It was the month of July in 1969 that Usha received a fresh contract with Trincas to sing for three weeks. She loved Calcutta from her first visit. There was a different fragrance and joy to life when compared to Bombay and Madras. Usha was naturally delighted on getting a second contract with Trincas. Like the last time, she received the flight tickets and there was a car waiting for her at Calcutta airport. Joshua and Puri welcomed Usha and they made arrangements for her stay.

Ramu accompanied Usha during this trip as well. He was a bit reluctant, but he was there.

As the Trincas band had become familiar with Usha, they didn’t need any rehearsals. This time, she didn’t have to go to the police headquarters in Lal Bazar either. On this trip, Usha had many rare songs in her repertoire which, even though they were her favourites, she hadn’t sung them in a long time.

The monsoon season with the touch of the comforting rain infused a peculiar magic to the atmosphere. Job Charnock’s Calcutta during the rainy season is far more ecstatic as compared to other cities. It was raining that evening when Usha sang at Trincas. The musicians with the band were charged up and Usha’s songs spread warmth and joy. The atmosphere was electric. Ramu was sitting at a faraway corner table, but Usha also saw Jani Chako Uthup seated, resting his elbow on the nearby table. Usha was singing “A Taste of Honey” made popular by The Beatles.

A taste of honey
Tasting much sweeter than wine
I dream of your first kiss, and then
I feel upon my lips again
A taste of honey
Tasting much sweeter than wine
Oh, I will return, yes, I’ll return
I’ll come back for the honey and you...

The song was transparent and full of joy. Like the honeysuckle flower swaying in the rain.

An untamed desire seemed to be resonating in Usha’s inner self as she sang, and a beautiful, infinite, irrepressible and restless desire began to take shape. The evening that was merging into the night turned into something like a dream. The besotted listeners at the tables were lost in the shadows of their souls. Usha stopped and so did the band.

From a distance, Usha saw that Jani Chako Uthup was talking to Ramu on his way out. For whatever reason, Usha felt good seeing Ramu meet Jani. Ramu had told her that Jani Uthup works with the famous tea company J Thomas & Company. Ramu seemed to have liked meeting Jani. Usha felt a sense of relief – at least Ramu had company. Someone he could spend time with in Calcutta.

Next afternoon, a few hours before the show, Ramu told Usha that Jani Uthup has invited him to a Chinese restaurant on Park Street. He would therefore meet her directly at Trincas. Usha only found out how Ramu and Jani’s meeting went that afternoon when she reached her room after her show. During her performance Usha’s eyes were constantly looking for Ramu. But he wasn’t there, although Jani was present.

After the show, Jani Uthup walked up to Usha and said, “I can’t find Ramuji. Come, I will drop you home.” During the ride of a few minutes, Usha and Jani didn’t talk. By that time, the rain had stopped.

Usha knocked on the door and Ramu opened it. His face turned pale looking at Jani standing behind Usha. Even as Usha stepped inside, Ramu said to Jani Uthup who was standing at the door, “That’s enough Mr Uthup! You can go.” Usha couldn’t figure Ramu’s uneasiness. What had happened to her husband who was normally very calm? Ramu slammed the door shut.

That night, Ramu was unusually restless. Usha could see he was evidently disturbed. After being asked many times, he screamed and broke down. “Do you know what Jani Uthup told me this afternoon at the Chinese restaurant? He said, ‘I don’t know about Usha and her feelings, but I am in love with your wife.’” As he said this Ramu was shaking with anger.

“Okay, he said that to you. So, what happened?” Usha said in a soft voice. “He didn’t say anything to me.”

“But what Jani it true? Do you have the same feelings for him?” Ramu’s voice was distraught.

“Yes!” Usha replied, pushing aside all fear.

It was a tortured night. Ramu flung the plate kept on the table at the wall and it shattered loudly into pieces. Usha cried almost until the crack of dawn. She didn’t realise when she fell asleep. The throbbing wound inside her soul that she had lived with for the last five years was out in the open. The fear of society and what her family would think or say lay shattered to pieces.

