Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Can Music Keep Us From Suffering the Covid-19 Lockdown?

[avatar user=”R.K. Lakhi Kant” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]R.K. LAKHI KANT[/avatar]

More than ever before, the COVID horror and the forced changes that have descended on ordinary people all around, including in the New Checkon area which has for the past few month become my new home ground, waves of nostalgia of a time I so loved come back flooding my consciousness in tidal waves. So before I sketch the picture of the street I now call home and the residents’ response to the COVID-19 challenge, let me dwell a little more on the world I once inhabited and now sorely miss.

I was thinking about the times when there was a lot of freedom here in India. Especially in the city and otherwise if you knew where to head for it was always a big-hearted world around you. No, you didn’t talk of viruses, diseases or locking up the world as a matter of these. Though as youngsters you were scornful sometimes with what you choose not to be part of, the earth otherwise was a very habitable place to live in.

This notwithstanding, two of my favourite icons in peace advocacy, got shot presumably in incidents sponsored by the agents of government, or the establishment, as quite sternly they are known – John Lennon and Bob Marley – so much for songs that brought together the whole world, for what each of us want to be if left unhindered. Nothing of that sort, they were clear in telling these established warring systems. But one wonders what the system themselves listen to, if not song, for a cleansing of their own selves. Or are we to believe there’s nothing beyond these strongmen and all we need to do all the time is to listen to them. And if we do stay under their undertaking, which we are expected to respect forever, does it mean that we have to, at some point in time, inevitably tolerate the system. A certain antipathy in that if one may guess at the purpose of a political system that is not only supposed to support us and give all kind of securities, but is also assumed to give us natural cultural affinities to our own selves and the place we belong, if they know better as the rhetoric goes.

Are we one bulk of citizenry or one at a time? And who would know himself or herself better than oneself, to need someone else to tell about one’s own self. And where’s the choice; or is that the choice that some keep telling and the masses kept following, never knowing, most of them, when they lived and when the end came, believing they served some cause, not knowing all the while that they put some others above themselves thinking the pact of trust with them was factual and obligatory; and not finding out ever that it wasn’t, till they became senile or infirm or imbecile to know the difference anyway.

We are talking of a time in India, at least till the mid 80’s, 1984 and the Sikh genocide to be correct, when all of a sudden India erupted and then on was never able to recover wholly from a disrupted public life. We are not new by now to these disruptions that have been current frequently enough. Especially in Imphal which is unable to find its terms with the rest of the country closedowns are extensive even for holidays like Holi, to speak nothing of other far and many occasions of dissent. So the music was wafting through the air, the neighbourhoods, other places the young get their private lives; it was nothing sinful. Much more reasonable than the situation we have to put up with now – a government which is thought to be a necessary evil as if everyone in India was an invalid needing to be led by the little finger; so much of an affirmative the government is supposed to imply.

No, we are not talking just about a Lennon or a Marley or many such who may have a large following. But also about something in India’s domesticated conservative environs where a sitar, shehnai, or tabla no more invigorates the air we breathe close to us, but is supplemented now by travesties such as IPL cricket which publicizes people without giving any chance of finding any conformity in them. The ’84 was even predicted much before when it was still obscure. George Orwell, elsewhere, but in context, had said: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” The Sikhs, the most upright Indians, paid the price, like in other scenarios the most vulnerable class, the musicians and artists, because they don’t keep themselves armed with anything more than ideas and a rhythm of life unknown to politics or any such staunchly unidyllic commitments. But let us return to the present.

COVID infested present:

What has the world gained by way of ideologies, say, in the last 50 years.  Today it’s come to fighting with mutated germs acting beyond our mind space or capabilities. So much for medicine and intensive care that a perfectly healthy man is paid back for keeping himself fit by at one swoop becoming ill, interned, and causing his death. Even sayings have become topsy-turvy so that health is not always wealth if we are talking of pre-requirements to good health. Even normal healthy young men can die without much of a notice – whereas music has given the diehards a realization in life and wisdom to plug in whenever there’s something missing in your private space. A life without disease, violence of the mind, and hatred, is largely attainable and it’s not as bleak a subject as argued by men of the establishment who keep enhancing the picture of misery more and more by ignorance. Even in the present case the basic premise of social distancing is that prevention is possible; prevention of disease is possible, if we do not do so much research or spend on it so much that it become a bane rather. For example, nuclear energy, that has two opposing sides to it and is self-contradictory.

