A Life Time of promoting Odia Culture: Lata Mishra

By Chandra Misra

For me the experience of writing about a person for this new added section in “Utkarsa” is like a journey filled with excitement. It is a journey in which I write about the person and gain new perspectives on her/his contributions to OSA (Orissa Society of America), starting from old time and continuing into the present. I appreciate the opportunity and enjoy it when I write about that person’s contributions.

Our first feature person in this series is no other than Mrs. Lata Misra from New Jersey, one of the pioneers of our OSA community. She sang champu, chhanda (ଓଡ଼ିଶୀ ଚମ୍ପୁ, ଛାନ୍ଦ) in our community functions when there were no accompanying instruments to go with the music. In the beginning when she used to sing there used to be complete silence in the hall and audience cheered her singing. As per her, she had no formal training in music. She simply heard her father and uncle singing and loved to sing ever since she was a little girl. She was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. Generally she sings Odissi, champu and chhanda music. Most of the Odissi songs are written by the renowned lyricists such as Jayadeva, Kavisamrat Upendra Bhanja, Deenakrushna, Kavisurya Baladev Rath, Gopalakrushna, Birakishore Dev etc. Odissi music belongs to the genre of Classical music of India and has its origin in the state of Odisha.

For the last few years at OSA convention Odissi, Champu and Chhanda music competition has been a part of one of the various competitions held for participants belonging to the following two age groups:

1-Junior and 2-senior.

This program is conceived by Mrs. Lata Misra. Now a days most singers opt to sing filmy Hindi music. In spite of that Lata insisted on singing and carrying on with our traditional Champu and Chhanda. This is noteworthy and  commendable. Many people thought that their children may not agree to learn Odia traditional music and they may not have time to teach them.  Lata was able to persuade the parents the advantage of learning our music and keep the tradition alive. She spent time and energy with the parents and the children and persuaded them to learn and like this music.  Today we have many young parents and children that thrive with this music and surprise us on the stage with their singing. It reminds me of a quote from my favorite person, former first lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” Lata has proven it even as we all thought of how it can be done. It is a great pleasure to witness and enjoy when young Odia children sing champu and chhanda on the stage in OSA conventions and at other places.  She still directs our younger generation as she did always in the past.

Not only she sings the music but with her determination and hard work now some of our young boys and girls are learning it. They are participating in the competition. Her love for our traditional music Champu and Chhanda, which she proudly sang as a child and in her youth, kept following her. Her connection to the community fuels her art and she takes joy spreading it to the youngsters in North America. She needed to convince the parents to introduce our traditional music to the children and take interest to learn it. This is not an easy task in the USA when English is learnt and spoken by all children. Now-a-days children have their own interests to pursue. Making them to learn champu and chhanda and performing must be an effortful task.

In the beginning Lata spent a lot of time and her own money to give awards to the winners and make CDs for children to learn the champu, chhanda music. With her determined and ambitious mind she was able to convince the parents and their children to carry on our music. Now we all have the pleasure to listen to the special music from Odisha, sung by our children in the USA.  We are all grateful to her not only for singing champu and chhanda, but for having instilled the love to sing this type of music by our children. It would have been a lost art in the USA without her determined effort and interest.

She is a natural on the stage and participated in many dramas in OSA functions and at our local NY-NJ chapter functions. Her contribution to have Odia drama without much help at our functions is really commendable.  She directed and acted in many dramas at our local chapter functions and in the yearly OSA conventions. She has the charisma, charm and expressive energy to act in the dramas on stage. Her performance in “Patent medicine” a famous Odia drama is unforgettable.  Many of us  still cherish the memory of that drama.  She got the prestigious Kalashree award at the Convention in Dallas (2004) for her contribution to arts from OSA. Hard work and commitment is always needed to perform on the stage.  She did it repeatedly without any hesitation.

Great acting happens when both the inner and outer self are portrayed at the same time, which she mastered well

Although she did not go to any school to learn acting and music, she comes across as a confident artist when she is on the stage. She is highly imaginative, which is obviously one of the biggest and most important traits to be a performer on stage.  She constantly assesses herself as a performer and tries to improve on her acting, which we have all witnessed. Great acting happens when both the inner and outer self are portrayed at the same time, which she mastered well.  As an OSA member in our community, she has attended almost all the conventions and participated in the drama and music functions. It is a testament to her incredible dedication to music, drama and to OSA.  Her contribution to Odia music and dramas in the beginning were extremely important for the newly immigrant Odia population. Because of the dedication and hard work from people like her we enjoyed our music and drama in which we grew up. It satisfied our nostalgic hankering to listen to our music and see dramas that we grew up with.

One prominent thing we all see in her is her determination to continue pushing forward in any situation. Despite what others believe or what current circumstances continue to throw up at her, she moves forward. Long before she encountered the obstacle of her health problem she built a network of support with younger people from our New York - New Jersey community.  People believe in her vision. She is surrounded by the people who love her, her music and wish to perform on stage. They are all encouraged by her and are determined to keep going with her vision, which is to keep Odia dramas and music alive in North America. This shows how much she has influenced our people and how to be a great leader in  our community.

People believe in her vision. She is surrounded by the people who love her, her music and wish to perform on stage.

We, as the OSA community, should look to Mrs. Lata Misra for inspiration to chase our dreams and to do what we really enjoy. After all, creativity coupled with passion is the key to unlocking one’s inner self. She has established Odissi, champu and chhanda (Odia traditional music)  in the USA, which is not an easy task. We are all grateful to her for her contribution.

Lastly I must say that I enjoyed and appreciate the opportunity I received to write about her here. My heartfelt thanks to Lata and to our editors.

Chandra has this to say about her writing, “As a young child I was always conjuring up stories and filling them with colorful characters, sharing them with anyone who would listen. My first anecdotal story was published in OSA Journal for which I am always indebted to the editors of the Journal. Since then, I’ve progressed quite a bit to formulating longer and more complex stories about people, their experience and sharing them with much larger audiences. As a storyteller, I’m adept at using my imaginative and creative flair to bring my stories to life in engaging and entertaining ways.” Visit Chandra’s blog https://www.chandramisra.com

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Chandra for penning the inspirational life story of Mrs Lata Mishra. This is an excellent idea of the editors. The stories will serve as a lamp of hope and abiding joy lighting up the path for OSA families. Mrs Lata Mishra is not only beautiful on the outside but also on the inside.
    Wonderfully penned:)

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story.

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