When Dow Unsponsored a Youth Concert

Chennai, December 7th, 2008
Indian Express report (large file)
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We had everything in place; every little detail worked out. Things were in place. The “No More Bhopals” concert was to happen on 7th December. And on 6th December, we were ready to go. After tiring of trying to be organised, we decided it would be easier to take pride in our chaotic methods. We were not used to this level of organisation amongst ourselves. That was probably because we had John Anthony, a veteran guitarist and musician, breathing down our necks, gently reminding us that everything needs to be checked and rechecked yesterday.
At this point, we had two major worries. There was a cyclone moving in the wrong direction – towards Chennai. It was still some 900 km off the Indian coast. But it was moving in a north-westerly direction, and threatening to landfall in Chennai at around 5 p.m. on 7 December to coincide with the show. Venkat turned weather man, and would stoke our nervousness or allay our fears depending on what the reports said at the time. Our second fear was whether the venue would prove too small for the crowds that come. Both fears were unfounded. The cyclone never came. The crowd was manageable, although there were more than 400 people, as against our planned number of 350.
The large crowd settles down for the evening’s events
But Sadanand Menon and late dancer Chandralekha’s house on the Besant Nagar beach is a deadly place. A nicely wooded quarter-acre plot, with a semi-open Kalari (ancien Indian martial art) practice space in one corner of the plot, and an open-to-the-sky dance theatre at one end, this place had a peaceful ambience. Many of the trees have a pyol around them. There are granite slabs for seating at various places. So at least half as many people that are inside the kalari space can be found outside lounging against a tree or leaning against the well, talking to friends, strumming on a guitar, playing in the sand with babies.
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Vedant, Ananth and Shiva relax outside the main space.
The “No More Bhopals”concert is the 2nd in a series of shows called “Justice Rocks” targeting youth in Chennai with the aim of sensitising them to social issues. Youth for Social Change – a motley crew of school and college students, recent graduates and a few young-at-hearts – is organising the show expanding the message of the 24-year-old Bhopal struggle to its logical end. The concert will be organised by a massive mobilisation of voluntary contribution – of effort, money and services – from the musicians, the sound and light technicians, from the folks who own the venue, even journalists.
More than 30 posters, hand-painted by musicians, music lovers, and other friends had been put up in various colleges and prominent youth hang-outs. Tickets had been handed over to the young musicians to be sold among their friends. “The advantage of having hand-made posters is that it gives us one more excuse to have fun with friends. We call for a poster making session, supply the paints and paper, clear the Collective’s office of all furniture, spread ourselves on the floor and go at it with music and constant chatter as our companions,” says Lakshmi Premkumar, a YSC member and one of the coordinators of this event.
No corporate sponsors are allowed. In fact, one of the media houses that wanted to partner with us in this event was turned down. They were told to come and cover the event and not bring any banners. Red Bull sent a regiment of curvaceous 20-somethings to handout free jolts of the high-caffeine drink. Our logistics man-cum-non-violent bouncer Rupesh managed to drive the bulls out.
Actually, all Justice Rocks concerts will be unsponsored. When a sponsored show is held, organisers usually sing praises of the sponsors. In unsponsored shows, we make fun of our unsponsors. The No More Bhopals show had to be unsponsored by Dow and Union Carbide, with contribution of course from the Indian Government.
The line-up was impressive, two school bands, five college student bands and one band of young graduates: Blue Light Daze (School students), Pencil Box (School band), Sofie and Ajai with Nandini and Ameena , Downhill Automatic, Skrat, Dogs, Greyshack and Vedant, Darbuka Shiva and Ananth.
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‘The Dogs’ play their set
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Pencil Box
Many performers were debutantes on stage. Others were seasoned veterans, although none was above 28 years in age. In fact the average age of the band members was in the neighborhood of 20. The show opened with a short film called “Hush Baby” following which Vedant, Ananth and Shiva opened with a song written by Bhakti cult poet-saint Namdeo. That was in honour of the role played by the warkaris in bringing construction work at a chemical experimentation facility near Pune to a standstill through concerted non-violent direct action. Warkaris are the followers of revolutionary Bhakti poets Tkaram, Gnaneshwar, Namdeo and others. Shinde Vasuli, the village where Dow chose to set up its ill-fated chemical experimentation facility, is in the heartland of the Dehu region, famed as the roaming grounds of Tukaram. This is sacred land, and local villagers and warkaris across the state of Maharashtra were deeply offended when Dow Chemical – a company notorious for its deadly products of war against humans and nature – desecrated this holy land.
Sofie and Ajai had met barely two weeks back. Sofie, a diminutive, even timid-looking burkha clad rapper, transforms on stage into a dynamic whirlwind of black flowing robes, and gutsy, evocative rap lyrics. Looks can deceive. That was, in fact, Sofie’s message in her first song, set to Ameena’s plaintive rendition of the arabic prayer “Salat-ul-lah, Salam-ul-lah.” Sofie looks challengingly at the audience accusing them of only seeing her Hijab – the black veil worn by Muslim women. Defiantly, she defends her islam saying Islam and Muslims cannot be blamed for the acts of a few “idiots.” “All I want,” she says, “is to put Islam’s name in the clear and let Islam be known for spreading love, not fear.”
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Sophie and Ameena take the stage
Ajai and Sofie belted out a highly charged rap battle, with Ajai rapping on behalf of Dow inviting youngsters to work for Dow, taunting Sofie (who was rapping for the Bhopalis) by reminding her that she only had the Sambavana Trust, while Dow had the PM, the Ministers on its side. The battle ended with the Bhopalis clearly in victory, as all people in the audience joined Sofie in chorus rapping “Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t Work for Dow” drowning poor Ajai’s “Come on, Come on, Come on, Come on, Come on and Work for Dow.”
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Downhill Automatic performs ‘Don’t Work for Dirty Dow’
The other highlight was Downhill Automatic’s song, also named “Don’t work for Dirty Dow.” Band member Sid Hande was also one of the most involved musicians in the concert. Having internalised the Bhopal message, this 20 year old curly topped singer, lyricist wrote this goose-bump-inducing rock song with help from a number of other friends on the same evening that the posters were being made. It starts with a kick to the stomach — “I am the man, who lost his land. It used to be where your factory stands,” and returns with a double punch when capitalists are reminded of who we are: –
“I am the wind and I do not lie
I am all the things that money can’t buy.
You say sit, but I think I’ll stand
‘Cos I am the spirit of this land.”
Don’t Work for Dirty Dow (Full version)
by Downhill Automatic
I am the man who lost his land
it used to be where your factory stands
it’s not that I’m against progress
but what is the measure of your success?

