Tea, croissants and Usha Uthup!
I am a junk eater with bhel puri, pani puri being the favourite. I love spicy food, rasam, sambhar and yes, kali dal. I cook very good non-vegetarian food.
VEGETARIAN ALL THE WAY: Usha Uthup tries out some delicacies at Uppal's Orchid Ecotel in New Delhi.
HER HUSKY voice, her kanjeevarams, her jewellery, all are marques but that's only in long shot, up close Usha Uthup is much more than her finery. In New Delhi to participate in the anniversary celebrations of Uppal's Orchid, Capital's only five-star Ecotel, Usha settles for a cup of tea in Bonitos, hotel's 24-hour world cuisine restaurant after attracting people with some hip-shaking songs on a cold night with "Jeete Hain Shaan Se", "Rambha Ho" and the like. "You know, it was freezing on the stage. I think temperature has already come down to single digit in the Capital. Even shawl didn't help. I am coming from Kerala and there it is hot. I need masala tea right away."
One heard that she was in Vatican recently during the beatification ceremony of the Mother? "Yes, I was. It was an experience of a lifetime. I think any one, who has studied in Jesuit school, wishes to visit the place. I had even composed a song for the occasion but I was not allowed to perform. I felt sad." Tea is here and Usha is glowing, "I was born in a Brahmin family in Chennai and was brought up in Mumbai, as my father, a police officer was posted there. Naturally, I am a strict vegetarian. Frankly speaking, I am a junk eater with bhel puri, pani puri being the favourite. I love spicy food, rasam, sambhar and yes, kali dal. But let me tell you, I cook very good non-vegetarian food. My husband and his family likes non-vegetarian, so I learnt non-vegetarian recipes, 18 in all after marriage from my husband's aunt in Kolkata. And as I didn't know anything about such food and could not taste them either, I used to follow the recipes to the T. When my daughter grew up she became my taster. Family says that I cook very good fish curry but the best is Chinu aunty curry, which is chicken masala curry cooked with coconut and ginger that I learnt from Chinu aunty, wife of the owner of Trinkas night club on Palk Street, Kolkata, where I used to perform."
By now Usha has nodded to move beyond tea to croissants with marmalade and one was tempted to know more about the lady who used to sing in a sari in night clubs. "There was no conscious effort as such. I belong to a traditional family with limited means. We could not think beyond salwar-kameez and sari. I still remember I had just two pair of shoes, one black and one white, we used to call them tennis shoes. We were happy, as we were not exposed to many choices unlike today's kids. So, when I started singing sari was the obvious choice though later people started taking it as a marketing strategy. Plus, I think I was somewhat successful in removing the stigma attached to night club singing."
Switching to bread and butter, Usha maintains, "Even today my main source of income is concerts only because film industry still thinks that heroine can't sing in a husky, heavy voice. There have been heroines like Zeenat Aman, Tanuja and now Rani Mukherjee for whom I can easily lend my voice but they think if it's for heroine it has to be sweet. I ask them to give me just one song, as that's enough to give me at least 60 concerts, a number of them are for charity. "You know, all these trinkets are artificial," remarks Usha after a meaningful pause.
The lady, who sings in 14 Indian and eight foreign languages and last heard as Perizaad Zorabian in "Man Mere" in "Joggers' Park" says, "I am not trained in classical music. My parents used to listen to Kishori Amonkar and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan on radio and I used to join them. Slowly, it became a passion. Only in India you can think of singing in so many languages I love singing in Bengali, it is the sweetest of Indian languages. Malayalam is the hardest to master while I find Tamil as the simplest because there you can break the lines into syllables without changing the meaning. Of the foreign languages, I find French very interesting."
But how does she manage her non-vegetarianism outside? "Well, it is indeed difficult notwithstanding the growing vegetarian movement in the West. What I do is ask for a tomato soup and then add water, salt and chillies to it. It gives the taste of rasam with bread. Any way, I am not a fussy person. I am easy with whatever I get."
Indeed, in spite of not having a sweet tooth, she consents to pose with the dessert spread considering it is birthday time for the hosts.
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