The ongoing pandemic (is it ever going to end?) has allowed many housebound men, women, boys and girls to take up a long-lost hobby and give full vent to their latent talent. Incidentally, rarely do you get two anagrammatic words (latent and talent) in close juxtaposition. Call it serendipity, but I digress. Take me, for instance. I have been writing for many years now, but I had to steal time from my other preoccupations to put pen to paper, in a manner of speaking. What pen, what paper, I hear you smirkingly ask. Well, if you must be a literal-minded dolt, I cannot hold out much hope for you. Getting back to my keyboard, and no more silly interruptions please, there are many who are writing. Like the end of the world is nigh and there’s no tomorrow. Essays, articles, novels, novellas, fiction, non-fiction – you name it, they are writing it. Bully for them, I say, and I include myself in this self-congratulating indulgence aimed at the amateur scribes and scriveners. The latter, the scriveners I mean, get their kicks drafting interminably long legal documents and generally notarizing things, but they do write, and many of them do so with the good old quill and ink.
It takes all sorts. So, let us not be patronizing and instead, doff our hats to ‘the amateur writers of the world.’ I grant you most of our efforts go largely unread, except for a handful of close friends or relatives who take the trouble (‘Oh no, not another one!’) to rapidly scan through the piece, and state their preference to ‘like’ or plonk a throbbing heart on their social media timelines. At times some of you even ‘share’ it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Hallelujah! Like ‘the great unwashed,’ we are ‘the great unread.’ Fair point. We can’t all be J.K.K. Rowlings or Salman Rushdies, but we appreciate, dear reader, the strenuous effort you put in to plough through our plodding effort. What’s more, many of you do respond and are lavish in your appreciation, which is greatly appreciated. Others remain stoically non-committal, and we hack writers will have to draw our own conclusions.
So much for the writing epidemic that is currently gripping the pandemic landscape. However, that is nothing compared with the singing bug that has afflicted a very large portion of the population. The number of people who have taken to social media, like a duck to water, to display their musical skills is beyond our imagination. Not a day passes without Facebook or Instagram being deluged with people of all ages and genders warbling from an inexhaustible musical repertoire of their choice. Canaries can take their correspondence course from these musical mavericks. From a random survey I would say Hindi film songs, in particular of the ‘50s to ‘70s vintage, take pride of place amongst our wannabe Mohammad Rafis, Lata Mangeshkars, Kishore Kumars and Asha Bhosles. This is closely followed by western pop songs with The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones and their ilk leading the pack. Being a Tamilian, I also come across quite a few bathroom singers letting rip with old Sivaji Ganesan and MGR film hits, not to speak of the more recent compositions of Ilayaraja and A.R. Rehman. A very niche audience, namely devotees of Carnatic music, can have their fill with most leading performers posting songs from their recorded concerts, and in quite a few cases, the singers actually performing from the comfort of their homes while engaging in a live chat with their fans on the intricacies of this hoary art form.
It is, however, the amateur singer, who quite fancies her vocalizing skills that greatly interests me. The availability of karaoke to provide background music, gives the singer a sense of security and confidence. So off she goes, standing in her drawing room, or on her balcony and launches into something from Aradhana, Anand, Kala Bazaar or Hum Dono. There are even some who do live shows and take requests online. These ‘live soirees’ are advertised over social media well in advance so their devout fans can be in readiness with their listener’s choice! Smileys and floating hearts go berserk while the performer struts her stuff. Since all this is happening on the internet, at times the connection can go awry and the singer often goes into a virtual freeze in mid-song and when she returns, the song is almost over. These are but minor glitches, certainly not enough to deter our doughty, brave crooners who carry on regardless. ‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ said the Bard. Spot on, William. With social media enveloping us all hours of the day and night, we can have music while food is constantly available to us as aid to our enjoyment of the fare on offer. A quick explanatory note at this point is in order. I employ the term ‘she’ or ‘her’ out of a sense of chivalry and to avoid the tedium of mentioning both sexes every time. I assure you the ‘he’ and ‘him’ are very much in the fray. If anything, with knobs on. Nothing invidious intended.
