Meet the Lata of Australia


Kersi - Pushpa and Sarla thakkarsmall  

Love pours out when Pushpa Jagadish sings. Seen here her ardent fan Sarla Thakker thanks Pushpa for singing her favorite songs  

Kersi  Meher-Homji has a chat with  Pushpa Jagadish

I have been listening to Pushpa Jagadish’s melodious singing for many years at Vinod Rajput’s and Avijit Sarkar’s concerts. Her rendering of golden olden songs Bachapan ki mohabbat,  Chhup gaya koirey,  Chaand feer nikla,  Ek pyaar ka nagma hai  at the recent  Madhur Yaadein  concert made me feel nostalgic.

madhur - vinod pushpa small


Kersi - Pushpa Avijitsmall

Pushpa is the common running thread as she is in demand always to render female voice with singers Avijit Sarkar and Vinod Rajput

Later I interviewed her exclusively for  The Indian Down Under.

  • ·              At what age did you start singing? Were you taught or are self-taught?

I must have been ”˜music sensitive’ from birth! My mother used to tell me that I cried every time as a baby, whenever she sang in raga Hamsanandi (raga Sohini in Hindustani). It is a very intense raga emoting pain and longing! As a baby, to cry was my response to this”¦

My elder sister was learning Carnatic Instrumental music on the Veena from Vidwan Sri L Raja Rao. Music teacher used to come home to teach my sister three times a week in the early mornings. As a 7 – 8 year old, I would be still asleep in the next room but subconsciously I had learnt many of the compositions taught to my sister. Once I sang one of the compositions to my parent’s amazement. Soon after I started learning Carnatic classical music with the same teacher. I learnt classical music for many years.

My mother tongue being Kannada, I was very attracted to singing poems in Kannada which is popularly known as ”˜Bhaavageetha’ (meaning songs of emotion) a form of ”˜Sugama Sangeet’ or light music.

When I was about 17-18 years of age I got an opportunity to learn this form of music by one of the greatest  exponents of Kannada Bhaavageetha, Sri Mysore Ananthaswamy. As his student I cultivated the singing technique, enabling me to sing all types of songs ”“ devotional, emotional, playful, sad –  all ”˜rasaas’. This training has enabled me to sing with great emotion and feeling. Understanding the feeling of the poet and communicating that to the listeners through the song was the basis of this training in Sugama Sangeet.

  • ·              Any music in your family?

My mother Nagaveni, was a classically trained singer who would sing very melodiously. My father Lakshmi Narayan, was into theatre to some extent, taking small roles in local dramas. One of his attributes was his ability to sing as well.

We are three sisters and a brother. My elder sister, Vijaya used to play Veena very well.

My brother Venugopal is a very good tabla player; back in India he would accompany me on the tabla. Even now he accompanies many artists.

I have a younger sister Pratibha, who is a good singer and performs all over Karnataka and sometimes interstate, with her music group ”“ Gana Sudha. My brother accompanies her in many of her performances.

  • ·              Did you have a role model or a favourite singer?

I sing in more than one language and I have quite a few favourite singers. In my mother tongue, my teacher Ananthaswamy is one of them. M S Subbulakshmi, S Janaki, P B Srinivas and S P Balasubramaniam are all my favourite singers in Kannada.

In Hindi / Hindustani, my favourite singers are Pt. Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Manna Dey, Anup Jalota and Jagjit Singh.

My role model for the singing technique is certainly Lataji. As a teenager, I would listen to her songs especially, Madan Mohan and Salil Chowdhury’s compositions and be influenced by the intricacies woven into those songs. The way Lataji’s voice would flow like thin strands of strings weaving an intricate lace, so delicate but so precise!

The other songs of Lataji I was greatly impressed with were the Meera bhajans; I learnt to sing all of them; each one was like a lesson. Even now I get my vocal exercises by singing those bhajans.

  • ·              Have you met Lataji and talked with her?

I have not met Lataji. But I have a signed autograph of hers; that is as close as I have got to Lataji.

  • ·              Who first described you as Lata of Australia?

From 1993 onwards, I started singing with our orchestra ”“ Sarasvani   – here in Sydney. Richard Singh was the manager of this orchestra.

