In India, most of the movies are musicals. They put out three a day, and when one is released the soundtrack is EVERYWHERE. I can pinpoint my trips to the Motherland more easily by what movies were out at that time (Mohobbatein was popular during that winter after college). Back in the day, my mom's family didn't have a tv. They didn't even have a radio until later. But they had my mom. Nani loved the movies, so they'd always see the new release right away, and then my mom would memorize the best songs and perform for the family. She started winning singing competitions. The principal would even pull her out of class just to hear a little something in the office.
When she was a teenager, my oldest aunt snuck away to Bollywood and was actually featured in a couple of movies before my nani made her come back home. Someone heard my mom singing and was begging nani to let her train to be a playback singer (almost none of the Hindi film actors do their own singing, just lip synching to a few very talented playback singers' soundtracks. It's weird, but it works). She said no, my mom was still a kid and had to finish school.
Even in nursing school, my mom would distract people from studying just by puttering around her room and singing with the window open. Everyone knew her for her voice, and there may have been talk of a proposal from one of her many fans on campus.
When she moved across the world to the United States, there weren't many opportunities to enjoy Indian things, but my mom was always singing. Her beautiful voice has been in my ears since before my ears were even formed. She sang when she cooked, she sang when she cleaned. And I can't even describe how unbelievably warm, safe and blissful it feels to lay my head on her lap and fall asleep to one of her lullabies. Maybe that's why I never want to go to sleep.
She sang at Indian church, often up at the front but almost always in a group. It was always easy to pick out her voice; she could hit those impossibly high Hindi notes so sweetly, like a violin. I've never admitted this to anyone, but not once have I sang along to the benediction at the end of the service in all my life--I love to bask in the the way she does it. And I may not be the only one--sometimes it felt like she was the only one singing. So many invitations to perform, but she never took it to the next level.
Unfortunately, my mom doesn't sing so much anymore. She's fallen out of practice the last several years. Of course she's still good, but obviously not the same as when we were both much younger. For decades now, I've been begging her to record her voice somewhere so I can hold onto it forever. I'm obsessed with these kind of things, like photographs. But she never has. And that breaks my heart.
That didn't stop me, however, from making one more request. That she sing at my wedding. She didn't say yes right away, but she gave in.
photo by SecondPrint Productions
Walking down the aisle with me and my dad, she was stoic, her jaw set so she wouldn't cry. She seems almost angry in those photos. And she wouldn't look at me the entire time she was singing. It was a church song that I had never heard, but one she grew up singing back home, "Aashishon ki baarish (showers of blessings)." She did, however, turn toward my brother right before she started. He smirked and got her to smile.
She began softly, her voice wavering, and it was a little shaky the entire time. But she made it through the whole song without a single tear. I wish I could have said the same for myself.
I was so proud of her. I am so proud of her.