You can feel better even when you are not getting better
– Mr Krishnan Sivaramakrishnan, Mumbai
When you are in the right place at the right time, you turn lucky. I got lucky in September 2021, for it was when I got the nod at Shankar Mahadevan Academy, a not-for-profit Trust, to become a part of a musical initiative named ‘SMA Nirvana’. Let me tell you, this is an initiative that changed the way I look at life.
Ever since I heard about this program, I have strongly felt and was certain that ‘SMA Nirvana’ is a movement in the making. The idea of SMA Nirvana is simple. It brings online, live, 60-minute music concerts, free of charge, to uplift the spirits of people who struggle every moment of their day with serious illness, pain, or loneliness. SMA Nirvana therefore partners with hospitals, palliative care centres (that manage pain and other distressing symptoms), hospice centres (that give end-of-life care), senior-citizen communities, and children’s homes to stage these free online concerts by musicians who deeply care about these people.
As of 8th September 2023, SMA Nirvana has completed 385 music concerts and has had the privilege to touch the lives of over 1 million people who have watched the concerts and who yearn for more. Since its inception in September 2020, SMA Nirvana, with support from over 100 performing artists, has been fortunate to perform and enthral audiences in more than 75 NGOs, care centres and social institutions.
But numbers do not always tell the whole story— stories which exude the magical power of music! These are stories which we have seen with our very own eyes and which have unfolded on screen over several online concerts.
The below three stories showcase what magic stemming from music looks like, along with the lessons we learnt.
Lesson #1: Nobody is a patient. It is only a person coping with sickness
It is November 2020. A dozen medical attendants, covered from head to toe in protective white suits and trousers, form a wide ring as they dance in celebration of Navratri, an annual Indian festival. They are on duty in an indoor sports stadium in South Mumbai, which has been converted into a makeshift COVID-19 isolation ward. Being treated in this ward are hundreds of people, sick with cancer and COVID-19 infection. One of these people, a lady dressed in a black gown, dances inside the ring, as if in a trance.
Through her dance, we saw spirit triumph over disease, even though it was only for a moment. During those moments when she danced, she broke free from her sickness and floated across the floor in bliss and joy.
Lesson #2: Even when they are seriously sick, people can still feel moments of sheer joy—moments when they feel free of disease
Another week, another SMA Nirvana concert at the same venue. A charismatic artist with his choice of songs which were deliberately peppy and rhythmic, lit up the entire indoor stadium with an energy so electric that every person in that ward, rose from their beds, charged with energy and danced like they never danced before.
Watching this transformation left my team and me in awe and contentment.
Lesson #3: Music allows you to create such moments of joy—even magic
This was in June 2022. A 76-year old man was asked to sing in the first SMA Nirvana concert he attended. He tried gamely, raising his head from his pillow. As he sang the first line, his voice came out as a hoarse whisper. He gave up after one line, his head sinking into the pillow; the effort was far too much.
Dutifully, he returned the next week and he sang a few lines. This time, his voice was a little louder and clearer. Thereafter, he came every week to sing, now with a song lyric book tucked under his pillow.
After a month, he would ask to sing not one, but two songs. This was his token of thankfulness to the performing artist. Passion triumphs over disease, again, only if momentarily. Music works magic.
When we look back at our lives, we do not see everything in a continuous span of time, as in a movie reel. We are more likely to remember moments — specific moments — those meaningful slices from our lives that stand out in our memories.
What I have been a constant witness to in the SMA Nirvana concerts is the deliberate manner in which performing artists script moments of joy in the lives of thousands of people who cope every day with illness, pain and loneliness. Moments of joy that do not merely stand out, but dance with abandon, in our memories.
What if we were to use music to author moments of joy to the lives of those people who grapple with illness, pain, loneliness, every once in a while, at a wider scale? Imagine how their lives could be.
About the Author:
Mr Krishnan Sivaramakrishnan works with the Shankar Mahadevan Academy (not-for-profit Trust), and enjoys every moment of the things his team and he does. He along with his teammate Ms Mala Kothandaraman, take care of SMA Nirvana, an initiative aiming to bring moments of joy and human companionship through music, to those who live with illness, pain and loneliness.