Deploy music, dance, movies, not truncheons to fight the virus, writes Rajendra Aneja

“Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo” (“Oh! people of my country”), crooned the Indian nightingale Lata Mangeshkar, at the Republic Day celebrations in 1963, with Prime Minister Nehru on the dais. She was honouring Indian soldiers martyred during the 1962 Indo-China war. The Prime Minister sobbed. Indians yet choke, on hearing the poignant song. The song galvanised support for the soldiers who guard the borders.

Everyone knows that the threat of Covid-19 is diminished by washing hands, masking and distancing. Yet millions of citizens, in slums, villages and crowded markets, especially in developing countries, ignore these basic precautions. Countries have tried guidance, advisories, appeals, fines and even police caning to ensure behavioural changes. Yet, people flout the protocols.

Imagine the impact on the behaviour of the young across the world, if Justin Bieber, were to write and sing a song on the importance of wearing masks and maintaining social distances. His song, “Sorry” gathered 3.3 billion views across the world.

The top musicians and mainstream stars of Africa like Davido, Wizkid and Burna Boy, have kindled global interest in African music. If they sang songs underscoring the Covid-19 protocols, it would inspire people.

Sheebah Karungi of Uganda, Joeboy of Nigeria, Brian Nadra of Kenya, Sho Madjozi of South Africa, Innoss’B of Congo and Diamond Platnumz of Tanzania, are stars in their own countries, but even across shores. So, if they lent their voices and passions to fostering mask-usage through their songs, it could strengthen the fight against Covid-19.

Again, “Good Bye English Rose, Candle in the Wind” performed by Sir John Elton, at the funeral of Princess Diana, touched every heart in the world. The song enshrined the Princess, as the People’s Princess.

Simple, pithy songs can impact human behaviour. The best lyricists in the world should write songs, imploring people to use masks, practice distancing and wash hands. These songs, should be sung by the top singers of countries. The songs should be on radio, TV and social media.

The celebrated song of Indian superstar Raj Kapoor, “Awara hoon” (“Am a vagabond”), was played at Moscow airport to welcome him in 1954. This most famous Hindi song globally, was played at official banquets of the USSR. Decades later, the Russian President Boris Yeltsin often hummed the tune.

“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought,” wrote the poet Percy Shelley. So, a few melodious songs describing the joyous times before Covid-19 and how we can return to the happier times expeditiously, by wearing masks can impact behaviour.

Dance to fight Covid-19: “Gangnam Style” by South Korean musician Psy, the 2012 dance and pop song, had a beguiling beat and vibrant dance moves. It became a global rage and changed dance styles. The song garnered 3.4 billion views globally.

Shakira, Madonna, Ricky Martin, Psy, could shake a leg again, to sing the preventive measures to fight Covid-19. They could revolutionise the Covid-19 fight.

Films by Celebrities: It is time to deploy celebrities like movie stars, singers and famous writers to appeal to people to observe Covid-19 protocols, to save lives. Top performers like Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Meryl Streep, Scarlett Johansson, Beyoncé, Whoopi Goldberg, should make short two-minute films, educating people on fighting Covid-19. These films can be shown across TV channels. The actors and TV channels should not charge for airing these educative clips.

Poetry Power: Great poetry touches the human heart and stays engraved forever. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If you Can” is evergreen. Robert Frost’s poem, “I took the road, less travelled by, and that has made all the difference,” has inspired millions across the world, in following their destinies. So, the poets of the world can galvanise to pour out poetry in local languages, to motivate people to fight Covid-19 by washing, masking and distancing. Poetry is often inspired by love for a person; poems on Covid-19, can be inspired by the love of saving the lives of fellow human beings. And we know, “he who saves one life saves the world entire.”

Covid-19 novels, short stories and essay competitions: All winners of the Nobel Prize for literature could attempt books, essays or poems around Covid-19 protocols. Gabriel Garcia Marquis did weave an epic love story, culminating during an epidemic, entitled “Love in the Time of Cholera”. The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2020 has gone to American poet, Ms. Louise Glück. It will take her a few minutes to write a stunning sonnet imploring people to mask, wash and distance. Will she? Please.

Literary societies could initiate competitions for writing novels, short stories and essays on Covid-19 protocols, focussing on how to prevent its spread in slums, villages, schools, etc. The best entries could garner prestige and prizes. This would spread awareness and inspire writers and even college students to defeat Covid-19.

Painting Contests: Children love painting in every country, at any age. Give a child a sheet of paper, a pencil or some crayons. The child will draw a tree, a house, a cloud. So, governments and schools could initiate drawing competitions, for all school children to show masks being used or maintaining distancing. The children would paint images, but more important, they will understand the precautions to fight Covid-19. Their parents will guide them and they themselves will become more alert to the disease. Schools and the governments could give prizes to the best paintings in every school, and city. The best drawings could be printed as a book.

The arts have gargantuan powers. Art has no country. It belongs to everyone. It is free. The musician’s baton or the writers pen may deliver, where the police truncheon has failed in many countries. The carrot may work, where the stick has failed.

This is thus an appeal to global darlings like John Elton, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, Davido, Psy of Gangnam, Justin Bieber, to write, sing and create simple songs to convey the importance of hand washing, masking and social distancing. Are you listening?

Aneja, former Managing Director of Unilever Tanzania, is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School and has authored a book, “Rural Marketing Across Countries”