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The Unsung Melody: Celebrating the Remarkable Story of Mrs. Uttara Choudhury

From the Stage to the Home: How One Homemaker's Creative Passion Transformed into a Life of Selfless Service and Relentless Pursuit To Become The Singer She Once Was

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31 May '24
13 min read


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Being a person who is more inclined towards the notion of making my life about the pursuit of creative passion - during my younger juvenile years I have found myself looking down upon people who are aligned otherwise, much to the despise of my current self. 

I have come to learn that in a world where a lot of traction can be given to people who pursue their dreams, we often overlook those who choose otherwise.

I do believe that it takes a lot of courage to pursue one’s dreams and not fall into the traps of comfort or conformism, to embrace a life of financial shortcomings and compromise to surrender oneself to the creative pursuit. 

But what takes even more courage, is to let all your dreams go so that your family can pursue theirs’.

Mrs. Uttara Choudhury, had done just that a few decades ago to give her all and everything to be a loving mother and relentlessly strong wife.

She is lovingly known as Bubi by her friends and family, and is a brave, selfless and kind woman who also happens to be my role model. 

As I interviewed her for this article, I couldn’t help but notice how natural she was as an interviewee, hitting all the right pauses and beats. Saying just enough, but never too much or too less. 

So I went on and asked her if she had any experience giving an interview before.

Mrs. Uttara Choudhury Das at her hometown, 2024. Source: Personal Archives

With a humble smile, she said that she had. 

Many years ago. Before she was forgotten, for several magazines. Copies of which she had tried to preserve in a suitcase but could not find once she was able to go back for it after 10 to 12 years. And ironically ‘Suitcase’ was also the name of one of the last pieces she ever wrote.

Before she was Mrs. Uttara Choudhury, when she was just Uttara, everybody’s beloved music artist in the region, she has done countless radio programmes and regional albums, even recording music for Assamese cinema, winning several awards and accolades for it.

In the last couple of years she has been able to revive her voice and practice, and at over 60 years of age, started to professionally sing again with her latest album released during March this year. 

No amount of words I pen to paper are going to be enough to fully do her life’s story justice. This article is a humble attempt to capture a glimpse into the beautiful human being that she is and her never dying relationship with her one true love, music

Mrs. Uttara Choudhury Das during the launch event of her latest album ‘Aikhon Dexor Ziori Moi’ (Assamese for ‘I am a daughter of this land’), March 8, 2024. Source: Personal Archives

Tell me a little bit about music in your life and where it all began?

Me and music, we have been there for each other for a long time. To be fair music has been there for me more than I have been able to be there for it. Whether I was happy or I was sad

music was there with me otherwise I could not have overcome these 25 years of silent struggle and dwindling hope.

It all started when I was a little child. I was born in a family of musicians and music lovers. At the time our family was a large joint family, and one of my cousin brothers had become a renowned artist around the circles. 

He was around 22 then and my mother used to say that whenever he did his riaz or hummed anything, as a few months old baby, I tried to mimic and follow him in my own way. Once I was a bit older and could start talking, one of my other cousin sisters who happened to be the best singer in college became the source where I learnt the ABCD of classical music informally for the first time.

Back then you could not hear music whenever you felt like unlike nowadays, there was always a fixed time which we had to wait for to tune into the radio and get to listen to something. I was smitten by that too as a child. My family used to say that I used to start dancing when the music played on the radio, and I was so crazy about it that I used to continue dancing even when the track ended and the radio went on to play the news bulletins.

Few years later, when I was around 6 years old, the cousin brother I had earlier mentioned, who I used to try to mimic, happened to need a female artist to accompany him to one of his public stage shows. In Assam the stage shows involving Bihu performance back then had to be done as a duet between a male and a female voice, and the original artist who was booked could not make it. So he took me along with him.

And under a stage set up under an enormous banyan tree, they put me on a stool so that I could reach the mike and I gave my first ever performance as a singer.

After that event, the public and my brother liked me so much that I became a regular at all of his shows across the villages and towns.

Gradually, with time, people took more notice of me and started to offer me contemporary song projects, eventually going on to sing for the radio as well for a show called Geetimalika. Then when I was around 9 or 10 years old, someone recommended that I should audition to become a radio singer at least in the children’s category called Semonia Sora. That was the beginning of me as a singer in the contemporary music scene.

As you went on, a career slowly seemed to take shape in the music industry? I heard that there were also other opportunities that came your way from outside the world of music?

Yes, I did get an offer to join as a junior scientist in a reputed research centre in Ahmedabad but could not take it up. I was very good in my studies and in those days being one amongst the handful of students who passed with distinction and being a girl on top of that was not the most common thing. So naturally my parents wanted me to pursue higher studies in science or medicine even. But I never liked it. I hated maths and even the thought of having to dissect a human body. 

They didn’t know it at the time but I used to try and dodge my maths exam even. What I really wanted to study was history, which I still have a love for, and continue to pursue my musical endeavours as a professional singer alongside it. But life had it otherwise, I had to instead get an MSc in Botany. I do love the plants I used to have in my balcony though.

Mrs. Uttara Choudhury Das at a local library having a light read of history, 2023. Source: Personal Archives

But I was still able to continue as a singer. I even got a scholarship to study at Shantiniketan in Kolkata, but again family opinions got in the way and I could not go for it. As a child everyone was more or less ok with me singing around. But as a grown woman I was often taught to watch my boundaries, keep my head down while singing and not talk to anyone during my shows as much as possible. 

