The floods in Jammu and Kashmir were devastating to say the least. People were trapped in their homes, animals killed, soldiers died during relief operations and regions were submerged under water, making normal life impossible. We knew all this because the images were flashed constantly on the TV screen, on websites, social media and through instant messaging applications on mobile phones. The attention helped in organising relief work, funds and supplies.
What we hardly noticed was a similar flood, days later, in Assam and Meghalaya. More than 100 lives were lost, crops damaged, houses washed away and an underdeveloped region suffered more. The lack of sustained coverage obviously hit the relief work and allied activities because people were just not aware of the extent of the damage.
“The lack of coverage of the floods in the Northeast is a blot on the national media,” says composer and musician Vishal Dadlani. “I wish they would do more, especially since the citizens of the Northeast make up a large percentage of young reporters and journalists!
“It speaks volumes about the alienation of the Northeast region from the consciousness of the Indian mainstream. This is a genuine tragedy, given that the people of the Northeast are some of the warmest and most welcoming people in India. We forget that the Northeast borders China and the support and loyalty of the Northeasterners are crucial to the defence of those borders. The way people from the Northeast are being attacked in New Delhi and Karnataka, among other places, is symptomatic of a deep ignorance and the inherent racism that abides in India.”
In a bid to correct this, noted Assamese musician Angaraag ‘Papon’ Mahanta did the one thing that grabs headlines and public attention — he gathered his musician friends to perform at a fund-raising concert at Blue Frog in New Delhi on 19 October.
“It was our mission to not only spread the word and raise funds for flood relief, but also to spread the message that we are all one people, and an Indian from the Northeast is as beloved and precious to his country as any other,” says Dadlani, who along with Mahanta, Anirban Chakraborty of Rock Street Journal and talent manager Dhruv Jagasia helped organise the event. The money will be donated to the CM’s relief fund.
It is not just the final outcome that musicians and other performers should be worried about; but the cause as well due to their influence over public thought through the arts.
Independent reports have suggested that global warming and climate change are responsible for the increased instances of cloudbursts in the Himalayas, which led to the devastating floods. These reports have also observed a possibility of an increase in these cloudbursts. Dadlani, known for not mincing his words, has a word of caution, which he shared with TEHELKA.
“For any nation, ignoring the environment in favour of random and rampant development, is a stupid move,” says Dadlani. “We can all see the effects that changing global weather patterns are having. Empirical evidence proves that the environment is in jeopardy from human mismanagement. Yet, we have leaders who preach to schoolchildren, that it is not the environment that has changed, but that our reaction to the environment has changed. This is both ignorant and arrogant.
“If we are to be a ‘global economic superpower’, as the oft-repeated claims go, we cannot achieve this by ignoring environmental concerns. To oversimplify it, a high gdp will be of utterly no use when most of the coastal regions of India are flooded, or when ozone-depletion makes cancer an everyday occurrence.”
Mahanta also sang duets with Dadlani, Shekhar Ravjiani of the Vishal- Shekhar duo and Arijit Singh.
The musicians performed for free and even the expenses for flying some of the Mumbai-based musicians down to Blue Frog in New Delhi was borne through corporate sponsorships.
The opening act was Bollywood singer Shilpa Rao, who was backed by New Delhi-based musicians, including Aditya Balani. This line-up also performed Zindagi, co-written by Balani and sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan. Niti Mohan and Harshdeep Kaur, both originally from New Delhi, swayed the audiences with their Bollywood hits, including Pataka Guddi from the film Highway.
Benny Dayal danced smoothly across the stage while singing some of his popular songs from Bollywood films. Arijit Singh sang the dreamy, soul-searching songs that he is famous for.
Vishal-Shekhar performed with their signature heavy-duty dynamism and seasoned stage presence.
Indian Ocean played Bandeh (from the film Black Friday) since most of it was a Bollywood night. They also sang two songs from their new album Tandanu.
Since Dadlani was here, he accompanied the band on Roday, which has lyrics in Bhili, worked in by bassist and frontman Rahul Ram; in Kashmiri, by drummer Amit Kilam; and in Sindhi by Dadlani. This was the first time that Dadlani sang the song in a live performance with the band since recording it for the album.
Indian Ocean also played the title track from Tandanu, which singer Himanshu Joshi managed to pull off with ease even though it was originally sung by Shankar Mahadevan in the album.
It was an impressive moment for Indian music that the crowd, mostly comprising Bollywood fans, cheered with as much gusto for this band that beats genres and stretches across a spectrum of Indian music, including tunes from indigenous people in the country.
Mahanta charmed the audience with his smile and soul-stirring voice, ably backed by his band, The East India Company. He sang two of his Bollywood hits (including Kyon from the film Barfi) and two folk songs from Assam.
The opening song of Mahanta’s set was Dine Dine, a folk number from Goalpara, the most severely flood-affected region in Assam. He also sang Jhumur, which is based on the tea estate workers who hail from West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand, and another Assamese song called Tokari.
Bhupen Hazarika was one of the most popular Assamese singers from yesteryear. Mahanta has taken it several notches further and is not just a musician from the state, but a veritable ambassador of its music and culture, exposing the world to a deluge of songs from the state otherwise known for growing world-famous tea.