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Meet the DJ Who Dropped the Deck to Be on the COVID-19 Frontline

Mumbai artist The Spindoctor has been working tirelessly helping those affected ever since the pandemic broke out

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David Britto May 21, 2020

Over the last few weeks Mumbai DJ The Spindoctor has taken a step back from music to go back into the field as a doctor and serve the common man amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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For Sanjay Meriya, his stage name The Spindoctor was meticulously picked by him when he began DJing at the start of the last decade. For the uninitiated, Meriya is a certified doctor who completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 2013 from Mumbai’s B.Y.L. Nair Hospital. “I was a nerd since childhood. I wanted to become an engineer, I wanted to go to NASA,” says Meriya. However, it was his parents who persuaded him to take up medicine instead “to help humanity.”

Before The Spindoctor became a full-time DJ in 2017 and began dropping beats as part of Mumbai rapper Divine’s Gully Gang crew, he was out working in a village near Pune practicing medicine. Helping humanity is certainly what the DJ has been up to over the last few weeks as he has taken a step back from music to return to the field as a doctor and serve the common man amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I thought that if it is needed, I will definitely go and work as a doctor,” he says.

In this interview with Rolling Stone India, The Spindoctor talks to us about what it is like being on the frontline during COVID-19, the difficulties of the job, his advice for people and more. Excerpts:

How did you get involved in going back as a doctor to help out with the task of those affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

First, I got an email from the health ministry saying that doctors are needed and fill up your details. And then as and when we require, we’ll give you a call. And I signed up for that, but they didn’t give me a call. And the other day I was going through a newspaper and I saw this ad from the BMC [Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation], saying that the BMC needs doctors to work as frontline health workers and so and so posts are there for doctors, for nurses. The next day I went for an interview and I got the job.

Which part of Mumbai have you been posted at and what have your main duties on the job been?

I’m in Andheri East, one of the major hotspots in Mumbai right now. There are more than 500 positive cases and seven to eight containment zones.

Out of those containment zones, four containment zones I am handling on my own. Every alternate day I go to the containment zone and I screen the people that have mild to serious symptoms and then accordingly I have to order a test for them and I have to mobilize them to the hospital.

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What has it been like from a patient’s perspective? Has the situation been improving or is it getting worse?

It’s getting worse now. It is there in the community, especially in the slums. It’s very difficult to manage the spread in the slum because the density and population is crazy in the slums. You can’t ask them to stay in the house. I lived in a slum all my life, I know that they have an open-door policy and don’t shut their doors like you would in a building. We are always in connection with our neighbors and their kids. They would come to our place or we would go to theirs. The whole slum is an open system. So there to practice social distancing is I think next to impossible and that’s why the spread is increasing.

The Spindoctor checking the temperature of a civilian at a containment zone in Andheri East, Mumbai. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What about you as well as the other doctors on the frontline, even the police personnel on duty, how have all of you been coping?

The biggest problem right now in Mumbai is the heat. Literally, I’m telling you yesterday I passed out, literally passed out! I was dehydrated. I was shaking there and I had to come home and eat. I slept yesterday and then my body recovered. The heat is killing, especially the cops. They have to sit outside for 10 to 12 hours long, working in the heat is crazy and is the most difficult part of the job. For the doctors, once you wear a protective suit you can’t even drink water and they have to keep on drinking water every hour. Since I wear a suit and I have around 220 patients I will need at least three to four hours with them even if I do a fast screening. I will be without water in that time, without anything and it is literally more exhausting. Basically everybody’s exhausted right now.

We’ve all been told to maintain social distancing, is there any other advice you have for people to follow during the pandemic?

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People can be positive. I just see people being negative and blaming here and there. Can’t we just sit tight and be positive that this is going to end? I see 90 percent of the people on social media are negative about somebody or the other. Let the government do its duties. It’s a country of 1.8 billion people, the mistakes will happen, you can’t be perfect. Let’s not glorify the mistake rather appreciate whatever effort has been put. One percent, two percent, five percent errors will happen. Humans are not perfect. I have seen every news portal is just glorifying the errors about this and that.

India is a country where adaptation happens very quickly. But you don’t see the positive side of the country, and we are just blaming the country. This is getting bad. We are not seeing the hard work of the social workers who are not complaining and who are going on the ground and helping people.

I know one guy who comes to our post every day in the morning on his bike in the heat and distributes water bottles, and he’s not with the government or anything. He’s just solo. There are so many people like that. They need to get appreciated more than the mistakes and glorifying the mistakes and I think negativity should end. And that is the only reason why everybody’s panicking because with more negativity there is more panicking.

I’m aware you had a U.S. tour planned for this past March which was unable to go ahead, but have you had any time in your busy schedule to work on any music?

I’m about to release a track but I needed to shoot the video. I have one track finished which is with rappers Gravity and Poetik Justis. They are really dope rappers. Plus I was supposed to shoot a video in America too, I have this track called ‘Brown Skin Girl,’ with this guy Jim who is an R&B rapper in the U.S. I was supposed to go there and meet him and do a little bit of video there. And I’m doing one more track with [Mumbai hip-hop crew] 7Bantai’Z.

Initially, when I was not working as a doctor I had like this break and was making music. But right now, I’m just kind of exhausted and not focusing on music much because my work drains all my energy.

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