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VIRAL TUNES

In India, the coronavirus outbreak has inspired some racist and sexist music

YouTube screen grab
Pathological musicians.
  • Manavi Kapur
By Manavi Kapur

Culture and lifestyle reporter

What’s that one crazy thing your doomsday kit would include? For Indians, it seems to be music.

As the number of Covid-19 cases in India crosses 60, several local Indian musicians have gone all out to make the best out of the global outbreak. Bhojpuri, Odia, and Punjabi language artistes, among others, have released a flood of songs on YouTube based on the novel coronavirus.

The lyrics obviously include terms like “masks” and “washing hands.” Coronavirus has replaced oppressive parents and unfaithful lovers as the central villain in the songs. However, not surprisingly, coronavirus is often used in its Hindi pun form, “karo na,” which can be read both ways: “Please do it” or “do not.”

The videos are elaborate but mostly only in terms of editing. Viral (excuse the pun) footages from hospitals in China’s Wuhan form their centrepieces. Almost all of them have people of Asian origin in masks, technicians in laboratories, and digital mock-ups of the virus’s molecular anatomy.

What stands out is that most of these musicians are largely unknown/unheard vernacular artistes. Given that Covid-19 is close to a pandemic, for aspirational Indians, this is the moment to secure their four minutes in the international sun, even if it means blurring the line between creativity and insensitivity.

For instance, in a departure from the usual Gucci- and Prada-peppered Punjabi numbers, the singer Yanboy compares himself to the virus that has killed 4,267 people as a signifier of his machismo.

Others, like comedian and writer Naveen Richard in English,  have used coronavirus as a pick-up line, rhyming corona, China, and Barcelona while at it.

Yet, for all the appearances of being well-travelled, prejudices remain.

Racy racism

A lady speaks to her China-returned lover on the phone in Hindi. She’s not convinced by the thermal testing at the airport and wants him to get tested again. Once she hears him cough, she spurns his invitation to meet, saying their romance will be restricted to the phone.

She’s clearly tracking the news as she soon accuses her beau of eating snakes and bats in China. He admits soon enough that the snake soup was delicious. He attempts to calm her saying that since the disease originated in China, it won’t last very long, a hint at the poor reputation of Chinese products’ quality in India.

In one unintentionally deadpan Punjabi song, the artistes believe the virus is spreading because of the “gandd” (dirt) “these people” eat. The video has shots from a purported Chinese meat market.

Some videos, which have over 400,000 views on YouTube, are also overly licentious and sexist. A Bhojpuri number, for instance, has risqué photos of women and references to their “choli” (blouse).

Eat, pray, sing

When all else fails, there’s always religion. A group of women, possibly in a town in Rajasthan, composed a bhajan (hymn), admonishing coronavirus to leave India where it has no business.

Myth-filled home remedies about eating warm foods, salt gargles, and consuming garlic also have been woven into this Hail Mary against Covid-19.

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