The online world is beating the corona quarantine with concerts, theatre, ballet, cuisine, meet-the-author IGTV hostings and virtual education. Are the new models here to stay, replacing traditional methods?
It could have been any other traditional Indian wedding in Telangana. The bridal accouterments were authentic South Indian. Priests intoned the nuptial mantras. Vows were exchanged in Sanskrit. All the necessary relatives were present. The only difference was that it was a cyber wedding. The coronavirus lockdown having blocked the groom’s travel to Hyderabad from the Middle East, all rituals were completed online and vows were readout on a conference call. Love in the times of COVID-19 is reinventing relationships and interactions. Social distancing is being challenged by digital intimacy.
Stream It Again, Sam
Many countries, counties and states are in various stages of lockdown to prevent community spreading of the coronavirus. The digital world has stepped in to ace the ban with innovation and imagination. In India, where art and music are not exactly lucrative careers for the majority in the field, musician-activist TM Krishna invented a special method to help out small and medium artistes financially hit by the social solitary. He has initiated the #ShutInConcert for live music to be streamed, but not for free. Online access cost `1,500 per subscriber.
Aptly titled ‘The Home and the World’, the concert comprised Krishna, Akkarai Subhalakshmi, B Sivaraman and N Guruprasad, and was available for 48 hours. Krishna says, “All proceeds will go to supporting performing artists whose livelihood has been affected. We are in the process of identifying the needy among them. The participating artists have accepted no remuneration.” Krishna is not alone. Delhi-based sitar player Shubhendra Rao and his cellist wife Sasika Rao set up a stage at home to bring Raga Bhimpalasi to quarantined citizens.
Chennai-based pianist Anil Srinivasan called on performing artists and visual artists to “share and engage audiences creatively”, prompting flautist Shashank Subramanyam to mull presenting a virtual concert. He is now recording clips for the online pages of the Darbar Festival in the UK. New-age musicians such as Prateek Kuhad have held concerts on Facebook and Instagram. The fact that standup comics and talk show hosts also have taken to the online format shows the mutual indispensability of a live audience. No venue management, no crowd management and definitely no sound check or weather gods playing spoilsport. As Krishna has shown, they could be financially viable too.
Divya Aggarwal, Head of Marketing, Impressario Handmade Restaurants, says, “We are hosting live music sessions on our Facebook and Instagram pages every week from Thursday to Sunday at 5 pm headlining #SOCIALindoors.” Performances are not the only acts going online, classes are taking the same route. Ace disc jockey Rummy Sharma’s DJ and music production academy in Bordeaux is teaching the art of spinning vinyl to students in France and India through online sessions. Sharma says, “I was a bit skeptical about starting the online course since I’m not very tech-savvy. But bit by bit, I’ve managed. The fee from India will be channelled to the Delhi Chief Minister’s fund to fight Covid-19. Likewise, the money from France will go to charity, to tackle the coronavirus.”
The creative world across countries continues to bring art and music to people via the internet. The prestigious Berlin Philharmonic has opened its digital concert hall to the world. Andrea Zietzschmann, general manager of the orchestra, says, “People have always found strength and hope in art and music during crises. If you can’t come to us, we will come to you.” The New York Metropolitan Opera is doing free streams, the Vienna State Opera has opened its archives through live streaming and the Royal Opera House and London Symphony Orchestra are making old ballets and operas available online.
Artists such as Grammy-winning cellist Yo Yo Ma, John Legend, Keith Urban and more have virtually chipped in. Rock legend Metallica promises to stream live every Monday. With Covid-19 hitting the globe, one of the things that people miss about theatres is, going to theatres. The Bolshoi Ballet Theatre has gone live for a week, starting with the iconic Swan Lake. Instagram Live has repurposed itself as the next big performing platform with artists streaming their choreography, stagecraft and music directly from their living rooms. Governments are playing the same tune. The Egyptian Culture Ministry will broadcast concerts, ballets, plays and films from the ministry’s archives on its YouTube channel and social media accounts.
Since the virus has forced performers and acts to go online, has a new opportunity risen? As Krishna has shown, the internet arts can be profit-generating. Patreon, a virtual platform, encourages creators globally to run a subscription-based content service for a monthly income. The website is fast turning into a sought-after page for talented professionals. On March 25, Patreon chief data scientist Maura Crunch posted on the company’s blog that in the first three weeks of March, when the world was struggling to cope with the pandemic, a record breaking 30,000-odd registered on the site. They are attracting patrons at a ‘faster than usual’ rate.
TAKING THE CORONA TRIP
Travel is probably the sector hardest hit by Covid-19 as its impact is being felt on livelihoods on an immense scale. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is staring at the scarily immediate prospect of 75 million job losses globally. It states that the world economy stands to lose $2.1 trillion in 2020. Gloria Guevara, WTTC President and CEO, warned in an official statement: “This chilling figure represents the collective delays by many governments around the world to react quickly enough to come to the aid of a sector which is the backbone of the global economy.”
