Between March and June, a Haryana-based brass band called Heera was scheduled to perform at 40 baraats—wedding processions—but all its bookings were cancelled owing to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country and the nationwide lockdown to contain its spread. Its owner Munir Mohammad said that members of such bands, including him, have found it difficult to sustain themselves since the onset of the pandemic. “I have a shop in Karnal, whose rent is Rs 10,000 a month—it is becoming very difficult for me to make rent,” he told me, at the end of May. “I have eight sons and one daughter, four of the sons work with me. We will become victims of starvation if this carries on.” Mohammad, as well as other people associated with brass bands in Uttar Pradesh, told me they fall in the Other Backward Classes category and identified themselves as a part of a community called Shaikh Dafalchi.
Owing to social-distancing norms that have to be followed to contain the coronavirus, weddings—the primary source of revenue for most brass bands—can only be held at a far smaller scale now than earlier. Due to this, several people associated with brass bands are faced with the prospect of switching professions during a pandemic. Many such performers I spoke to said this is an uphill task for them as for generations, their families have earned a living only by playing musical instruments.
Gulsher Ahmed, a 28-year-old resident of Shamli who runs a band with 16 artists, said that people from his community used to play dhol in the Mughal army. “This has been our work for generations—my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, all of them used to do this work,” he said. “I did not study, I have been working with my father since the beginning.”