A Longing Expression for Music Shared Freely and Often


Participants at the musical recital at Upma Shah’s residence included from left: Varsha Halabe, emcee and singer; Nitish Kulkarni, tabla; Veena Watwe, singer; and Mandar Phadke, harmonium.
Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: Upma Shah was in her element: the mistress of the stage; conducting the show, pointing out key community people in the crowd to come and say a few words; putting the final touches to their needs before asking the audience to be back in their seats “in ten minutes, no more than 15” as they made a bee line for the appetizer; even admonishing them to “please recycle the plates and plasticware”.

She leaves nothing to chance to disturb the joy she feels when she listens to the performers produce the music that she longs for. And everyone who has been coming to the gatherings in which she opens up her house and rearranges the living room with rows of plastic armchairs knows that she is an endearing but demanding hostess who expects complete silence so that the musicians and singers can be best appreciated.

The passion to enjoy music blazed in Shah’s heart as a young girl in her family’s home in Mumbai “but my father wanted nothing to deter us from our studies” she recalled. “He didn’t want music and songs to distract us.” When she finally joined her future husband Mukulesh in America, she worked hard to settle into a comfortable life and then on her fiftieth birthday, she made her declaration. “I said ‘I have spent 25 years with my parents and another 25 years working hard, now I needed to give vent to my expression’,” she remembered.

And express she did. From 2005 onwards, Shah has taken her passion into her home, quite literally, holding musical evenings in her living room, upto six times a year, exploring the community for singers and musicians and giving them a venue to display their talents. Most of them likewise have careers or businesses of their own but have an avocation in the performing arts that they have fine-tuned and welcome an appreciative venue to make their artistry known to the public.

The list of performers that Shah has featured is fairly long, but over the past two years in her new spacious house in Sugar Land – she moved her in 2008 – she has featured singers Bharat and Meena Contractor; Dr. Anil and Dr. Rucha Sheth; Vivek Chitale; Soumya Rege; Anjali Pandit; Prakash Majumdar; Surendra Talwar; Varsha Halabe; Suchita Karandikar; Preyna Shah; Smita Vasavada and Udayan Shah. They have been accompanied by musicans on tabla Nitish Kulkarni, Jayendra Prabhukot, Chidanand and Prakash Shah and on the harmonium Ambrish Prabhukot, Altaf  and Kamal Haji.

Nothing can make Shah happier than to feature more talent. And every two months or so she makes the arrangements to call in upto 90 people – who all get a chance to eat dinner even after the two to three hour performances. And Shah is always happiest when she has the music around her to share with others.