Singing, swinging granny
The Usha Uthup you know is the crooner in a sari plus bindi. PRIYADARSHINI SHARMA brings you Usha, the grandmom and the cook
Usha Uthup, the crooner. Who does not know her in that avatar? But what about Usha Uthup, the loving grandma? But would she be interested in a woman-to-woman chat about her sarees, sewing, bindis, recipes and grandmotherhood, other than her music?
``Music is not my business, communication is,'' came the surprise reply.
Uthup is truly more of a communicator than a musician and that is the quintessence of her popularity. It takes her hardly a minute to bond with a crowd or with a single individual. She never forgets names, faces and incidents.
Thirty-two years of musical communication with a cross-section of humanity gives her the authority to profess, pontificate and explain. Asked about parenting, she said, "My parents just let us be. Children of rich homes are confused because of the number of options they have. It leads to an identity crisis.'' But not her.
Her idiosyncrasies astound you. One of these is an obsession for well-ironed clothes. She irons most of her clothes and her husband's shirt till the defiant crease is smoothened. This fastidiousness for stitching, starching and ironing, she reveals, is her mother's training. Dressed up, she has an impressive presence, she says. She unabashedly adds, "I must have been a dhobi in my last birth.''
Her daughter chips in, "Amma makes the ironing board come alive.'' Uthup uses the metaphor of ironing in life too. "One must smoothen out the creases in life -- sometimes you win, sometimes you don't.''
Uthup's bindis, sarees, bangles have always been a young woman's envy and the smitten man's joy. ``A woman must come to terms with the fact that it is a man's world. If she accepts this, her shakti is doubled.''
The chronicle of Uthup's bindi goes somewhat like this: In 1969, when she took to singing on stage, she wore the kum-kum bindis. Vermilion was the only colour for the tikka.
This, she changed to other colours to match her sarees. Soon, she was sticking on sequins and beads on it to make it sparkle and it became fashionable to do so. Simultaneously, she stitched beads on to the sleeves of her blouse.
Her saree-bindi image became synonymous with her and she further innovated by painting Malayalam, Bengali, and Hindi scripts as a bindi. Thus there was `ko' for Kolkatta, `Ka' for Kerala, `Bha' for Bharat and the bindi became a statement.
The bindis so impressed the owner of the Mumbai store, Benzer, that he requested her to design them for his store.
So started her ethnic, Indian scripts bindis, which proudly adorn her face and reveal her pride in the Indian culture.
``I am very grateful to be born an Indian,'' says Uthup and her saree printed with `Ente Keralam, Etra Sundaram,' finds a link with the audience.
Thus, "Tumi Sundari Kolkatta' sends her Bengali fans into delightful raptures.
As Uthup bridges the gulf over language and regions, it is her sari-churi image of the `Indian stree' that men and women relate to.
The bangles are an influence of her Muslim neighbours and have become a part of her life.
Today, Uthup's sartorial pet, the saree, has given way to the practical salwar kameez and only one thing that could bring about the change is her granddaughter Ayesha.
She is "my life, my everything, really my everything.
'' Before her birth, Uthup began shedding weight to be fighting fit to run with her grandchild, to play with her.
She did not want to be a dowdy grandmother. "At one point you have to look beyond.
Love can make everything happen.
When you give it unashamedly, it will come back sometime.
It will because there is something beyond which meets the eye.... I changed for my grand daughter.''
Her cooking is limited to 16 time tested and tried recipes.
She always cooked for her children's tiffin break and does not know how to cook in small amounts.
Though herself a vegetarian, Uthup's most popular chicken recipe, which her family devours, is Aunty Cheemu's chicken curry:
She was unfamiliar with the north Indian pulses and her experiment with `rajma' or kidney beans to impress her newly wedded husband was a fiasco.
She happily narrates how she cooked rajma for hours in the cooker only to find it turning hard like stone.
It did not occur to her that rajma had to be soaked overnight to soften!
In sheer desperation, she called the Trinkas owner and pleaded, "Send me a dish of rajma, and save my marriage.''
And as Uthup effortlessly spoke of her life, times and tribulations, one could sense the veiled philosophic strain underlining her candid talk.
Perhaps it is the `unbelievable experience' of grandmotherhood, which has turned her so, or just the long way she has come.
She has shouldered beautifully the hopes and dreams of her family, friends and the millions of Indians here and abroad who yearn to hear her soprano voice as she sings with a flourish, "I believe in music, I believe in love.''
Uthup stands tall (kanjeevaram, bindi bangles et al) as an embodiment of the free spirit of Indian womanhood.
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