suno in Hindi means ‘listen’

About Off Centre Collective Founded by Kanchan Joneja and Sukriti Thukral, Off Centre Collective is a creative collaboration of designers, strategists, conceptual thinkers and researchers. They combine the power of design thinking with creative skills and expertise to tell great stories and develop impactful results. They scale impact through research, strategy and communication design, investigating the invisible layers of our environment and developing meaningful solutions for creative businesses, social enterprises and climate action organisations. 

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