A few weekends ago I was listening to a website of Indian music (http://www.dhingana.com/) and especially their Hindi Oldies section. I adore songs from the old B&W Indian movies of the 1950s and 60s. My long-suffering family knows my idea of a perfect take-away evening is to recreate the background music of the restaurant, but usually a bit louder and with less modern (as in bland) songs. You have to find those songs from somewhere.

Then it occurred to me that I didn’t have enough names behind the songs. What I mean is that I wouldn’t be so crass as to watch a BBC documentary about Glam Rock without knowing the difference between David Bowie and The Sweet. Whereas you could have summed up what I knew about Indian music artists into one reference – that indie song by Cornershop called “Brimful of Asha”.

At least I knew the person in reference is Asha Bhosle, who was best known as a playback singer in Hindi cinema. A playback singer makes prerecorded songs for use in the Bollywood movies. The actors or actresses then lip-sync the song lyrics during those wonderful song and/or dance routines that zing with joy or pathos. In fact, “Dhingana” is a  Marathi word that means joy, zeal and frenzy. That sums it up, right enough.

Playback singers worked really hard.  So hard that the Guinness Book of Records (2011) acknowledged Asha Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history. Ever. She’s done the singing on over a thousand movies.

Now, it turns out (a) that Asha has an older sister, and (b) that many of the songs I like but didn’t know the artist were sung by her. Her name is Lata Mangeshkar, and she was also a playback singer.

But it isn’t all about the singers. Those actresses were eye-catching too. There’s Suchitra Sen for example, an Indian actress who has acted in many Bengali films. Possibly the most surreal plot-line of any of them is “Deep Jweley Jai” (1959). It means “to light a lamp”. She plays a nurse who is working for the R.D. Laing of Indian psychiatry, and many of his cures for patients involve Suchitra forming a personal relationship. With this one guy, for example, who is diagnosed as having an unresolved Oedipal complex, she has to impersonate his mother. But in a more loving sort of way than usual. If all this sounds like a bad porn movie plot, I refer you immediately to the year it was made. It’s as chaste as anything. But it is full of partly-lit and shadowy cinematograhy and she looks stunning in those close-ups. In a word – iconic.

They all look iconic, these singers and actresses.

Most of these women are still alive, and now in their 80s. For myself, I was pleased with my web surfing on that Sunday evening, and knew that I had some great Hindi songs to listen to as well as a better grasp of who was behind the music and the films.

On that same evening of October 28, an Indian woman died in the same hospital where I was born. Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old. It isn’t difficult to do a quick search for the news details. The basics are that she had a miscarriage. Because (allegedly) there was a foetal heartbeat, she was denied a termination. Because her cervix was dilated she suffered septicemia and organ failure led to her death. She seems to have been denied basic Christian charity in a “Catholic country”.

When the pictures of Savita appeared next to the awful news, they too seemed iconic. Just iconic for the wrong reasons.

Many people in Ireland (and the diaspora) were shocked and angry. Personally, I was angry to read that a symposium on maternal healthcare in Dublin a month earlier had concluded that abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of a mother. As you might imagine, the Pro-Life mob had a field day with that. I was also dismayed to see several Labour politicians had voted last April against a Bill on Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman because (I can only presume) it was put before Parliament by the other side. You don’t have to read back too far in this blog to know I’m no fan of Sinn Fein either; but what happened to all those campaigns I took part in during the 1970s that were all about the issue, not who had proposed or seconded it?

The symposium in Dublin got some of its scientific respectability from the eminent doctors who spoke there. One of them has worked in Galway for decades. It was sobering to me when I talked about the Savita case with my mother: she reminded me I was a difficult birth (a breech who kept turning back the wrong way, no matter what they did – nothing changes). Without prompting, she tore into the same eminent gynecologist. Her feeling was that he saw women suffering as part of some Divine glory, and that they should endure it. Strong stuff, and coming from a pensioner not some snotty young Leftie.

Maybe I write these stupid posts as a form of catharsis. Maybe it’s to let out the anger of the fuck cancer / why me? But I want to turn back the clock many years and tell immigrants such as Savita and her husband: there’s a reason why so many of us have emigrated from that Island, and it isn’t all to do with economics. Too late now for her.