The World Tourism Organisation with the support of the WHO has called on innovators and entrepreneurs through a ‘Healing Solutions’ challenge to generate ideas to help the tourism sector recover.But humans are known to adapt quickly to quandaries, however catastrophic they may be. Travel mavens are going on virtual tours in the confines of their homes to visit places on their Bucket List: the world in their hands now—a click or a tap away on their smartphones, iPads or home computers. London, Paris, Washington DC and New York are drawing thousands to their virtual windows. China, where it all began, is at the digital tourist’s fingertips.
Virtual tours of museums and art galleries have become common. From witnessing the marvels of the Smithsonian and the British Museum to seeing the terracotta warriors of Xi’an and taking a peek into the workings of NASA, staying at home is becoming a travel and knowledge expo visit. The same applies to art tours. Sunaina Anand, Director, Art Alive Gallery, Delhi, says, “Since we have an active and user-friendly online platform and fairly good social media presence, we are engaging actively with our audience by putting fresh updates almost daily.” The gallery has already prepared a virtual walkthrough and digital catalogue of its current show Night Forest by Chandra Bhattacharjee. Renu Modi’s Gallery Espace was recently invited by Art Basel to be a part of their Online Viewing Room after the Art Basel Hong Kong fair was cancelled because of the coronavirus contagion. “The future is digital, since it brings art from every corner of earth on to one platform for anyone, anywhere in the world who is interested in or wants to buy art. In times such as now, online platforms become even more important.” At Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms, each work appears on a ‘virtual’ wall, enabling viewers to zoom in to see the details, including its price, and information on the artist.
Organisations such as Google Cultural Institute have done stellar archiving projects for museums, biennnales and cultural sites, which are well received by millions of viewers. The challenge of the digital route concerns curating and contextualising art to attract an audience. Founded by Omar Khan, an amateur Indus enthusiast in San Francisco and author of several books, Harappa.com is a fecund resource for history aficionados. It is an extensive online space dedicated to the Harappan Civilisation and meant for well-known scholars worldwide to publish their work, which is presented as slideshows for easy viewing.
Critically acclaimed multi-media artist, curator and sculptor Riyas Komu along with cartoonist Sunil Nampu has started a new online channel called Kompu Plus to address contemporary issues. Komu is also in the process of developing a new online art education project. “Despite the loss of human connection, online art will have great impact. Through its representational narratives, imageries, colour and abstraction, art has the tremendous power to evoke emotions. It is articulated, experienced and celebrated better in physical presence and scale, and has the ability to break common perceptions and experiential horizons,” Komu says.
just say the word
The net is bursting with the optimistic speculation that William Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine during the 1606 plague, which forced nations into isolation. While the veracity of the information is in doubt, self-isolation seems to push the mind to think creatively. With the virus, there is no reading between the lines. Authors, book buyers, bookstore browsers and publishers are reinventing themselves online. Kindle and such other lit-websites are coming to the rescue of frustrated readers stuck with their TV remotes. In an open letter, Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK, talked about live streaming author events which will give readers a chance to connect with their favourite writers.
“We will make our books accessible to those in greater need, focusing our efforts on the isolated and vulnerable, and families who are relying on food banks. We’ll be working in partnership with social enterprises to re-distribute books to grassroots community causes,” he said of his efforts in the UK. Roli Books is keeping the community of bibliophiles engaged with quality content via its social media platforms. Using the hashtag #believeinbooks, they are inviting bookworms to join authors such as William Dalrymple and Vir Sanghvi in online discussions. Niyogi Books will be hosting free sessions with a gamut of authors across genres everyday on its Facebook and Instagram page. RJ Stutee Ghosh, who hosts a weekly book show on a popular Delhi radio channel, is hosting meet-the-author IGTV chats.
Her recent session with author Sudeep Nagarkar is getting a lot of hits. Titled Ghar Baithe, the show also covers celebs from across ouvres. The radio jockey and film and book critic says, “A decade ago who would have thought that films would be made only for online streaming? Covid-19 has made us go online with author chats and shows. Who knows, this might soon become the norm. They are interactive, and definitely offer more comfort level given the fact that everyone is logging in from home. Like on TV, I can host appointed shows, too. I can even see the number of people watching it real time. I have a feeling this trend might stay on.” Hachette India is encouraging readers with #IndiaReadsAtHome. In addition to virtual author sessions that include book readings, recommendations, essential exercises and cooking tutorials, there will be activities everyday including recommendations and trivia challenges on its page.
To keep kids hooked to their comics, Amar Chitra Katha is offering its entire catalogue free-of-cost online. Amazon and Pratham are offering free e-books. Penguin and online parenting platform Momspresso have launched #OnceUponABookWithPenguin where one author will go live every evening to tell kids an interesting story from their books. “The intent is to make playtime fun for kids even if they are indoors,” a Penguin statement said. Popular children’s authors such as Ruskin Bond, Paro Anand and Arefa Tehsin will engage with kids till April 14. As part of its #readinstead campaign, Juggernaut Books launched the month-long #Readinstead Online Literature Festival in association with an online news platform.
