Our Uncle

He always woke up in time, served all the meals in time, never took leaves, stayed away from home for months and yet he earned only seven thousand. We called him ‘Uncle’, as if that was his name. Even on his birthday, some girls who had time to prepare a colourful birthday card for him wrote ‘Many many happy returns of the day Uncle’. I never cared to know his name and neither did anybody else in the hostel I presume.

Uncle never called me Lahari, he always addressed me as ‘Jyotsna’. I have not been quite fond of that name as I associated it with one of our house maids back when I was a child. It was sort of a demotion in rank… Rank of what you ask? Well, I could not come up with an answer either…

But the way he yelled out after 10 in the morning, ‘Arree Jyotsna, khana nahi khayegi kya?’ made me feel loved and I gradually started to like the name. I had asked Uncle a few times, “Mera naam to Lahari hai, aap mujhe Jyotsna kyu bulate ho?” (Why do you call me Jyotsna, when my name is Lahari?). But I never got a clear answer. He would just smile and say, “Hum to tujhe Jyotsna hi bulayenge.” Maybe he has a daughter called Jyostna, and I remind him of her…

Uncle hailed from the eastern part of Bihar and knew some Bengali. He would often try to converse with me in Bangla, especially if I made a face at the not-so-delicious-looking-dinner. He’d ask, “Toh tumko kya laga, hum aj muri-ghonto banayenge?” (So did you expect me to cook muri ghonto {a fish preparation} for you?) Being a fond non-vegetarian, the vegetarian dishes served thrice a day often took a toll on my mood, so sometimes I’d stuff my tummy with some chicken outside and skip dinner at the hostel. Uncle, a staunch vegetarian, would come to enquire why I had not stepped into the dining area yet, and on knowing about my fetish for chicken he’d say, “Ha, tumko to wu bahar ka khana hi pasand ayega, hum jo yahan mach bhaja aur chicken nahi banate…” (Why would you like anything I cook, you are so fond of chicken and fish from the restaurants)

Due to some illogical rules, we were not allowed to bring any non-vegetarian item into the hostel premises, and I followed that rule until the last night spent there. When I was almost done packing, I went to get my dinner, but Uncle winked at me and said, “Tu room me ja, thori der baad bulata hu” (Go to your room, I’ll call you after some time). I knew that he was up to something, but I leaped up in joy when hearing a loud knock at my door I opened it to let in the aroma of brilliant chicken butter masala! He handed me a plateful of steamed rice and a big bowl full of chicken (enough for two). He broke the rules to treat me. That was the sweetest gesture I had ever received.

There had been several other perks of owning a room by the kitchen. Uncle would at times prepare special items in less quantity and call some of his favourite hostelites to treat them secretly. I’ve had the luck to taste a very delicious kheer, spicy dish of green jackfruit and some pasta. Being on his list of favourites I also had the privilege of going in late and getting the best of parathas for breakfast (not that I was fond of parathas, but the simple gesture was enough to show that he cared).

I never bothered to buy aluminium foil to wrap my lunch even though Uncle had asked me a few times to buy one roll and keep it in the kitchen so that he can pack my lunch in them. But one fine day onwards I started to get my parathas wrapped in the shining foil!
I don’t know whether “Thank you” is a phrase good enough to acknowledge the gratitude, but I thanked him every time yet a feeling of dissatisfaction remained. He does not need our thank you’s; all the others like him, they do not need our Western formality, neither do they desire money. Paying someone of Uncle’s level would rather be a sheer insult to the person, what they actually need is us to remember them and love them back, something I eventually failed in, trying to be good at the many other ‘important things’ in life.

I bought some sweetmeats for the staff the day I was leaving the hostel and handed the box over to Uncle authorising him to distribute them to all. His face lit up in a very unique way, something I had never witnessed before. He almost welled up as he opened the box, and with teary eyes, he took out the first sweet and forcefully fed me happily. Maybe nobody ever gifted him a box of sweets…

He would often call me over the phone and ask how I have been doing, and then say, “Tu hume bhul jayegi Jyotsna, par hum tumhe nahi bhule. Kitni ladkiya ayi aur chali gayi, par pata nahi kyun tu yaad reh gayi…” (You might forget me Jyotsna, but I won’t. So many girls have come and gone, but I don’t know why I still remember you) Not knowing what to say in return, I’d try to console him by saying that I had been busy with work and therefore could not call him sooner. I remember the last time we spoke over the phone when I was too tied up with work. On receiving the call after a quick chat I told him that I’d call back when I get time. I managed time and remembered to call him back in a week or two, but a female voice on the other end of the line said, “The number you have called is out of service.” And I had not heard from him since. I failed to show him the respect and love that he so deserved.

I do not know whether he lost or changed his phone, or left the city, but I have not had the courage or will to enquire about him to the warden in the fear of receiving a bad news. I hope that he’s back in Bihar living with his family, his daughter Jyotsna.