In the five years of marriage, Ramu surely encouraged Usha’s passion for music. But during the night, a strange immovable quiet, a darkness would descend on them. But that unbelievable conversation the previous night brought Usha out of the state of aching lifelessness.

Usha felt lighter the next morning. The sky over Calcutta was weighed down by clouds. Usha, however, was excited. Jani hadn’t said anything to her directly. But what a feeling it was when she opened up and said what she had in her heart to Ramu. The events of the previous night kept reappearing in her mind. She thought of various scenarios that would follow.

She wondered what Amma-Appa would say when they find out. They were no doubt progressive but they could not remain silent bystanders after what had happened. Usha’s elder brother- in-law, N Srinivasan (Chinu) and elder sister Indira were living in Calcutta those days. Will Ramu share all that happened with Chinu and Indira? Many questions flitted through Usha’s mind.

But what also stood clearly was that people would talk. Appa’s furious face when he found out about Uma Di’s decision to marry the person she loved played out in her mind. Anyway, she hoped that whatever happened would be for the good.

The next two weeks were difficult. Ramu remained distant. He stopped going regularly for the evening shows at Trincas. But Jani would be there. A couple of evenings, Usha spotted him at Ramu’s table, both talking to each other and it gave her some relief. Usha thought maybe things were getting better between them. But whatever happened had created a turbulence within her.

She wondered if it was possible to go any further with her frigid marriage of five years. When she looked back, Usha realised that she had spent the five years in gloom.

She had never said anything to Amma, Appa or both her elder sisters. Music had helped her, but it could not dispel the darkness. The desire to embrace life was knocking on her door. When the three weeks contract with Trincas was over, Usha returned to Bombay with Ramu. Her fans at Little Hut were eagerly waiting for her to come back. Ramu did not mention the Calcutta incident to anyone, neither did Usha.

Towards the end of 1969 another invitation came from the owners of Trincas. This time Ramu wasn’t ready to go with Usha. So, she decided to go alone to Calcutta. Trincas’s owners, Joshua and Puri, were decent and loving. They said they would make arrangements for Usha’s stay at their own place and would treat her like a daughter.

Usha told Amma and Appa that going alone to Calcutta wasn’t something to worry about. However, Ramu not accompanying Usha bothered her Amma-Appa and her in-laws. On his part, Ramu didn’t clarify the reason why he was not accompanying his wife and Usha also avoided the matter saying that Ramu might be busy with work. But she knew why her husband was avoiding going to Calcutta.

After reaching Calcutta, Usha was in the thick of things. This time, she had more new songs for the audience. Usha had by now found a place in the hearts of the patrons of Trincas.

The owners, Joshua and Puri, also noticed that whenever they announced Usha’s performance schedule, the crowd doubled at Trincas from day one. In Bombay, the owners of Little Hut weren’t happy with Usha’s Calcutta trips.

On her latest visit Usha sang her heart out, and the guests at Trincas would impatiently wait for the evening to arrive. Among them was Jani Uthup as well, who after work would drive directly to Trincas. The early days of December were truly charming in Calcutta and there was a delightful nip in the night air. One evening Usha began singing her favourite track “Big Spender” and everyone at the nightclub, including the band, were in the groove:

The minute you walked in the joint
I could see you were a man of distinction
A real Big Spender,
Good lookin’, so refined.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on in my mind?
So let me get right to the point
I don’t pop my cork for every man I see.
Hey Big Spender, Spend a little time with me.

After the show that night when Jani Uthup was driving Usha back home, Usha smiled and asked him, “I took your name today during the song. Did you like it?” He had an unexpected response: “Usha, I don’t particularly relish my name being spoken in public.” Usha felt that Jani who fearlessly claimed his love for Usha in front of Ramu was actually a shy and introverted person. During this trip, Usha and Jani would meet often during the evening shows at Trincas. And with each meeting, Usha was getting closer to taking a big decision in her life.

Excerpted with permission from The Queen of Indian Pop: The Authorised Biography of Usha Uthup, Vikas Kumar Jha, translated by Srishti Jha, Ebury.