Then there are the babies. When I say babies, I include any toddler between the age of a couple of months to a mature five-year-old. Our social media channels are choc-a-bloc with these ‘cho chweet’ kiddies crawling, frothy spittle forming moustaches around their upper lips, ‘mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’ (Shakespeare again), pulling the poor pet dog’s tail, pulling the angry cat’s ears (the cat bares its claws and the baby is frantically pulled away), three-year old Dolly singing and lisping ‘Inky, pinky, ponky,’ four-year old Bunty delivering lethal karate chops, precocious fourteen year-old Sabrina outdoing Whitney Houston with her vocal range and finally, all those birthday celebrations, cake cutting, baby’s face smeared with gooey chocolate. Truly a feast of entertainment for us to watch over and over again, if you are into that sort of thing. Speaking for myself, I can’t find a single grainy, sepia-tinted, grease-smudged picture of any of my birthdays being celebrated before I was thirty years old. And even after that, when I am now well and truly long in the tooth, the mobile phone has captured some of these moments to drool over, most of which are delete-worthy. If you ask me, I am immensely happy mobile phones with their prying, ubiquitous cameras were not around when I was a toddler.
Let me now turn to this Zoom pestilence. Someone from your family or circle of friends will take the initiative to plan a Zoom party, whereby all of us, often as many as 30 people, are intimated in advance that on a particular date and time, we will get together over Zoom to celebrate one of our near and dear one’s birthday, anniversary or simply, chumma chumma, just like that. If you opt out of this visual jamboree, you will be viewed as a spoilsport, frowned upon and not be invited next time round (a blessing in disguise). And what actually transpires during these Zoom chats? At least two or three participants will have connectivity issues, which will take a while to set right. Then much hoo haa about ‘Where’s Shanta, where’s Ram, we are not starting without them.’ Dress code? We have to be properly attired for the occasion, though we are at home. ‘For God’s sake, you look like something the cat brought in. Go and shave.’ This, from the wife. While we are all waving frantically at each other, staring in glazed fixity at our computer screens with no idea of who has spotted whom, one person decides to take the lead, suggesting a singalong. ‘Mala, you sing, come on ya, don’t be such a fusspot.’
Mala will make a face and say she’ll start but others must join in. Depending on Mala’s choice of song, a few will mumble unintelligibly and inaudibly along with her, the others will watch stone faced, the mumbling chorus will suddenly stop mumbling, and Mala will stop abruptly and announce, ‘I am not singing anymore, let Rakesh sing that lovely Ghulam Ali ghazal he sang at Mummy’s 65th birthday.’ Meanwhile the Zoom group (30 of them, remember?) has managed to form its own sub-groups who are muttering sweet nothings to each other, a baby is propped up in front of the camera to universal acclaim and breathless exclamations. Invariably, there will be one or two cruising on a highway in their car, the engine sound drowning out whatever they are trying to say. Finally, a couple from Chicago will yawn, stretch and go, ‘Don’t know about you guys, but it’s way past our bedtime here. Good night folks.’ Black window on your screen where the Chicago twosome were. Another elderly couple, who had not opened their mouths throughout the affair, quietly disappear into the Kuala Lumpur night. Another black window. Next day we will get to know all about how stupid we were to quit at one in the morning ‘because Prema and Ravi enthralled us till midnight with their rib-tickling stand-up comedy routine. We nearly died laughing.’ With participants from five different countries and time zones, the question is whose midnight and whose one-in-the-morning?
In conclusion, let’s raise a toast to all amateur writers, singers and the Zoom zombies. These are tough times and we need to keep ourselves creatively occupied. Of course, one understands that you wish to share your literary and musical prowess with the rest of the world. By all means, do that. Only don’t get disheartened if the rest of the world is too preoccupied to take a blind bit of notice. As for all the Zoom zombies, go ahead and Zoom till you’re blue in the face. The technology is there, so why not use it? Just one caveat. I’ll sit this one out.