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I was always taught to be myself: Akasa Singh

Gifting the nation with its selfie anthem last year ‘Tu kheench meri photo’ singer Akasa Singh, shares her story of doing a duet with pop sensation Ricky Martin recently.C4JlbNqUYAAs8Gi

Tell us about your childhood, growing up in a family with musical background…

As my father is a singer, there was always something or the other going on in my family. Growing up with that, before I knew what a career is, I already knew that I wanted to be a singer. I got my dad’s voice, and I pursued singing under his guidance, eventually, I started my career with Mika Singh. He would often come to our home and he used to make me sing and asked me to join the band with him and perform live.

Please share your experience working with Mika

Working with Mika was great. I was in a band at a very young age, I was the only girl in the band which had about 10 male members over the age of 40! Very early on I got to experience a lot. I got a chance to travel the whole world to perform for different audiences. Basically, working with him sort of moulded me, because he is one of the best performers of the country, and I learned a lot from him . Whatever I do on stage today is because of how Mika ji groomed me. I learned the best thing from the best person.

Your performance is quite versatile. How did you work on your charming onstage persona?

I was born and brought up in a Sardar family, I grew up with only brothers. While growing up, I never hesitated for anything,  thinking whether it would be inappropriate to behave in a way since I’m a girl. I did what I saw my brothers do. So, with that confidence, I never hesitate onstage about how I’d look while rapping, or whether I have to behave/perform in a particular way since I’m dressed in a lovely ghagra choli. I was always encouraged by my parents to be myself, I was never taught to behave in any particular way just because I am a girl. Growing up that way I explored many opportunities – if I wanted to rap I could, if I wanted to jump onstage or crack jokes I could – it sometimes does not go with the way I look or with people’s expectation, but it’s because I was always taught to be who I am. People do get a little shocked sometimes when I crack little jokes in the middle of my performance or jump…

Did you ever have stage fright?

I used to have that sort of fright before my exams! (laughs) When I used to study for exams, I would think Yaar Geometry chhodo, main stage mein 5000 logon ke samne gana ga dungi. I never experienced stage fright on the stage, because I felt at home on stage. I always wanted to go on stage hold a mic and interact with the people when my dad used to perform. But I was really young, and I could not sing properly. When my dad asked, what would you sing if you go on stage, I’d say ‘I don’t know, just get me on the stage, give me a mic and let people watch me and I’ll interact with them. Since the time I saw my dad perform on stage in front of a huge audience, I guess that stage fright was wiped off even before I had it.  In fact, I feel more at home on the stage even if there are 50,000 people in the audience rather than meeting new people. All thanks to my dad jinki performance dekh dekh ke woh dar nikal gaya.

How did you get your first Bollywood break?

Himesh Reshamiya was the mentor of a show I did – ‘India’s Raw Star’. When he heard me sing for the first time he promised me that he’d give me a break in Bollywood. After the show, a lot of people asked me whether I got a chance in Bollywood. An acquaintance gave me Himesh’s contact number and pushed me to talk to him. I messaged him ‘Hi Himesh ji, Akasa here. Hope you are well’ and in reply, he texted, ‘Hi Akasa hope you are well, come to the studio tomorrow, we’ll dub a song’. It was as if I reminded him about his promise. When I went to the studio the next day, he told me, Tum apne tarike me gao. That was the best part, and I sang the song, ‘Tu kheench meri photo’ from Sanam Teri Kasam in that ‘masti wala’ tone. He liked my tone and that’s  how I got my break in Bollywood. Kafi filmy kahaani hai meri! (laughs)

How did your collaboration with Ricky Martin for ‘Vente Pa Ca’ happen?

Another break that happened before this break was me signing up with Sony Music. Sony is his label. They told me that there’s a Spanish single of Ricky Martin, and that he was making an English version of it and whether I would like to lend my Hindi voice to it.  I got so excited that I agreed at once. My vocals were recorded and sent. Ricky really liked it and that’s how I collaborated with him on the duet, ‘Vente Pa Ca’.

What have you learned from this experience?

Unfortunately, I have not met him in person yet. When we were discussing the song, we exchanged e-mails where he explained me the feel of the song, how to sing it and a little praise. But the fact that I have a duet with him is a big deal for me. I hope that I get to meet him in future and work more with him.

Any Bollywood heroine you’d like to lend your voice to? Aaj

Aaj kal actually itna talent aa gaya Bollywood mein, that some of them are singing themselves. I cannot decide on any one particular person. I love Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra… In fact, I would like to sing for any of the heroines! They all are absolutely beautiful, I can sing for any heroine. Sometimes I think it’s better to be the heroin and sing my own songs! (laughs)

Would you like to share any memorable moment?

Recently, I did a show called ‘MTV Angles of Rock’ with three other Bollywood singers – Jasmine Sandlas, Shalmali Kholgade, and Anusha Mani. It was a women empowerment oriented show for which I wrote and composed two songs for the first time in my life. I also performed them for the people I had written for. That feeling of them appreciating, getting emotional and loving my songs is something that I’ll never forget in my life, which is why I don’t just want to sing but also want to compose and write so that I can touch people’s lives in more ways.

What are your hobbies?

Well, other than singing, I love to dance and read. I have a passion for bullet motorbike, so I’m trying to convince my mother to buy me a bullet. I’m also obsessed with animals – a pet lover.