Everything’s closed, just about, that’s the announcement. And it is, by the dreary look of it. As I take my food at the Imphal bazar I dropped by there in the first week of the curfew only to find they can’t cook for me as the police kept coming to check. The owner who was sitting downstairs told me to insist on the cooks, but the cooks were scared. So also are the few grocery store owners at Checkon where I stay in a complex which has a mix of motor mechanics, few other small shops that don’t sell much, and at least two media houses where people are now mostly working online from home.

Checkon area is quite well organised otherwise. Checkon with mostly hills Christian people; a little further, Hatta Minuthong with Muslims; and Konung Lampak of course, an example of meticulous planning maybe because of the history of royalty it enjoys. The All India Radio there is, as other times too, sparsely active but few families in the residences adjacent in Kabui Mahabali do not mind coming out even with a baby in a pram to shake off the inertia of the day indoors. The elders who come out for walks every day though are missing even as the streets are dormant like the imposing structures of the films corporation, government dance college, city convention center, arts and culture department office, University of Manipuri Culture, Bhagyachandra theater and some colleges and organisation that remain shut.

The Govindaji temple for one is accessible from the back entrance and there’s no hindrance to the spirit of worship among the devotees with all the prayers and aratis going on as usual. This is quite a multi-religious region of Imphal East and Muslims namaz can be heard twice a day in the morning and evening over the far reaching loud speakers. The Christians all over Northeast have taken a very disciplined decision to keep the church services closed for some time and prayers are done at home in Checkon also. The other day during my walk in the neighbourhood I chanced upon a gospel rendering by a little girl I know lives on the top floor of a building, her voice startling and clear in the dying evening. It made my day and much more than that I came to know how well the children learn their scriptural hymns. Also, I guess from the tone she was aware of what’s happening outside. No school etc. – maybe a guess she made. And there was the other shopkeeper’s girl I pecked on the cheek as she came over to me, as her elders were arranging my essentials. Too small this one and oblivious of the threat that everyone’s running from. ISKCON too has something going with Zoom classes cum discussions relayed by temple devotees in Imphal.

Owners of shops too are making the most of the idle time by painting their shop fronts afresh and some are refurbishing and renovating or work that was going on before the lockdown is carrying on at some. Heavier work in construction has, however, stopped all over. Water’s a big need and every time I go out I see scores of tankers carting it in the neighbourhood. There’s a lot of demand for it. By the way the Yamuna in Delhi, minus the industrial effluents, is reportedly recovering fast and presents an exquisite clear blue sight. In Imphal though, which does not suffer from any industrial refuse, except plastic refuse etc. the water’s as muddy and green as ever. While the Indian shops (as they call them here) are cowered as ever and providing essentials at normal prices, the locals are taking a cut making the most of the circumstances.

So are the locality clubs. One of them is charging Rs. 20 for a photocopy of Aadhaar cards for availing free rice and dal rations, which is still to come for those who live on rented accommodations. One thing good about the locals here is that there seems to be no acute problem for them although apprehension is palpable among those who don’t earn apart from their daily wages.

I’m woken up each morning around 5 am by vegetable vendors, who have chosen the lane on which my ventilators open, for their business. I can hear a lot of bargaining over what they sell but luckily I don’t have to get up as I don’t cook. Bottled water boys too land up sometimes at that time in their noisy autos, or otherwise in the daytime. The only supplies left seem to be rice, dal and bottled water in most local markets as supplies have stopped coming into the state. The bakery at the lane side where a lot of Bengali boys work, making bread, cakes and biscuits has been closed for more than 10 days but the sweet puffy smell was all over the place a few days back somehow. Indian hotel boys, families, shopkeepers, and barbers in the area are around their place of work and keep peeping out of their overly occupied premises. Maybe looking for clues but finding anybody else as clueless as they themselves. IMC workers and local organisations are doing very well though keeping the streets clean and lifting garbage. Their jobs and salaries at least are assured.

And while we are at it with this lockdown don’t forget to enjoy yourself, because that’s what life is for. And it’s not your doing anyway. Sadly, audibly loud music from the neighbourhood is missing like everything else that’s gone into a slump. How much more could you make life depressive with the coronavirus already on the nerves? And that’s also what makes a musician and his music different. To believe would be difficult that all kinds of leaders in this world prefer to create the case for viruses and deaths like the Covid-19 rather, but would not be agreeable to musicians like Mr. Lennon or Bob Marley, which if we did, and if we stayed in that time warp, we wouldn’t suffer so much. Or even if we do suffer it would be pleasant like for all those who are tuning in at these times.

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