The litfest will comprise conversations, workshops, competitions, masterclasses and more. “Our vision is to get more people to read and find new ways to bring the magic of books to them,” says publisher Chiki Sarkar. The lockdown has also pushed Indian media towards a rethink. Kalpesh Patel, Technology Director of Mirum India, says, “In the world of 4G and deep penetration of mobile phones even across rural areas, print media has been under pressure for a while. The current crisis could make things worse. Almost all media houses have jumped on the e-bandwagon with digital editions.
Even if revenues are impacted in the short term, the major shift in the habit of readers moving into digital space in the age of social-isolation will benefit print media long term.”
Ironically, Covid-19 has forced people to make drastic lifestyle changes. Homemaker Anagha Pathak from Gurugram is a fitness enthusiast. Before the virus hit, she would invariably work out with her gang of girlfriends. They would meet at each other’s houses for their sessions. Now she connects with them online in small batches. David RP Tyagi of Delhi-based Dance Fitness Studio says, “All you need is a good wifi connection and a WhatsApp number.” He hosts Zumba classes online. Online games are entertaining friends in quarantine.
Poker games have gone virtual, with, if sources are to be believed, stakes as high `5-7 lakh. Industry experts say that the number of hours spent playing online games is at an all-time high. Sites such as Add52Rummy, WinZo, Poker Dangal and more are seeing an upward swing, which has led to a “10-12 percent increase”, according to Roland Landers, CEO, All India Gaming Federation. The cellphone and an Instagram account have pushed the number of amateur home chefs high. Gourmets, gourmands and newbies with an oven are posting menus and photos almost daily to discuss recipes good, bad and ugly. Facebook pages dedicated to foodies are crowding internet traffic with images of homemade freshly baked croissants to ‘mad over maggi’. Without household help to roll out the perfect chapatis, digital cooking classes have multiplied with your friendly neighbourhood aunty teaching how to make the perfect rajma chawal at home. There are Jamie Oliver impostors showing off easy-peasy one-pots—all online.
love at first byte
How do singles mingle in times of social distancing? Sitting idle with nothing to do at home, many millennials and Genzers are taking to swiping right. E-coffee dates on Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Truly Madly and Hinge are the new romance normal. In March, OkCupid saw over 50 million ‘intro messages’ sent across the world from first-time daters. Since meeting up is ruled out, Bumble offers in-app calls which recorded a 20 percent jump over the last 10 days; Plenty of Fish created a livestreaming option for certain areas, so that potential matches can see each other in real time; Tinder has the ‘passport’ feature, which allows paid subscribers to connect with anyone regardless of location.
no brown study
Covid-19 has also forced the education sector online on a mass scale. Anunaya Chaubey, Provost, Anant National University, Ahmedabad, says, “With all the major states locked down, educational institutes have to keep the ball rolling. We have announced that all theory and studio lectures will be conducted online using the best of technology such as Cisco Webex, Google Meet and Google Classroom to connect with students.” Such moves are helping many students cope.
Especially youngsters who had to fly back to India from the US, the UK and other countries. Ankita Aggarwal, a PhD scholar at City University of New York, says, “We hold regular online interactive lectures. And I have to be up at American time. This is messing with my body clock and the wifi doesn’t always hold up.” While most colleges have their own facilities to encourage online studies, some are taking help from independent educators such as EduBrisk Knowledge Solutions. The portal has started the flipped classroom model connecting teachers, students and parents grade-wise to mimic a classroom. “The content, tests, assignments, etc can be viewed from any device simultaneously by the virtual classroom group.
This will enable students to be in touch with their peers for studies and ensure that they don't miss out,” says founder Saiju Aravind. Edtech startups such as BYJU’s, Vedantu, Unacademy, Toppr, Educational Initiatives, UpGrad, Lido Learning and more are also offering free online courses.
Even two months ago the idea of colleges and universities in India going virtual and conducting lectures in real-time was a drawing board concept. Now, with competitive exams looming in the near future, JEE and NEET classes have also gone online. Not just in the metros, the number of students enrolling on platforms such as CL Educate, Imarticus Learning, Simplilearn etc has risen in tier II and tier III cities, too. The education sector is fast learning.
Kids are the hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown. No going out, no meeting friends, no cricket or football in the park. There is only so much TV and computer games that any parent would allow. Working from home while managing household chores makes it difficult to take care of children’s needs. Psychiatrists on all online platforms are asking kids to channel their frustration into learning a new shtick. Sensing opportunity, a slew of online platforms have popped up with advice on baking, painting classes and science tricks. The Khan Academy is offering the mathematically inclined an array of educational games and instructional videos.
Tynker is helping kids to learn coding, building mock apps and websites. So are Outschool, Scholastic, BrainPop, Curiosity Stream, Udemy, et al. National Geographic Kids, SoulPancake, Rush Hour and Connect the Dots are also helping kids through the hard times of indoor exile. Tech leader Japan could even live stream the Tokyo Olympics if the virus doesn’t go away soon!
Many new irons are being put into the lockdown fire. The future could be wedding planners charging to host a full-blown Big Fat Indian Wedding online. A virtual reality world where you get to play the lead in a Bollywood movie at a price cannot be ruled out. The net is widening.
Inputs by Ayesha Singh