Days before Mother Teresa’s Sainthood, a singer recalls how she inspired her
One of India’s best known singers, Usha Uthup is the only musician to be invited from Kolkata to Mother Teresa’s canonization ceremony at the Vatican where she would be declared a Saint. Uthup knew Mother Teresa for 47 years and she talks about how the Mother inspired her to recognize and appreciate others and to spread happiness through her music.
Usha Uthup disembarks from her car dressed in a purple and grey silk saree with her trademark bindi — a decorative mark worn in the middle of the forehead by Indian women — and “K” for Kolkata written on it in the Bengali script, lighting up her forehead.
The moment she gets out of the car, a small crowd gathers around her. There is no surprise in that because the singer is one of the most popular faces in Kolkata.
In fact, with super hit songs like Dosto Se Pyar Kya, Hari Om Hari and One Two Cha Cha, which she gave to Bollywood, she draws this kind of attention wherever she goes in India or abroad.
The singer obliges all with a smile and waves to the local councilor before she gets inside a building for a meeting.
The Padma Sri Award winner has much on her hands these days. She is the only singer who has been invited to take part in the canonization ceremony of Mother Teresa at the Vatican on September 4. This is not the first time though. She was there at the Vatican in 2003 for the beatification ceremony of Mother Teresa.
She will sing a couple of songs at the ceremony where The Mother would be declared a Saint. She will have to be back in the city for the StageCraft Awards on September 23, the only award of its kind that celebrates the unsung heroes of the entertainment industry and which is a result of her long association with Mother Teresa.
Uthup knew Mother Teresa for 47 years and she met her for the first time at a missionary when she had gone to get medicines for her throat from Sister Amy. “Mother Teresa was a nun at that time, just starting off in Kolkata,” recalled the singer.
Uthup says that was the beginning of a life-changing experience for her. She got married, moved cities but like a magnet she came back to Kolkata and re-established contact with Mother Teresa. She sang hymns at the missionary and whenever she was disturbed or angry, she would visit Mother Teresa and she would touch her hand.
“I felt so much at peace and all my worries would melt away. One thing Mother often said was, ‘Give me your time.’”
“I always felt she was a powerhouse of energy, she walked really fast and I could never keep pace with her. She had a great sense of humor too,” said Uthup.
The singer went on to work for the Missionaries of Charity to mobilize funds for their various projects in Kolkata and she says that it was Mother who inspired her to do things for other people and derive happiness from it.
“An award ceremony in the entertainment world is always about giving away an award to the film star or director who comes and thanks his family and the directors and producers and leaves the stage. Rarely are people behind the scenes mentioned or appreciated. I wanted to have an award only for those people,” said Uthup.
She is probably the only artist who introduces her entire team to the audience during a stage performance and she has been doing that from the very beginning of her career.
“I remember I was at a locality function and the stage caved in. Thankfully, none of us were on stage and we were safe. I am sure the builder got a lot of flak for the disaster but that made me think that we keep performing on so many stages which are built properly and no one goes and appreciates those people who have kept us safe. Mother Teresa taught me to think this way,” said Uthup.
She got together with four like-minded people – Shiladitya Chaudhury, Gautam Jain, Anil Kuriakose and Mahua Lahiri, who are well-known names in the entertainment and events industries, and the StageCraft Awards took off with a bang in 2014.
Mahua Lahiri, who owns the Asha Audio music label in Kolkata said, “When Ushadi spoke about this concept, I was completely game for it. Without the hard work put in by people behind the scenes, it would have been impossible for anyone to function. It is so important to give them an award and recognize their work.”
All her life, Uthup has been working for different causes and the StageCraft Awards is only a culmination of that. Starting from women’s empowerment to leprosy to relief from flood and tsunami to AIDS awareness – she has worked with the Richard Gere Foundation for AIDS – to working with different charities and NGOs throughout the world, Uthup has been spreading love and peace through her music and her work.
“I feel happy that I have been able to take inspiration from Mother Teresa and follow the path she showed me. I belong to a different religion but she never ever asked me to convert to Christianity. She always told me to spread happiness through my music.”
Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist who writes on social issues in India with focus on women. She divides her time between Dubai and India and blogs at www.amritaspeaks.com
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