‘My first reaction was to say no’


Initially hesitant to return to India due to spike in COVID-19 cases, Sonu says he agreed to perform at Vaishnodevi ceremony due to stringent safety norms

Sonia Lulla

When the nationwide lockdown was announced in March, Sonu Nigam was relieved to have found himself in the UAE, where COVID-19 cases were far and few. The singer had then decided against returning to India, citing the spike in cases. However, come October, Nigam was among the first to participate in a live sangeet session at the Vaishnodevi festivities in Jammu. “My first reaction was to say no,” admits the singer. Nigam, who flew down to India only a few weeks ago, says he had a change of heart after being familiarised with the safety measures adopted at the festivities, which kicked off on October 15. “Only a small group of people are being permitted, no more than 5,000 devotees a day. [ T h e footfall is dramatically lower] because the trains are not running. It was humbling to see empty paths to the shrine, especially during Navratri. Nobody was allowed to move around without a mask,” says Nigam, glad that the protocols were being stringently followed by one and all. His live performance at the event last week invited numerous selfie-seeking fans. While he didn’t have the heart to turn them down, Nigam says he maintained safe distance, removing his mask only when he was in open spaces with them. “Not many [artistes] were agreeing to [take part in the event], but I wanted to do it. [Over the past few weeks] I have been frequenting hospitals, where the risk of contracting a virus is higher,” reasons Nigam, alluding to the hospital rounds he has made to attend to his father who recently underwent surgery. Aware that he could pose a risk to his ailing father, the singer asserts he returned to Mumbai only after clearing a rapid antigen test that was being conducted for each devotee. “You have to move on. For how long will you keep people from working? People are performing, and it is likely to [be encouraged] here on.”