Published: 15th April 2020
Vanakkam Virus: Moved by migrant workers' plight, Rapper Arivu recorded in his wardrobe at his parents' house during lockdown
Arivu says it is only the privileged who can afford to draw, dance or learn a new hobby. The rest have to suffer even for basic needs
The last time we interviewed singer, rapper, lyricist Arivarasan Kalainesan, or Arivu as he's known, he told us that due to a low budget, they decided to shoot his song video inside his bedroom. This time, Arivu shot, recorded and performed for the video all while stuck in his room, like a lot of the rest of the world is. But no, this wasn't an attempt to be productive during a lockdown like all the Instagram hashtags are saying these days. He made the song because he felt something needed to be said about those who are homeless, starving and struggling during this lockdown.
The song is called Vanakkam Virus and is like you expect about the COVID-19 outbreak that is holding the world hostage at the moment. In their own homes. Arivu, like the rest of us also at home watching on as the world gets unpredictable, understood why it was important for him to stay home. "But when the lockdown was announced and everyone was saying stay home and be safe, I wondered what people without homes would do? And then I saw what happened in Delhi, little children crying as they walking hundreds of kilometres, people dying on their way. Felt so strange that the virus made its way here on a flight, people who could afford flights to foreign nations flew there and flew back. Now that they had brought it to India, the poor have to walk home," he explained.
Arivu's sister too is a doctor. He has a special pass with him and splits his time between his sister who is in Vellore and alone and his parents' house in Arakonnam where he currently is. So how did he manage to write, record, shoot and release a song all one his own? Arivu has an interesting and also quite a funny answer to this.
"I actually recorded the song inside the wardrobe," he tells us laughing, "I emptied it out and recorded it on my laptop. And I didn't have a mic, the song was recorded using the regular laptop audio. I used a pillow to drown out any other noises. I was singing all night, absolutely certain I managed to tick off all my neighbours," he adds.
Even though Arivu has recorded a song before in his room, it was at his own place in Chennai. So Arivu's recording antics surely made his parents look at him like a stranger, "Yeah, all the shouting all night surprised them too. Also they have always been worried about me getting too political. Its one thing to do what I want in Chennai, another thing when I do it in their presence. They were worried I would offend people and kept discouraging me." But then when he was done, he made them listen to it, "I kept assuring them that I wasn't blaming anyone or saying anything wrong. I was only speaking about an issue and when they listened to it, they were fine with the lyrics," he said.
Which brings us back to why he did the song. "It is of course not new that in a pandemic or an emergency that is the working class that gets hit the worst," he adds. Arivu feels there is a huge divide in our country, there is a side that is completely ignorant of the pains and injustices meted out to the other side. One the one side, there are people launching challenges, social media trends, helping people get 'more productive', 'more creative', artists are creating more now than ever. "But I felt all this was a bit insensitive when people are starving. Even when I was writing this song and decided to release it I felt guilty. Here I was sitting in the comfort of my home and creating music, but this was not about entertaining people. And there they were people who are actually struggling. But I felt it was important to talk about the struggle of the working class because no one seemed to be doing so. Artists are talking about awareness on the Coronavirus, not much on the plight of the people," he explained.
Arivu says it is only the privileged who can afford to draw, dance or learn a new hobby. The rest have to suffer even for basic needs. "I'm not blaming the government but it is important to ask questions. To make people aware that there are people who are suffering," he adds.
In the chorus of his song, Arivu sings: Go Corona Go. Will Corona go if we shout? Will it go away? If we switch on our lights?
"People in a bungalow can put up hundreds of lights, huts struggle to have even to light a single one. People here still depend on kerosene to cook, people don't have even two rupees to buy a lamp. Yes, we should appreciate our doctors, not just now but always. And everybody does have the right to do whatever they want but we cannot be blind to what is happening in the society right now," he explained.
Arivu did have some help though, his friend Anto Franklin in Coonoor helped with the beats of the song even before the lyrics were written. And his friend, Satya, edited the video. "I just lit up a couple of candles, wore a mask that was lying unused at home, turned on my front camera and short the video. That was it," he explained. Arivu was back home after many years away and so he's happy he has the privilege of returning to family life for a bit, "But we are all vulnerable. It is a scary and tense time but we should all try not to panic," he says. Even though the song is called Vanakkam Virus, Arivu like the rest of us can't wait to say goodbye to it and till that happens, maybe we can hum his tunes and reflect a bit on his lyrics.