In 1995, we did a show  “Golden Hits of Yesteryears” when we sang to a full-house audience! It was an amazing show with more than 700 attending and we had to stop people from coming in as the hall was full; could not accommodate any more. Ms Kumud Merani who was the MC that night made a statement that “It was the first show ever to have had such an overwhelming crowd for a local orchestra”.

I am so humbled to say that Richard had promoted this show as ”˜to showcase Lata of Australia’ and the audience who came to the show generously accepted that!

  • ·              What do you think of Hindi songs now, as compared to in the golden past?

Whenever I hear this question, I always remember what Manna Dey had said in one of the workshops he conducted here in Sydney in 2001. I am very much in agreement with his view.

He said, “In olden days the song could have been like ”˜aaja sanam madhur chandni me hum tum mile to virane me bhi ajaayegi bahaar’; they had all the time to express their love elaborately.

Nowadays everyone is in a hurry; if the boy starts to sing his love elaborately, the girl would go away with a faster guy! So to suit this ”˜fast era’ songs are now made like ”“ ”˜”¦aati kya khandala? Ghoomenge, phirenge, nachenge, gaayenge, aish karenge aur kaya?”

As new generations come along, like everything, music will also have to change and we will have to move with the change.

When it comes for me to sing any song, it will be an old ”“ golden hit song which I can relate to. I have not sung many recent numbers in a concert. Not that I don’t like them or they are not good, but I cannot relate to them, that’s all.

If anyone tries to sing with no ”˜relationship’ it doesn’t mean anything to the singer or the listener.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good songs that Alka Yagnik, Sherya and Sunidhi have sung that I listen to often and have sung a few of them as well.

  • ·              Which year did you arrive in Australia? Was it Sydney?

We arrived in Sydney in June 1991.

  • ·              Is music your sole profession or do you have a day time job?

I have been working full time for Australia Post for the past 20 years. I am with the Learning and Development unit of AP as an Instructional Designer ”“  writing and maintaining training packages. I love my job; it allows me to be creative and I feel very responsible for what goes on in such an icon of a company.

  • ·              Do you teach music? Do you also play an instrument?

I do teach music to keen people both younger and older for many years. Some of my students perform in various events in Sydney. No, I don’t play any instrument.

  • ·              When did you give your first concert? Was it in India or Australia? Can you roughly recall the number of concerts you have performed in?

My first concert was in Bangalore, India along with my Sugam Sangeet teacher Mysore Ananthaswamy. I would have performed in about 750 concerts, including Bhajan concerts.

  • ·              Your most memorable moment on the stage?

In 2001, it was my privilege to sing along side the legendary Manna Dey in a concert at The Hills Centre in Sydney. I had only one sitting of rehearsal with him the previous night where he taught me one duet ”“ ”˜tum jo aao to pyaar aajaye”¦’ to sing on stage the next day. Including this song I sang ”˜aaja sanam..’; ”˜yeh raat bheegi bheegi”¦’; ”˜pyaar hua ikraar huva”¦’. It was the most memorable moment for me on the stage.

In addition to singing film songs, I do chant Tulsi Ramayan for Chinmaya Mission Australia when our Swami Swaroopanada gives talks on Ramayan. This is something I cherish doing which has given me a fulfilment in my life.

  • ·              Your most memorable moment off the stage?

During one of my visits to India, I was called to be on the judging panel alongside Dr S P Balasubramaniam in a musical talent show for children, called “Ede Tumbi Haduve” (meaning, I sing from my heart). For me the whole show has been so memorable to have witnessed children as young as 8 to 9 year old singing with such ease and expertise!

  • ·              Your husband’s name. How many children do you have? Do they show talent in singing, playing instruments, playing sports, or in any other field?

My husband is Jagadish Sury, who has been so supportive of my singing. But for him I don’t think I’d have been singing for this long time, that too in an adapted country. I’d like to express my gratitude to him through this, though I have said this to him many times”¦

I have two adult children ”“ my son Praveen is a Corporate Lawyer and my daughter Ujvala is a doctor specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Both of them are interested in music and take breaks from their busy profession to attend a concert or a musical.

  • ·              Anything else you would like to share with me and the readers of  The Indian Down Under?

As a singer all my life, I have derived my inspiration and motivation from my mentors, role models and listeners. What I have achieved is because of the world around me and the ever forgiving listeners. I want to thank all the readers, who also have been my listeners all these years. Without such audiences, who would I sing to?


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