IT was the mid-1970s. We were young, wore bell-bottoms and shiny shirts rich with polyester, dressed for the movies, especially the once-a-week English movies that were screened at Phul Theatre in Patiala, grabbed whatever tid- bits of information we could about the West, and shared it with friends.
We were students at Yadavindra Public School, Patiala, and the world was neatly divided into students who clung on to their Punjabi feudal roots, and the ‘Yankees’, as the somewhat Anglicised minority of students who were comfortable listening to Western music were called. Among the Yankees were friends like Gupi, Pat, Winnie, Bertie, and seniors like Mandy and Sam.
We heard about a singer, Donna Summer, who had just come out with a single that had shaken the music world. “Love to Love You, Baby” was the rage in the West, and we just had to hear it. How to do that? We knew of only one way. Patiala’s Africa connection then via the Bhattal family, and our friend Gupi’s father, Uncle Sukhminder, was an indulgent millionaire.
Off went the request. Uncle was to visit India soon and thus this was added to the multiple things he was to get for family, relatives and friends. Uncle travelled around the world, especially between the US, the UK and various African countries. He had thus earned many frequent-flyer points, and could stretch baggage and other rules to his, read our, advantage.
When he arrived in London and asked for the LP, a ‘long-playing’ record for those who belong to the post-vinyl era, he was told that it was simply not available there. It was, however, much in news, because of an informal ban by “Auntie Beeb”, as the British Broadcasting Corporation was un-complementarily called. Now Uncle Sukhminder was someone who wanted to not only say “Love to Love You, Baby,” but also show it. He was known to have showered gifts on Mohinder Kaur, the love of his life who became his wife, and also on his children and friends.
So, “What was I to do?” The query was rhetorically repeated in the later years. Off he went, to the city that celebrates love, Paris, and from there he got the LP, which was delivered with a certain ceremony. “Oh! You rascals, here it is, I had to go all the way to Paris to get it for you.”
Now the record was there, it was quickly whisked out of their house, and taken to Mandy and Tina’s house, which gave more privacy to us young souls. We heard the song. Its seductive, sensuous synthesised sound, interjected with minimal lyrics and many suggestive moans and groans soon had everyone enthralled.
Donna Summer, who died after a long battle with cancer on Thursday, became our favourite. Her music was era-defining. She was called Queen of Disco and had many No. 1 hits like “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls”. Then there came a period when she said she would sing anything but “Love to Love You,” though eventually she did that too. Her voice rang true, it had a power that allowed her to transcend the genre that she had launched.
As for the man who introduced us to Donna Summer, Uncle Sukhminder could be heard saying: “Oye, Where’s the LP that I got for you? Let me hear it at least once.” Now, that was not something we could afford to let happen, not after we had heard the song!
This middle by Roopinder Singh was published in The Tribune on May 19, 2012.