I say no, but you push me away
What’s bad for me is gonna get you someday!

I am the fish wild in the sea
I am the bird and the mango tree
Close-minded man, can’t you see?
what you call your business is hurting me

I say no but you push me away
What’s bad for me is gonna hurt you someday!

holding on holdng on don’t work for dirty dow!
fighting on fighting on don’t work for dirty dow!

I am the wind and I do not lie
I’m all the things that money cant buy
you say sit but I think I’ll stand
‘cos I am the spirit of this land!

You say no and you push me away
What’s bad for you is gonna kill you someday!

holding on holding on
don’t work for dirty dow!
fighting on fighting on
don’t work for dirty, filthy, mangy, creep crawly, dow!

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The Dogs!
Between acts, students of social work from a local college and some members of Youth for Social Change staged two skits. The first one, called Prime Minister’s Dogs, was set in a dog show, where VVIDs (very, very important dogs) were on display. Pukki, Chhaatu and Mega Chaatu are the dogs of the three persona of Dr. Manmohan Singh the person, Manmohan Singh the Sonia loyalist, and Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister.
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The Prime Minister’s Dogs get a run out
The second skit highlighted the ironies in inviting celebrities to endorse causes. This featured Aamir Khan of Coca Cola fame as the celebrity of choice for the Bhopal cause. With every mention of the tragedy in Bhopal, Aamir (played by percussionist and Radio Mirchi anchor Darbuka Shiva who is famed for his nonsensical wit) goes on dreamily converting the tragedy into a script for a blockbuster, reducing the 25000 currently condemned to drinking poisoned water to a calculation of how many extras would be required to shoot the scene. The play ends with someone from the audience asking what should people do for Bhopal. And Aamir answers: “Just be sure to watch Rang De Basanti Part II. Not on DVD, but in the cinema hall.”
The five hour concert ended in a mellow note with Vedant, Darbuka and Ananth playing melodies accompanied by two acoustic guitars and a percussion instrument ably wielded by Darbuka. We raised more than 3 times what we spent on the concert through ticket sales. “The next event should not be just a concert. We should have a day-long festival,” says Sid Hande. “Rock has historically been an expression of constructive dissidence, and music is a great way to get to youngsters,” he adds. Watch this space. A week back, the kids in Bhopal launched a struggle group called “Children Against Dow-Carbide.” The party against Dow has begun, with the youth in the lead.
Downhill Automatic’s “Don’t Work for Dirty Dow”

Sophia Ashraf and Ajay’s Dow Rap battle

Sophia Ashraf and Ameena’s “Salat-ul-lah”

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