HYDERABAD: Had it not been for this group of women, 63-year-old N Ramamani says she would have gone insane during the pandemic. These friends from her music class, many of them suffering from solitude and personal losses like herself, did not just drive her loneliness and depression away, but also helped her survive a 10-day ICU stint.
Ramamani is part of a group of Hyderabad homemakers who found solace in learning music and kept the sessions on despite the pandemic and all the challenges that came with it.
“After my father’s passing away, my mother was depressed for two years until she found her music teacher. Living alone doesn’t bother her now because she is busy taking lessons and practising throughout the day,” says Ramamani’s son Sridhar, who has been living abroad for the last eight years.
Ramamani has been part of the community since October 2019, what she now calls on of the best decisions of her life. “These days, I don’t even find time to read newspapers or watch TV,” she says. She is always busy preparing notes, humming and practising while doing household chores, taking lessons or mentoring her sub-group.
The group is headed by 65-year-old P Visalakshi, a former accounts officer in the Indian Railways, who teaches music out of passion. “I, too, live alone, but I have never felt lonely. I have all my students whose determination and dedication to learn continues unabated,” she says.
“The power of music, the chanting of slokas, and the positive vibration it creates in oneself is self-cleansing. It gives a lot of inner strength and clarity in thoughts and actions,” explains Visalakshi. As most of her students are not conventionally trained in the basics of music, the teacher in Visalakshi focuses on devotional hymns to start with and stresses on the pronunciations, rhythm, meaning and interpretation of these hymns.
When the pandemic struck and a complete lockdown was imposed in March 2020, her in-person classes had to be stopped. Says Nirmala, “It was quite frustrating for about two months when we had no classes. Madam used to record lessons and send audio files (to whoever had smartphones) and we would record our recitals and send them back. This clearly did not work.” As an immediate stop-gap arrangement, they attempted ‘Conference Calls’ on their regular mobile phones to connect all and it turned out to be a success.
“But most apps allowed only five of us to be on a call at a time. But by forming clusters of callers we could have the entire batch of 20 to 22 people available like in live classes. All of us could sing at once and listen to our teacher’s suggestions and corrections as it used to happen earlier,” adds Sasikala, pointing out that if one person lost connection, the class would collapse. According to Sasikala, these phone-in classes became more effective than in-person classes as students like her lost all inhibitions to singing.
It is only now, two years after these online sessions began, that the group upgraded themselves to a video conferencing platform. A Kamala, the admin for the Google Meet platform they use now, says, “Many of us did not have WhatsApp or smartphones. We slowly learned about it from the ones who knew and our children helped. As classes were via con-calls, madam did not know many of us by our faces till recently but she could distinguish each of us from our voice.”
Manjula, who attended these classes even during her 12-day stay in a Covid-19 isolation centre, chimes in: “Music and devotion is a great diversion. We forget everything, every pain, and every difficulty when we are singing. It is like an addiction and the positivity is contagious.”
The pandemic was a great phase of learning otherwise too, says Satyakumari. “When my husband was in ICU during the third wave, I got a lot of strength and inner peace only because of this group and the hymns we learnt. In difficult times, we had each other.” Adds Jyothi, “We were in continuous contact with each other that it was not a problem to get doctor’s appointments, delivery of food and medicines, or a dose of vaccination.”