Lights off, but Ramachandran did not seek refuge in the darkness | Kerala News
(Note: This is Onmanorama’s special project that tracks the impact of the lockdown on people from different strata of Kerala society. Read all nine stories here.)
Ramachandran does not look like a man unemployed for almost two years. He is clean-shaven, has dyed his mustache, wears a shiny t-shirt, and his house, though small and seemingly remote from civilization, is tastefully decorated with framed family photographs and paintings by Raja Ravi Varma on the wall. .
Overall, it gives off the vibe of a flashy Gulf returnee. It is a pretext, but laudable. Official figures show that nine owners and workers of “light and sound” stores committed suicide during the pandemic (Kerala Light and Sound Association says there are 12.) Ramachandran also has enough reason to end his days. Still, he seems engaged in life, as if to take revenge.
Before COVID hit, he was doing reasonably well as a small ‘light and sound’ store owner on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. Ramachandran had a store, Kairali Light and Sounds, in his village, Kachani, and a head office in Peroorkada, closer to the town of Thiruvananthapuram. He had handled the “light and sound” of important functions, including those attended by governors and chief ministers, and religious holidays. He had a vehicle to transport his equipment and four dedicated workers.
The competition was intense, but he said he had kept his basics. âI make sure of three things. Firstly, no one should be shocked while handling any of my equipment. Second, there should be no echo. Third, there shouldn’t be that surprising high-pitched cry that comes out of the speakers when someone starts talking, âRamachandran said.
But after COVID, with public gatherings banned, sophisticated speakers and lights became obsolete; like gramophones, exotic relics of the past. He could not pay rent and therefore had to leave his office. He also could not afford to pay his workers. He sold his vehicle.
His shop’s name sign is now kept at the back of his house, placed aside on a side wall in front of a back room where his materials – mic stands, amplifiers, mixers, tube choke stands, bulbs , wires, serial lamps, metal accessories, junction boxes and speakers – are crammed up to the ceiling.
âI’m not sure any of them would work. I haven’t checked them for over a year, âhe said standing inside the room, in the middle of what looked like an indoor electronic waste dump.
The easing of confinement did him no good. âOnly 20 people are allowed to participate in a function. What is the need for speakers when there are only 20 people, âhe said. âEven though a function is organized, the government has said that the sound from our speakers should be less than 50 decibels, which is less than a cell phone ringing (128 decibels near the ear). Even normal human conversation is louder (60 decibels). With rules like these, who would want people like us, âhe said.
As her business collapsed, she stumbled upon her marriage. His wife filed for divorce last year. âWhen my income stopped, she didn’t want to live with me,â Ramachandran said. Six months ago, he married a second time a widow with two sons, aged ten and eight. âI didn’t want to live alone. My second wife is a tailor and it was she who supported me during this period. Now his work has also dried up, âRamachandran said.
He has huge debts, but people owe him too. âIt is customary for us in the lighting and sound industry to buy equipment that meets our needs rather than renting it. We do this because, firstly, we can pay a small advance and take this equipment and secondly, it is easy to sell it after we use it, âRamachandran said.
He had prepaid many big-ticket items like amplifiers and generators just before COVID, some of which he had used that he couldn’t pick up from stores before the lockdown. âThe owners of the equipment I took with me are now asking for the full amount, which I am not able to donate. But those to whom I had paid in advance, but whose things I had not collected in their stores, are not willing to give me my money back, âhe said.
He was also unable to sell the items in his possession. “Nobody wants it now,” he said. Ramachandran said organizers of a nearby temple festival approached him recently for serial amplifiers and lamps. They came to see him knowing he was willing to sell them at half price.
âThey were supposed to answer me the day before yesterday. Probably another person in light and sound had agreed to sell theirs for a much less amount, âhe said.