Wander in The Futuristic City With The Help of Augmented Reality
A story about two girls who learn to fall in love with the city of Delhi and its strangers through the lens of augmented reality.
8 min read
How do you think the rise of Augmented reality will shape up the future? Let Anjani and Nuzhat guide you through Delhi in 2030 with their devices in hand.
Illustration Created by Shireen Bhariok
Anjani walked into the mall complex with her head tilted to the ground. In her bruised-cherry red kurta, she stood out in the crowd. Even in the huge courtyard, the walls surrounding her looked to her like a pack of wild dogs conspiring to ambush prey. The heavy air characteristic to Delhi monsoons had infected her body, turning her pace sluggish; she had never had to wander this far into an urban jungle before. The last time she had seen Delhi was in 2016 and could only remember glimpses of her Mausi walking within the large crowd, and a corpse on the shoulders of several men. People were moving around the sight as carelessly as a river around a small rock; the most attention paid to the scene being a stray honk at the traffic it caused. She had always loathed this city for how powerless and small it made her feel. Ceilings were high enough for the scariest demons in her dadi’s stories to be able to stand tall. She supposed that many countless souls had given their lives away to strengthen the monster that Delhi had become.
She was making an important journey to her Mausi’s technology outlet in a new mall in Vasant Kunj. A new augmented reality application was allowing farmers in Anjani’s village access to information about their crop, keeping them ahead of her family farm. It cross referenced the location with data from government agencies to tell farmers when it was right to start planting and what fertilizer the soil needed. Farmers were able to point their phones at damaged crops and know what infected them, they could also point their phones at the sky and know about when it would rain next.
Delhi’s architecture was impersonal, impolite to the eyes with none of the calming hand-painted white elephants and horses she frequently passed by in her community. There were no roofs made of hay left over from last year’s harvest and its memories. There were no stray clay cook tops scattered about, decorated with textures only human hands can accomplish. A robotic voice welcomed her like it did every other customer. The doors shut and she was swallowed whole, taken into her Mausi’s shop.
A few kilometers away, twenty year old Nuzhat Fatima was pacing at the base of the Qutub Minar with an image stuck in her head. A coffin being lowered to the ground, with people surrounding her deceased father, their faces glowing in the dark blue evening in the light from the phones. They were writing messages to be geotagged to the burial grounds. Anyone walking past the site with their phones could see these messages through their augmented reality apps. Despite an outcry from some religious elders, the technology had become part of the ritual throughout Delhi by the 2020s.
Nuzhat walked towards a rock where she used to sit with her father, in the shade of the main tower. She took a pen to her phone, pushing against its smooth glass to write a virtual message. As she wrote, “Will forever miss being next to you” appeared on the rock on her phone screen, next to a colourful digital graffiti left behind by others. One could only see these messages and drawings through the augmented reality application. An entirely different version of places existed in the augmented reality on people’s phones, there were digital versions of the world, entirely devoid of any restrictions of expression.
Most people in the compound walked with their phones in their hands, laughing at old messages and swiping through different artists’ renditions of the tower. Tourists could switch to an official version in their AR apps and learn about the tower and its history. In an ungoverned version of the digital reality, teenagers traced their outlines and wrote their names on pillars next to the names of their lovers and crushes.
On her way out of the mall, Anjani stopped to take her phone out of its packaging and play with it a bit. She pointed the phone at her shoes, a scruffy island in the middle of an ocean of people rushing noisily beside her. The built-in augmented reality app on the phone caught her eye. She opened it and the display showed the tiles that she is on home to a new reality. Excited Cocker Spaniels ran back and forth from a pet mart on her phone. Lifting the phone higher, she saw European models walking by where she had just been wearing the latest brands of clothing. She fixed her hair in response. Through WOWSOME's augmented reality app on her phone she could see banners and still ads around her moving within their spaces. There were humming birds carrying grocery bags to department stores, blank patches on the walls turn into displays for advertisements. She pointed the phone towards the sky and saw that it would rain in four hours.
She finally understood the narratives she had heard on the TV. Dumbstruck, Anjani saw that when she points her phone at other people their statuses show up. “what do you want the world to know about yourself ?” she was asked in a pop-up profile setting on the app. Options popped up, asking about adjustments to her face, to make it more symmetrical and get rid of blemishes. People could be seen with the adjustments they want through other phones. She walked out onto the street with her phone pointing at every moving banner and digital being, leading her to stores she knew were too expensive for her budget. She was on her phone constantly, even on her way back.
