I became a singer in my student days. I was on workaholic track but some classical training & 2 years of guitar lessons had me considering my vocal potential. Bollywood competitions were respite from classroom debates & projects. So I became a regular on the college festival circuit.
The ability to carry a tune I discovered only got you past selection. Audience response was a big factor in a win. My 2 friends would be no match for the big contingents of the other colleges in attendance. How would I compete?
The host asked which songs we’d sing. The usual suspects came up- Kishore on a bus to Goa or inciting a dance revolution to Meera’s ghungroo, Sonu Nigam bemoaning the luxury of loneliness. Big dramatic songs to match the cinematic scenes they’d scored.
I told him, “BAS ITNA SA KHWAB“. The host frowned. “You can’t sing that. That’s a man’s song.” & moved away. I had no time to point out that the song was about ambition & what did gender have to do with that? Instead I chose “MANN KYON BEHKA“. The host’s introduction was a jeer-the girl whose mann was too behko’ed so would everyone be patient? That night, I trashed my setlist. Lata Mangeshkar’s repertoire of demure tunes would be like carrying dolls to a gunfight.
Next time I went up, eyes downcast, smoothed my dupatta & crooned “HAI RAMA“, that scintillating siren call from Rangeela. First prize hands down. Another time, clad in kurta & jeans I belted out “MUNGDA“, the rustic, raunchy charms of the forgotten Mangeshkar sister brought forth in Helen’s seduction. My song literally brought the faculty & staff to the yard.
Later a boyfriend would assault me for singing ‘slutty songs’. The pattern would repeat in the harassment following my feminist poetry. In protest I’d deliver a silent performance. A male comic would ridicule even that. But I never forgot what real winning tastes like.
At my alumni meet, someone requested ‘MUNGDA’. As we got down to dancing, my classmates began cheering my name. A friend said, “Ramya, you gave us an anthem.”
That’s really all I ever dreamed of. Bas itna sa khwab.
: Sing like your heart beats