Vires versus virus in the second wave

Vinod Venugopal and Reshmi George  

“Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders” — Hey Jude, The Beatles.

It is tempting to add to that timeless exhortation from Lennon-McCartney. Yielding to that audacious temptation, here it is: Just bear the burdens of those within your immediate circle of influence.

Two Chennai-based singers — Vinod Venugopal, frontman of the light-music orchestra Alaapana that specialises in retro music; and playback singer Reshmi George — seem to concur with the latter wisdom, putting it into action with a live show on Facebook, “Vires” (‘Vi’ for Vinod and ‘res’ for Reshmi).

Homonymously-coined, the initiative sought to tackle what the virus was meting out to a section of their tribe, musicians who perform light music on stage.

Back then, almost everyone fit the pandemic into short and compact time-frames, and Vinod admits to having his sights set on helping a handful of musicians through what he erroneously foresaw as “short” unemployment.

In Vinod’s words, the modest goal was about “supporting five to six musicians for three months, because that was the kind of time-frame people were talking about.”

The purpose of having a live show on FB twice every week — Thursday and Saturday — was announced to Tamil retro film music aficionados that flocked to it.

Touching a chord with these listeners, it loosened their purse strings. With a sizeable amount flowing in from known circles, the charity grew bigger than expected.

Vinod presents the numbers: With a collection of ₹11.5 lakh, 51 musicians were supported, with 42 of them receiving “support over 10 months, from May 2020 to February 2021”. The beneficiary-musicians were chosen after being put through a questionnaire and a process of inquiries.

“The musicians initially received ₹5,000 per month for two months — May and June. By June, it was clear the crisis would be protracted, and therefore from July, I converted the cash benefits into provisions. I made a kit of essentials worth ₹1,200 and gave it to the musicians every month until February 2021. A kit would contain essentials like rice, dal, sugar, salt, oil, spices and soap, barely sufficient to sustain a two- to three-member family for a month,” recalls Vinod. “The transactions were being carried out through the Rotary Club of Chennai Mitra (RCCM) with their account being operated for collection and disbursement of funds.”

By leading a popular band, Vinod commands a following. Associated with hits like manasukkulle dhagam vanthucha, Reshmi is an easily recognised name for diehard Tamil film music followers.

Vires seems to have only enhanced whatever brand value they had built over the years, lacquering it with the eye-catching gloss of social responsibility.

“Together, we have created a brand called Vires, doing two shows every week until December 2020, and one weekly show since then,” remarks Vinod.

The generosity of home-bound music lovers activated a parallel charity.

“We addressed other difficulties faced by some musicians — paying their children’s school fees and meeting emergency medical expenses. For this, we would give the donors the bank-account details of the school, college or hospital, so that they could make direct contributions. In February 2021, a DJ’s father had suffered a heart attack, and a single donor contributed ₹1 lakh towards treatment at Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre. Similarly, the school and college fees of the children of a disabled musician was met,” illustrates Vinod.

With Coronavirus cases at a low ebb in February 2021, Vires was going to change tack, focussing almost exclusively on the above needs, as musicians had started finding work by January.

“In February 2021, when we stopped giving provisions , we wanted to start a collection to meet the educational and medical expenses faced by the musicians’ families. In 2020-21, a majority of the children had not gone to school,” explains Vinod, adding that the Second Wave had brought the old basic sustenance-related problems back, on its tail.

The duo may be tackling old problems, but they are bringing a fresh approach to it.

For the second wave

“The campaign is called ‘100 Changes’ which it encourages people to start donating in small measures. It is about making a commitment to donate ₹100 every month over a one-year period. I am making short videos to educate people on how anyone — even a college student — can make a contribution through small savings. By not going out one day, he could save one litre of petrol, and as a result, close to ₹100.

Every Saturday, Reshmi and I do a live on Facebook, and in a recent show, this initiative was introduced in a soft launch,” says Vinod.

‘During lockdowns, I have walked 2.5 km to do the live FB shows’
  • One does not have to reach the top of tree before starting to extend a helping hand. Wherever one has reached is the best place to help those just below.
  • From what she chooses to dwell on, Tamil playback singer Reshmi George epitomises this thinking.
  • “During the pandemic, singers like Vinod and me have the advantage of offering live online shows. Without their regular platforms, orchestra musicians are severly handicapped,” says Reshmi.
  • “I think musicians generally lack financial prudence, with very few putting aside money towards future exigencies. I am no exception to that rule.
  • We do not have the safety net of a monthly salary. Everything depends on availability of shows. We get by on whatever recordings we manage. If we have to take a medical insurance we would need to save an amount of money, which is difficult for most musicians.” Reshmi points out that she has been enthused over Vires from the get-go.
  • “During the lockdowns in 2020, I would walk down a distance of 2.5 km to do the FB live shows. My house is in Mogappair West, and Vinod’s in Anna Nagar, and I would just foot the distance, as one could not take out a vehicle then.”
  • In that phase when Vires was dispensing provision kits to musicians, Reshmi would be presented with a glowing evidence of why it was worth it.
  • “The look of gratitude on the musicians’ faces would lift up our spirits.”
  • Vinod underlines that stage light musicians do not have a proper government- recognised body unlike those working in the recording industry.
  • He elaborates: “There are three to four associations but they are not being recognised by the government. Parallely, I am also trying to get the government to create a welfare board for musicians, so that many of the government sops that reach those in the unorganised sector reach this section as well.”

“Those who attend our shows donate and then we make personal appeals to potential benefactors. Around 180 people would have made generous contributions towards the charity we conducted till February 2021, and it is only sensible that we do not go back to them with another request. We should spare them the embarrassment of having to say ‘no’. This thinking underpins the 100 Changes programme. We do not know when these small contributions would add up to something significant for us to start helping musicians again significantly. If we have to start it immediately, we would need a corpus , and we have asked those we know if they would aggregate the ₹100 monthly donation into a one-time yearly donation of ₹1200. That is an easy amount for most people. In this manner, we have already collected ₹1.5 lakh so far. We want to run it for a year, giving ₹2,000 each to 50 musician-families for 12 months,” says Reshmi.

In a note that Vinod sends out to potential donors, he nailed down the objectives of the initiative, including the target-amount and time-frame.

“I am seeking to raise ₹20,00,000 with ₹12,00,000 earmarked for providing a monthly assistance of ₹2,000 for a year to 50 musicians. I would keep the balance as an emergency fund to help musicians who need emergency medical assistance and certain cases, pay their children’s school/ college fees. Your initial contributions will hopefully help me launch this by June 2021. RCCM has agreed to support me and I am collecting all funds into their account. Unlike last time, I am also going to be taking 20% of the funds collected towards administration charges (wifi, telephony, electricity, stationary and miscellaneous expenses) as I am also not in a position to bear these costs myself. This 20% also includes a small remuneration for me and my co-singer.”

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 1:08:06 AM |

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