While returning from Qutub Minar, Nuzhat noticed a girl on the metro ecstatically pointing her phone towards everything around her. Nuzhat smiled and was lost in the childish appeal of the stranger. Her clothes were like nothing Nuzhat had seen in Delhi, except for vintage movie posters, her hair was through her thin shoulders. Nuzhat pointed her phone towards the girl to see if her profile was set on public. Through the phone Nuzhat learned her name was Anjani, which means stranger in Hindi. Nuzhat was intrigued, so she tapped on her bio and saw that Anjani wanted the world to know she was a ‘5 foot 5 inch dad lover’.
Anjani received a message request from Nuzhat and accepted it immediately, noticing her at a short distance through her phone screen. AR artists had turned the insides of the train into a parade of colors with pink striped zebras and black Giraffes vomiting out buildings and other animals. They both looked at each other through their phones, their faces perfected through the augmented reality application. Anjani was lost in the foreign pattersin Nuzhat’s clothing. They stuck to her consciousness like a sickle being struck into stubborn clay. There was a flicker in her chest, the air engulfed her. Suddenly she received a message from the stranger. Nuzhat asked her if she was in town for long, learning that she wasn’t from Delhi from the app.
“No, I am going back tomorrow morning”, Anjani replied.
“Do you want me to show you around before you go home? It looks like you haven’t been around much”, Nuzhat asked, adding, “We can even go for dinner, it’s getting late.”
Anjani looked at her, and with an air of nervousness unassuringly, nodded her head, assuming that, that's probably how it's done in big cities, atleast that's what she had seen in the movies.
They stepped off the metro together at a station whose name Anjani didn’t bother to read through. They watched in shock as a man was arrested immediately after he exited from the carriage next to theirs. Every individual’s phones acted like security cameras and since they were out more, it was hard for criminals to get far with even a pick-pocketed watch.
Rajiv Chowk was still a stain in Anjani’s memories. They exited the metro station with the large Indian flag waving gently in the summer air. Anjani, recalled getting lost for hours as a child in CP several years ago, infact every building still had the same impersonal, strange air to it. Every building was the same set of pillars and white walls. These were the shades Anjani's family wore while in mourning.
Nuzhat noticed Anjani’s eyes examining the scenery as they got off the escalator. Nuzhat patted Anjani's shoulder, shaking her out of her trance and signalling her to pull her phone out. Their AR app was set on the official version of the location. Through their phones, they saw the flag grow almost five times in size and caste an immense virtual shadow on many of the buildings that circled it.
She pointed her phone at a random huddle of buildings. A few seconds later a dragon with iridescent blue and green scales leapt out of a window. It's body glistened in the orange of the one-hour-left-for-rainfall sunset. It glided around the area, away from its Chinese restaurant home at Shanghai Dining and was at different places for different people, and nowhere at all for some.
Anjani and Nuzhat started walking towards an Indian restaurant. Digital Irishmen with green hats danced outside pubs. There were animated characters shaped like Fizzy drink bottles waving to pedestrians outside grocery stores. When Anjani pointed her phone towards the walls of the Indian restaurant she saw animations of young women dancing Kathak.
They sat down at a table that looked out onto the street. The restaurant played the latest wannabe-soothing but still-horrible Bollywood song, finally getting the volume right after years of noise complaints from neighbors. The treble attempted to make slight pangs on the conversationalist’s ears but was gradually muffled by the arrival of rain outside. Anjani and Nuzhat heard the clinks of their cutlery against their plates, feeling the ambience of rain in a Delhi restaurant. Anjani’s calls for water were unheeded by the servers, and her new company pointed her phone at the empty glass of water. On the phone it was filled to overflowing, and this sent a signal out to the staff. A waiter finally arrived out of nowhere and poured water into the cup. On its way back into her pocket, Nuzhat caught a glimpse of Anjani through her display. Her face glistened in the yellow light against the blue of the night outside. She chewed like a child would.
The meal was quickly finished and was paid for through Nuzhat's phone when she passed a scanner under the door. They reached for their umbrellas from purses and walked on to the footpath. Anjani called a cab for herself, a cab driver nearby saw a large arrow on his AR display drop onto the building she was in and followed. Nuzhat hugged her in farewell on the sidewalk as the rain became heavier, they finally exchanged numbers. Anjani closed the door of the car and it pulled away with an almost threatening speed. Through the rain, Nuzhat pointed her phone towards the car and saw that Anjani had changed her status to " it was a good day ".
As the car moved away, the AR app was unable to detect the car and soon enough Anjani was too far away for her public profile to be displayed. A thick cloud of rain made it even more difficult to make sense of the situation. Nuzhat could make out dark brown patches on the back of the car speeding away from Rajiv Chowk into an open stretch of the road. The sound of rain overwhelmed the scape, it's thick drops disturbed clear sight, like pouring water often does to see-through glass. Nuzhat made her way back to shelter as well, and her silhouette blurred and dissolved into the dullness of the rainy night.