Singer KK’s (Krishnakumar Kunnath) death has left behind a lot of uneasy questions for every music lover in a city that prides itself on its ‘culture consciousness’ and its legendary ability to immerse in the carnivalesque element — from the Eden Gardens terraces to the Durga Puja pandals.
As a Kolkatan, this journalist is just as much saddened by KK’s untimely demise, with questions about the city’s emergency response mechanism. This terrible incident is no less shocking and unfortunate than a stampede that took away the lives of 16 football fans, following spectator unrest during an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan derby match at Eden Gardens on August 16, 1980.
The uneasy questions lingering over the popular Bollywood singer’s death due to a cardiac arrest barely hours after his live concert at Nazrul Manch in Kolkata on May 31 are perhaps pointers to the city’s socio-cultural milieu that demands much more than a carnivalesque indulgence in life in order for them to be addressed in definitive terms.
I always found the air-conditioning at Nazrul Manch inadequate. On April 15 this year, I was at Nazrul Manch, to attend the fabled Dover Lane Music Conference.
Even though it was well past midnight and the auditorium was not full, Ustad Rashid Khan’s discomfiture was clearly visible, as he kept wiping his face and forehead to clear the sweat. And at one point, the maestro actually stopped in the middle of a rendition to say: “Meri tabiyat kuchh theek nahin hain” (I’m not feeling all that well). Two nights later, on April 17, ace percussionist Pandit Bickram Ghosh was also seen sweating profusely during his performance.
Watching these gems literally sweat their way to delivering a perfect live show, this journalist was left wondering whether the AC vents, particularly those directly above the stage at Nazrul Manch, had malfunctioned.
Nazrul Manch is owned and maintained by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA). Reacting to KK’s death, Firhad Hakim, the Mayor of Kolkata and chairman of KMDA, said: “There is no question of any negligence at Nazrul Manch. The overcrowding was due to KK’s popularity.”
Mayhem outside the auditorium
The second point of concern is regarding the mayhem that broke out outside Nazrul Manch as thousands tried to break into the auditorium for KK’s concert. There were televised images of thousands trying to force their way into the arena, with clashes breaking out between sections of gate-crashers. And what followed was even more gut-wrenching as some of those managing the entry points to the auditorium used fire extinguishing spray to dispel the crowd.
According to Dr Kunal Sarkar, a Kolkata-based cardiologist: “While there was a hypoxic suffocation in which KK was made to perform inside Narul Manch, the scene outside was even more horrific as fire extinguishing spray was sprayed on the crowd. A fire extinguishing spray can lead to further suffocation in a packed space and there could have been a disaster even outside the auditorium.”
Video footage from the concert and the minutes after KK’s return to his hotel clearly show the artist in much discomfort. He is seen being whisked out of Nazrul Manch by his personal support staff members. In one footage, KK is seen holding on to a hand rail inside the hotel elevator, with his head hanging low.
In fact, even as he complained about inadequate air-conditioning at the concert venue, at one point, KK had to take a short break midway through his performance as he was feeling uneasy and suffocated.
No doubt Kolkata showed its sense and sensitivity by according a gun-salute to the departed artist. However, this gun-salute should not be a mere lip-service to an untimely death, but should serve as the standard-bearer of a stronger resolve in handling the city’s penchant to immerse in the carnivalesque element — with dollops of common sense, please.