What a horrid year this has turned out to be (and we’re barely past the first quarter, even). First we had all that communal violence, and then—just as we were wondering how much worse it could get—we were side-swiped by the coronavirus. Well, at least in India, we were. We’d seen it brewing far away in China and Italy and elsewhere, and we went through a token country-wide ‘janta curfew’ on March 22nd.
And now the entire country is on lockdown for 21 days, starting midnight on the 24th of March. At first, there was widespread panic since people didn’t know what that entailed. By the next day, more details came filtering through, and we found that essential shops—grocers, vegetable and fruit sellers, pharmacies and so on—would open. Banks, petrol pumps and other similar establishments would open too, though presumably with diminished hours and fewer staff. Of course, considering the impact of the lockdown on supply lines (and the obvious panic buying by many people), the chances that there would be shortages were high.
Suddenly, lots of things changed. Because there were so few people around and negligible traffic, wild animals began to appear on the streets of cities like Noida (where I live; someone hear saw a blue bull or neelgai outside Noida’s largest mall). The air is cleaner, we can hear birds and see stars at night.
That’s the good part. For others, less privileged than us, it’s been nightmarish, and with no likelihood of matters improving in the near future. Thousands of poor migrant labourers, trekking back to their villages, have found themselves stuck at borders, humiliated and thrashed by cops (let alone those who’ve died en route). Thousands of others, stuck in big cities as daily wage earners, struggle to find their next meal. (On this note, if you’d like to help those most vulnerable at this time, please consider contributing to welfare associations and organizations like Our Democracy, India Fights Corona, and others who are working to help the poor).
For those of us who have our homes and our privileges, there are discomforts we’ll have to live with for the time being. We’ll have to stay in our homes. We’ll have to keep away from others. For the pampered middle class of India, we will, in the absence of domestic help, have to do chores on our own. We’ll have to learn to make do with what we can easily obtain: no stepping out for a coffee or a lunch date at a restaurant.
And we’ll have to keep our spirits up. We’ll have to remember that we cannot let this crush us or defeat our spirits. If we can maintain our sanity, if we can pull together and exercise some precautions while doing so, we’ll weather this storm, too.
So, to help: a bunch of upbeat songs that, in some way or the other, relate to this lockdown. Enjoy!
As always, these songs are from pre-1970s Hindi films that I’ve seen.
1. Paas nahin aaiye haath na lagaaiye (Saqi, 1952): To start with, the song that inspired me to compile this list in the first place. Shortly after we were urged to practice social distancing, someone posted Paas nahin aaiye haath na lagaaiye on a Facebook group of which I’m a member. And, really: such an appropriate song, because it sums up the key to staying safe from Coronavirus. Stay away, don’t come close, don’t touch. Kijiye nazaara door-door se, kijiye ishaara door-door se (Watch from afar, indicate your feelings from afar). These cautionary lyrics, in the context of the song, are directed at a princess and her (clandestine) commoner lover, but they couldn’t be more apt for the lockdown.
2. Na na na re na na haath na lagaana (Taj Mahal, 1963): Along the same lines as the previous song, though this female is a little more scatter-brained than the one in Paas nahin aaiye. She seems to think that if he touches her, her curses will be enough to ward off any harm done. Huh. If only all of us could simply shower abuses at anyone who comes close enough to lay a hand (and pass on the virus)—well, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?
3. Ek do teen (Parivaar, 1956): When non-essential places that could cause the virus to spread began shutting down in India, I found several of my fitness enthusiast friends bemoaning the closure of gyms. Well, this family shows that you don’t need to go to a gym to work out. The eponymous parivaar (family) gathers on their rooftop, two generations of people (along with domestic help) and indulge in a fairly vigorous bit of calisthenics, to an appropriate song which extols the virtues of fitness. Of daily exercise and proper diet (though the diet this recommends seems a little excessive: ½ a ser of milk in the morning and ½ a ser in the evening; the tomato in the morning sounds like a good idea, though).
Besides the fact that they’re working out together at home, think of what a lot of good they’re doing to their immune systems with that exercise. After all, as the second stanza reiterates:
Aadmi ka chola bhi machine hai ajeeb
Mushkilon se humko hui yeh naseeb
Iske kal-purzon ko saaf rakhna tum
‘Health is wealth’ pyaare yaad rakhna tum
(This robe of man’s is a strange machine
After many difficulties, this is what we’ve got
Keep its nuts and bolts clean
‘Health is wealth’, my dear: remember this)
4. Lipstick lagaanewaale (Shrimatiji, 1952): One of the biggest fallouts of the lockdown for the Indian middle class has been that we’ve all suddenly had to cope with the lack of domestic help. For a (very) few of us, it’s not too difficult, since we already do a good deal of housework. For the majority, coping with daily chores can be a tough ask—especially when, as in a lot of cases, the know-how is missing.
