Stray dogs in Shillong being fed maintaining the social distancing (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
Meghalaya has been observing lockdown two weeks prior to the national lockdown that was announced on 24th March. As soon as awareness on COVID spread in Shillong, the normal lives of everyone changed and terms like ‘social distancing’ became the new way of life.
Photograph of a man on his duty as traffic controller (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
Streets were empty and people were locked in their houses which led to isolation and loneliness in the community.
Portrait of Mrs. Priyolyne in her shop (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
As per the Government orders, there was a complete lockdown in Shillong and none of the shopkeepers were allowed to keep the shop open. However, Mrs. Priyolyne got permission to keep her shop open throughout the lockdown.
A small space was provided to Mrs. Priyolyne by municipality almost 40 years ago (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
This shop provided to her by the municipality of Meghalaya is her way of earning for the last 40 years. “Only when the newspaper is closed, my shop is closed; else there is no holiday for me. I like my work, I like to be here every day,” says Kong Priyolyne.
Mrs. Priyolyne giving newspaper early morning to one of the customers (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
Kong, which means sister in the Khasi language, is how people refer to her. Kong Priyolyne opens her shop at 5:30 am in the morning. Different newspaper distributors come to drop their bundle at her shop.
Photograph of a foggy day in Shillong (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
Irrespective of the weather or political situation, the shop is always open. Many people rely on her as the shop is centrally located. “In all these years, I have known so many people who have become friends over the years. During COVID time, people would bring me food, gloves, and masks to ensure my well-being,” says Kong Priyolyne.
Photograph of Mrs. Priyolyne in her shop (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
“I don’t read newspapers myself, especially these days. If I read the newspaper it would scare me a lot. But I can read only Khasi newspapers and not English."
"I can also speak Hindi which I learned only by interacting with people in the shop. The customers would correct me if I say something wrong,” says Kong Priyolyne.
Photograph of betel-nut leaves to be served to one of the customers (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
‘Kwai’ - a paan served with a generous dose of areca nut, betel leaf, and lime is the common mouth freshener for Khasis. Among many other products, this is most commonly sold at her shop.
Kong with her friend and business partner (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
Meghalaya has an exceptionally high number of women in the workforce and women street vendors. Kong finds company with other women shopkeepers in the neighbourhood. The women like to work and contribute to the family economy here.
One of the regular customers at the shop (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
“This shop is everything for me. I got to know so many people and their lives through this shop. This is my safe space and my window to the world,” says Kong while serving one of her regular customers.
Portrait of Kong Priyolyne (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
“I do not fear anyone. I come and go in the dark every day. When I haven’t done anything wrong to anyone, I believe nothing wrong would happen to me and my customers are always watching out for me,” says Kong.
Kong counts the total earning for the day (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
“I don’t earn much running this shop and there are often unexpected expenses. Last month I got hit by a young boy, the same age as my son. My glasses broke and I couldn’t say anything to him. He was just like my son,” says Kong upon asking her daily income.
Kong Priyolyne taking a nap in her shop (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
Kong Priyolyne is taking a nap in her shop. The shop is literally her second home as she ends up spending more time here than her own home.
A young girl talks over phone as she queues up for buying goods at a neighbouring shop (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
“I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over. It has affected my sales. Also, now people read a lot on mobile phones. But the young people don’t understand the relevance of an actual newspaper. You can’t compare it with reading news on phone,” says Kong.
Photograph of locals Khasi tribe who are regular at Kong’s shop (2020) by Deepti Asthana#COVIDHeroes
While social distancing is still a norm, newspapers always bind people through conversation, opinion, and political views.
What Kong Priyolyne has been providing to people has immense value in the time, when everything is becoming digital and affecting our capability of socializing in the actual sense. Her courage and grit are remarkable.
Artist: Deepti Asthana
Deepti Asthana is an independent documentary photographer based in India. She is currently working on a long-term project to document the contribution of Indian women in wildlife and conservation. The project is supported by the National Geographic Society. Her work has been published in National Geographic magazine, BBC News, Al Jazeera English, Huffington Post, and many more.
Project location: Shillong, India
#my2020hero is an initiative by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chennai Photo Biennale Foundation (CPB) to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of real-life heroes by sharing their stories.