One time, during one of my live performances, there was an acclaimed Assamese film director in the audience, called Ramen Da and he is being very impressed with my voice, he wanted to speak to me regarding further opportunities, but I shied away, much to the surprise of my teachers later who scolded me a lot by doing so. 

But I was always going into the show with the thought of being more than careful to not bring any disgrace to my family. They too had the best intent at heart. It was just the way things were at the time.

I have also heard that your voice was compared with the likes of Lata Mangeshkar?

It was the people actually who said that out of their love for me, Lata Mangeshkar is a great singer, I can never be close to her level. 

Perhaps yes, but you are also very humble. I heard that it was not just the people but also singers like Usha Uthup who once praised your voice as such, did you happen to work with her?

She was very kind, yes. But no I did not work with her but was once recording in a studio for a movie song and the studio was owned by her. 

She was keenly observing that day and I remember that upon finishing the recording for the song, she came up to me and told me that she thought my voice was a blessing and it would be a blunder if I ever stopped singing.

And Indeed you have, despite your marriage, tried to continue your riaz, revisiting it every few years. Once started Carnatic music classes from the beginning and made a concerted effort to practise at home?

Yes I have, whenever I had some time at home. But yet, I can’t truly call it practising. Since I have always lived in an apartment I was too conscious of being too loud and disturbing the neighbours during my practice. I did try though, whenever I could. 

Sometimes I sang alone, when I used to stand in my apartment’s balcony, watching the cranes fly by. 

It was an Assamese folk song that is about cranes flying home at dusk. I sang it every time I missed my old friends and family and longed for music.

In the past one or two years, you have been trying to re-engage with the cultural and artistic activities you were previously involved in. Can you tell me a bit more about these attempts to rebuild your connections and reignite your artistic pursuits?

Yes, you see for a long time I did not have anyone from the earlier days of my life around me and I feel like because of that somehow everything went wrong for me. 

There was a time, when I almost forgot that I can sing, that I even used to be a singer. 

Not only was I hesitating to sing loudly, I also nearly stopped looking at myself as a singer because of how people around me looked at me.

When my older daughter was a child, one time she was playing with her dolls while singing loudly, and someone came into the room and remarked that she has a beautiful voice and should become a singer when she grows up. Another kin of ours who saw this scene was quick to remark that she probably got it from one of her distant aunts who sometimes sings as a hobby. 

At that moment this horrific realisation dawned upon me, that the fateful time had come, nobody told my daughter that her mother was a singer anymore.

What made you get back into singing?

It was my younger daughter actually, she came up to me just before her 15th birthday and said that if I don't start singing like before again, she will stop celebrating her birthday.

And birthdays were one of the things she used to look forward to the most as a child. And my younger brother too had always tried to inspire me and keep my interest in music alive.

That opened my eyes and I realised that all this time I was thinking more about other people over my own daughter. I should learn to look at myself like how she looks at me and not like how other people did. 

Mrs. Uttara Choudhury with her younger daughter at a family event, early 2000s. Source: Personal Archives

I heard there was an initial backlash because of your age and voice? But you still went back and worked on your voice and did projects. Tell me a bit about your recent projects?

Yes there may have been a little backlash, I would not blame anyone for it. People have the right to say what they feel, I am much older now and my throat was giving me a lot of issues, my voice was not as smooth as it was. So some may have felt I should not bother singing again. 

But giving up is not the answer to things right. So I went to different doctors, one of them was especially very helpful, he guided me to take care of my throat. And with that and regular practice, things slowly got better and I was able to sing with a better voice again.

Yes I started getting back to my older circles and slowly people started approaching me again when they recognised that I was the same Uttara they once knew. I sang a song for a cultural committee I had come to know, then my brother and one of my older mentors also wrote songs and made music for me, slowly these songs showed a potential to make it out as an album.

I especially wanted to do something creative for the female personalities from Assam, make songs about their legends and achievements. The latest album that was released was about just that. We held a launch event for the same on March 8 and it has been beloved by people.

What would be a message that you would want to give someone who is a homemaker like yourself fighting their own battles, maybe someone who is today like who you were back then when you first got married?

I would like to say that as human beings we all have a purpose to fulfil the life we have been given on this earth, so no matter the hurdle and obstacle we should never give up and stop trying. 

Problems will come and go. But do not let that get in the way of you having faith in yourself. Good days will come !

Source: Personal Archives

In conclusion, some people are harder to write about than others, and more easily forgotten in the sands of time or misunderstood by their peers and community during their solitary battle to keep her family nourished and protected through it. 

For more than 25 years now, she has tirelessly worked every day, evening and night as a homemaker for her husband and two children. 

Even today she wakes up every morning to:

make breakfast, 

serve it, 

clean all the dishes, 

do the laundry,

get the house cleaned, 

make sure the laundry is done, 

prepare lunch, 

do the dishes, 

get the groceries, 

do the dishes again, 

make sure everything from plumbing to electricity bills are taken care of, 

tea and snacks are prepared for the evening, 

do the dishes again, 

prepare dinner 

and do the dishes once again. 

The work list is endless and has been on repeat for more than two decades. She has been a full time employee for a mostly thankless job. And amidst all this. She has kept a small but powerful flame still alive with her relentless hope: Music !!

Disclaimer: This post has been published by Saneki Basundhara from Ayra and has not been created, edited or verified by Ayra
Category:Stories


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Written by Saneki Basundhara

Writer, Assistant Director