As in the case of these ladies. Hard times have bankrupted Shyama’s character and her friends, and while they can get out of paying rent by hoodwinking the landlord, keeping their flat clean, cooking food, etc is not something they can afford to hire help for. So they do it themselves. I love the gleefully resigned way in which these women accept their fate: those who once set hearts aflame, are busy lighting stoves; those who once shot arrows with their flashing eyes, are busy stirring pots and pans. And those beautifully manicured nails are all frayed from scrubbing.
5. Ek do teen chaar aur paanch (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959): Guess what happens when a very loving family, otherwise probably coming together only in the latter half of the day, suddenly finds itself within the same four walls, twenty-four hours a day? Strife. Getting on each other’s nerves. With the lockdown, parents and offspring, siblings and spouses have suddenly discovered the true meaning of that old adage about familiarity breeding contempt. As happened in the case of the numbers Waheeda Rehman’s character sings about in this song. Ek do teen chaar aur paanch, chhe aur saat, aath aur nau; ek jagah sab rehte thhe, jhagde thhe par unmein sau (One two three four and five, six and seven, eight and nine; they lived all together, but there were a hundred quarrels between them).
6. Alif zabar aa (Love in Simla, 1960): Waheeda Rehman’s character in Ek do teen chaar aur paanch, and the children she was teaching, probably did not realize just how lucky they were to be able to be in a proper class, no matter if it was outdoors and the children had to sit on the ground. Right now, with schools shut, all our children are at home, and of course having to study at home. Online, offline, with parents helping and tutoring—whichever way. And, given that not all of us are trained teachers, our ways of teaching might fall far short of the recommended. Joy Mukherji’s character in Love in Simla, for instance, decides to teach his sweetheart’s brother Urdu—and makes a song and dance of it. It doesn’t start off too badly, but beyond that initial promise, it dwindles away, pushing the correct sequence of letters in the alphabet to the side and ending with a rapid-fire outburst of the (almost entire) alphabet that leaves teacher, pupil, and eavesdropper gasping.
7. Yeh na thhi hamaari kismet ke visaal-e-yaar hota (Mirza Ghalib, 1954): When we talk about people doing things together (even if it’s quarrelling), we do so with the assumption that they happen to be in the same house. What of those unfortunate souls who were separated by the lockdown and will probably have to resort to Skype or Google Hangouts or whatever to somehow satisfy their longing for each other? Like the many restless and unhappy bichhde yaar (separated lovers) of Hindi cinema—and really, those are too many to even count—they’ll have to wait. Like Suraiya’s Moti Begum, certain she’s probably going to pop off before she gets a chance to finally meet her beloved Mirza Ghalib (Bharat Bhushan).
8. Us paar is deewaar ke jo rehte hain (Saiyyaan, 1951): Even among the separated lovers, though, there might be some who are luckier than their counterparts: the people who happen to have fallen in love with the girl or boy next door. That makes things so much easier, I think. Not only is there the likelihood that you will be able to catch a glimpse of your sweetheart as he/she appears at a convenient balcony or window, if all else fails (including the net connection, as has happened in the case of some people we know, resulting in their being disconnected even from the virtual world)… you can just sing loudly. As Sajjan, acting as Madhubala’s love interest in Saiyyaan, does, totally unfazed by the fact that the lady in question doesn’t reciprocate.
9. Gore haathon par na zulm karo (Pyaar Kiye Jaa, 1966): In these times, though, I think I speak for the bulk of most women when I say that the last thing we’d want is a lover who coos sweet nothings into our ears or sings us romantic serenades. Nope. When you’re neck-deep in housework (and continuing to do your regular work too—working from home doesn’t mean work stops), the dream lover is one who sings this to you. When you’re sweeping or chopping or scrubbing or doing any one of the million other tasks housework consists of, a man who comes along and says, ‘Hum kaam karein tum raaj karo’ (I will work, and you will rule)—well, that’s my idea of a man. He needn’t look like Shashi Kapoor—that’s a little too much to ask—but his philosophy must be the one that’s the focus of this song.
10. Ek roz hamaari bhi daal galegi (Bandi, 1957): Phoonk-phoonkkar choolha ahkhiyaan ka bhayo satyanaash (My eyes have been ruined by my stoking of the fire). I can pretty much hear that being echoed by dozens of friends who’ve been suddenly shoved into the deep end and are now obliged to cook for themselves with little or no expertise in the art and science of cooking. The rookhi-sookhi roti aur nimbu ka achaar (dry roti and lime pickle) would probably be replaced in today’s India by instant noodles and other similar stuff, but the sentiment will be the same: this is something we’re no good at, and we can hardly wait for better days to come.
And, on that note: a wish that the day when Covid-19 is a thing of the past, will dawn soon. That governments, private organizations and individuals will be able to work together to make the journey to that day an easier one for all concerned, not just the wealthy who can weather the storm.
Stay safe, stay at home.