Covid-19 Unlocks Human Creativity
The human will is insatiable, irrepressible and difficult to defeat. Even in a lockdown, infinite quarantine with no definite deadline or dateline, as in contemporary India, unfortunately, surrounded and overwhelmed by dying, disease and tragedy, full of suppressed angst and anger at the mindless repression on young people, students and academics, and an 80-plus great revolutionary poet, now inflicted with Covid-19, imprisoned in jail for months in this heat and pandemic, ‘people’ just can’t allow themselves to be defeated. This has been most reflected in the social media and also outside, as people in India and elsewhere strive to find a life outside the compulsory depression and ritualism of daily despair.
Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian of London, Katherine Viner, in a seminal lecture six years ago, described the role of the journalist in an overwhelming scenario of the flowering of the social media. She said: “What if we were to embrace the ecosystem of the web and combined established journalistic techniques with new ways of finding, telling and communicating stories? Opened ourselves up? Put the people formerly known as the audience at the heart of everything? Combined the elite and the street… and the tweet?”
Well, not everyone is tweeting in India, and not everyone is a ‘citizen journalist’, and considering Indian population, only the participants in the social media are microscopic, despite the kitschy Tik Tok, a grassroots app involving millions in the most invisible bylane of our vast countryside, now banned for ‘nationalist reasons’ despite their Rs 30 crore donation to the inscrutable ‘PM Cares’. And, yet, during this repressive and depressive lockdown, a new flourishing culture of sound, visuals, text, art and craft, meaning and meaninglessness, knowledge systems, film, literature, science and social sciences, and critical commentary on politics, ecology and society has flourished.
This is the new aesthetic of the new normal of the post-truth society, a new folk and oral tradition, and it makes sense, and could possibly signal the future of the cultural life of an online quarantined generation post Covid-19 – because this pandemic, at least in India with its crumbling health structure, is bound to stay for a long, long time.
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So what should the people – thinkers, artists, students, academics, ordinary citizens, even housewives, and now house-husbands – do? They shall innovate and they will make the best out of it. Here’s how, and this article only gives a few illustrations.
Vishwajyoti Ghosh is the author of a path-breaking political graphic novel located in the turbulent India of the 1970s, in the backdrop of the authoritarian imposition of the Emergency. His out-of-the box book, among others, ‘Delhi Calm’, a visual journey of post cards, is a brilliant narrative. So what is this young and restless soul doing, having quit his job with a top publishing house recently, amidst mass unemployment?
Ghosh started a no-profit, no-money, fully entertaining, and driven with black humour podcast with Spotify, called ‘Kissa Stories’, with a catchy slogan: ‘Thora local, pura vocal’ (A bit local, a lot of vocal). It is the rediscovery of sound, old radio, forgotten neon signs of signature tunes, including from Bollywood, nostalgia of the 1970, a bit political, a lot social, homely, replete with neighbourhood stories, clichés rediscovered as sweet and bitter landmarks, and the pure joy of living in those times in mofussil localities in Delhi. Especially for a small-town guy who comes from the Hindi heartland and wants to become a writer in the big city. So typically clichéd and so lovely, truly.
Chasing good luck, finding bad luck, and many shared travellers of similar journeys, ‘Vishwa’ tells us in impeccable Hindi, the little stories of his youth with an uncanny and spoofy political and social backdrop, so that history is neither rewritten nor buried in ‘pseudo nationalism’. For instance, his Mamu comes from Soviet Russia and brings a toy airplane for him. So he is the star of the neighbourhood, and his Mamu becomes his missing dad. In a tea shop cum library run by, who else but a Bengali revolutionary, on eternal ‘udhaar’, they discover a new and creative language. When the Emergency comes, so, how do they hide the books: Marx, Lenin, and Bhagat Singh?
On their dangerous night journey in a curfewed city, to hide the books, the rendezvous becomes a Ramsay Brothers’ horror clip as cops catch them. So a genius among them flashes out an ‘old joint from the grassroots level’ story, and the cops are convinced that these young boys are apolitical and harmless, simply going for a spin to Pahargunj to score ‘stuff’.
In the ‘Encounter’, the latest podcast, a clueless middle-aged vice president of a corporate company is just not able to square up with upstart, drop-out, young eclectic geniuses who are now into millions with their the mad start-ups. Indeed, listeners of this short revelation of nostalgia as fast-forward realism are now going to contribute to the next episodes. They seem to be promising with their tempting titles: ‘Gurgaon ka Romeo, Shimla ki Kulfi, Purani Dilli ke Purane Kisse, Lucknow ki Barish, Kalkata ki Mausi, Manali ki Raate’, among others.
Said Vishwajyoti Ghosh to Lokmarg: “Kissa Stories’ is made up of the stories we live, the kissas we make up beyond our lives, that are even better than original, everyday. ‘Kissa Stories’ has emerged as a form of micro-stories, of incidents, epiphanies and anecdotes. Emerging mostly from conversations, or memories of conversations, the idea is to bring together a varied collection of stories through people across the spectrum who are separated by six stories of separation. The podcast is working with only original content both from the audience and its podcaster.”
This podcast, with all the archival sounds and atmospherics of radio, is available on all major platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify. Free!
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Young theatre person, Parshathy Nath of Thrissur in Kerala, active performer across borders, felt that it was time to do something. So with other friends she started a play-reading session online. It’s a starting point for these talented people with unsurpassed energy. And they seem to be crossing the threshold. Said Parshathy to Lokmarg: “The lockdown and the uncertainty that followed put me into a confused state of mind like anyone else. More because I am a performer and I was working with a theatre group in Bangalore when lockdown was declared. Initially, it was a shock. There was also anxiety. But, gradually, we had to ease into the new reality. In this regard, all I could resort to was to the virtual space. Although, I still feel theatre is about that live presence of the actor in flesh and blood before you, I had to reach out to fellow artistes for some creative respite. Along with a few artistes in Kerala, we got together on Google Hangouts to read a play. Just practicing enunciation, observing beat changes and emoting, felt like catharsis for me. I didn’t mind that we were reduced to square sizes on our laptops and mobile screens. All that mattered was we kept the camaraderie of theatre going. Just seeing my co-actor’s faces was a relief. I would thank technology for bringing me a little closer to my tribe to vent out our woes, sing songs together and rehearse our lines, even when the possibility of going on stage felt so far away.”
Jazz, folk, blues, Spanish guitar, classical, Indian and western, short films, amateur films with a hand camera, poetry and recitations, stories and games of children, grandmothers’ tales, webinars, monologues and discussions on current affairs, including hard topics like fake encounters and Galwan Valley, long distance classical music and opera, old paintings and old film posters, pictures of yesteryears like the premier of Guru Dutt’s Kagaz ke Phool, biographies of great actors, filmmakers, singers and musicians, and their songs and film clips, including how to cope with depression and mental health issues, and, of course, political resistance, peacefully and non-violently, inspired by archival icons: Che Guevara, Gandhi, Frida Kahlo, Charlie Chaplin, Lenin.
Every step in social media etc these days is a step into archival and contemporary innovations, some brilliant some totally banal, but that is life, isn’t it?
The icing on the cake has been a Cat Stevens’ new song, sung with the old man oozing grace and lyricism. Also Martin Scorsese giving lectures on filmmaking, starting with ‘Battleshop Potemkin’ of Sergie Eisenstein and ‘Taxi Driver’ with Robert De Niro, as a teaser. That’s cool and tempting too, but the hitch is that it costs a packet.