Pandemic pushes Manipuri artistes to the brink

Rajmani Ayekpam
It is said that artistes are the mirror of the society. So, any artifact is the mirror of the individual artiste as well as the society itself where he/she belongs. Every civilized society or country encourage to develop growth of artistic world. On the other hand, any art work makes our planet beautiful. Without artistic work we will be back to pre-historic civilization.
Manipur has a glorious past of art and culture. Lai Haraoba played an important role to build up Manipuri civilization particularly majority community of Meiteis. Moreover, dance and music constitute major part of the Lai Haraoba. You can’t understand Meitei community without the understanding of Lai Haraoba. Ras Leela, classical dance of Manipur is proud of its graceful look and its spiritual content. World know Manipuris from Ras Leela, Nata Sankirtana, the only musical form recognized by UNESCO as intangible heritage from Manipur.
Theatre, Shumang Leela (folk theatre), Pop music, Film and  few other art forms represent popular art forms of the modern Manipur. The artistes of these art forms can earn their livelihood and popularity. They are the choice of the people. Music has played an important role at various stages of Manipuri life. All the spiritual vocation has been done through music. Meitei lives float through dance and music. You can’t separate dance and music from a Manipuri life.
Shumang Leela, the most popular folk theatre of Manipur not only gives entertainment to the audience but also gives a platform for social reformation. Many artistes of Shumang Leela earn their livelihood through this art form. Nata Sankirtana singers also not only serve Meitei society but also earn their livelihood on this art form. Film artistes, pop music singers are also popular artistes of Manipur.
Such large number of artiste community in the State does not create any unemployment problem to the Govt. They can earn their livelihood on their own. A good number of Manipuri boys and girls go outside to seek employment. Corruption has spread to every part of Manipuri society like cancer.
Though the artiste community of Manipur has brought laurels to the State support to artiste community by Government is minimal. Few grants to organize programmes and small amount of pension schemes are the highlights of the Government support to the artiste community. So, except few, most of the artistes in Manipur can’t maintain their standard of living. Poverty and untimely demise are the major manifestation of the artiste community of Manipur. Sacrifice for the sake of their art is the common phenomenon in artiste community. So, artistes are not choice as brides or grooms by parents for their sons and daughters. A few artistes can earn in plenty in their heyday but pitiful condition at old age. That’s why the life of an artiste in Manipur is so uncertain.
Since pandemic arrived at Manipur misery added more salt to the injury of the artiste community of Manipur. Restrictions imposed by Government to fight Covid-19 has left the Manipuri artistes in dire straits. For example, a popular Shumang Leela artiste can earn around Rs 5-6 lakh in a season as  Shumang Leela is the most popular art form of Manipur. For last one year, there was no performance of Shumang Leela so this means they can’t earn a single penny since Covid-19 has spread like a wild fire. Some artistes abandon their profession and join some other profession for their survival. Few die-hard artistes succumb to death due to unavailability of proper medical facility.  If the pandemic continues further Shumang Leela may see its graveyard soon.
Digital films are also another popular art form of Manipur. One or two popular artiste demand around Rs two lakh per film assignment And others associated with the film like make-up artistes, costume designers, choreographers and technicians like cameraman, editor, spot boys earn their livelihood from digital films.  On the other hand, a good number work in the cinema halls across the State. But after Covid-19 arrived in the early part of 2020 in the State films are struggling for survival. Many film stars and technicians have become jobless and some opted for other professions for their survival. Cinema halls are empty. The condition of Manipuri film has reached its nadir.
Matam eshei singers are also popular artistes. They earn their livelihood from live performances. Unfortunately, all the life performances have been curtailed due to the pandemic. They hardly earn their income during the last one year. If this condition continues further pop music or matam eshei of this State will see its last day.
Other art forms like Theatre, Painting and Dance etc. are fighting for survival as usual. But, this pandemic has worsened their state. Scarcity of audience due to pandemic is also another factor for survival. How can an art form survive without audience.
Only some light is on for Nata Sankirtana singers during this pandemic. They can’t be neglected even at the worst hour of life in Meitei community. Performance of Nata Sankirtana is always there at every stage of Meitei community from birth to death. Meitei community consider Nata Sankirtant as ritual not as an performing art. Nata Sankirtana is performed at the Shradha and marriage ceremonies as these ceremonies are the most important ceremonies in a Meitei life. So, Meitei community of valley perform Shradha and marriage even during War time.  So, a Nata Sankirtana singer can earn a big amount of income by performing Nata Sankirtana.
However, this pandemic has shortened the duration of Nata Sankirtana performance. SOPs imposed by Government to fight Covid-19 compulsion to reduce duration and number of audiences. So, income of the Nata Sankirtana singer is also reduced.
Only those people who don’t get affected by this great pandemic are the salaried people. But, even those salaried people who work in private sectors also suffer during this pandemic. Private school teachers, employees in private banks, salesmen in shops are also affected. There was some relaxation few weeks ago due to fall in number of positive patients. Unfortunately, the second wave has arrived with ferocity. Govt and people are now in dilemma on which way to go. Another lockdown will force a large number of people into starvation. On the other hand, lockdown is another means to break the chain.