IN FEBRUARY LAST YEAR, the Belgian photographer Max Pinckers and his girlfriend arrived in a Delhi engulfed in fog. They were not on a romantic vacation, or headed to see the Taj Mahal. In a few hours, they were in Paharganj, Delhi’s backpacker ghetto, hauling bundles of photographic equipment—cameras, tripods, wires and lights. They headed to a small house in the neighborhood’s maze of backstreets—the headquarters of the Love Commandos, a voluntary organisation that helps lovers escape familial oppression. Inside, the pair sat down to rest in a blue-walled room, on a cot covered with a faded sheet. A while later, an anxious young couple came in, flanked by a few volunteers, or “commandos.”
The two young lovers Pinky and Sachin, had just gotten married against the will of their families. Like thousands of other couples fearing retribution for having transgressed prevalent notions of honour, they turned to the Love Commandos for help. The newlyweds were soaked in sweat, and “shaking from the stress that they would have been caught,” Pinckers told me over a recent Skype conversation.
With Pinky and Sachin still in disbelief, trying to make sense of events they could only dream about earlier, Pinckers took in the theatrics of the whole operation. He wanted to use the work of the Love Commandos as a starting point from which to explore the notions and realities of love in India. Over the following year, he documented the everyday drama at the Love Commandos’ shelter, and travelled across the country to capture images of love and longing in a land where these emotions are often laden with risk. In Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty, a self-published book of photographs that came out in June, Pinckers plays with a diverse set of elements—letters, newspaper clippings, both candid and staged images of people, objects and locations— to create a visual language that evokes the complexities of love in India.