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“My mother taught me an impeccable commitment to art and to life,” says Ashley Lobo

Ashley Lobo on mother's day

On Mother’s Day, the famous choreographer pays a tribute to his mom Celia Lobo, India’s first acclaimed opera singer

As India celebrates Mother’s Day on May 9, Australian-Indian choreographer and educator Ashley Lobo recalls how much joy and inspiration his legendary mother, Celia Lobo imbued his life with. Celia Lobo was India’s first acclaimed opera singer and a renowned theatre director and according to Ashley, the reason why he got into theatre and dance.

He laughs, “What started as a way for my mother to keep me out of trouble, turned into a passion. I slowly began to imbibe her commitment to the arts and it was she who pushed me to do my very best. She also believed in tough love and once refused to pay my college fee because my grades weren’t good enough! Yet she never stopped me from chasing my dreams and stood by me when I wanted to study in Australia.”

Because of his father’s transferrable army job, Ashley and his two siblings stayed with Celia in Mumbai and she worked very hard to supplement the family’s income. Recalls Ashley, “It was a tough time and my mother ended up working as a secretary. But then, her drive, hard work and competence led her to become the CEO of an American bank. Not just that, she was a musical theatre director and also a brilliant Opera singer. She was also a vocal coach, multi-tasked brilliantly and as a single mother, never missed a beat. Her work ethic was completely unquestionable. Amid all this, she even got a foreign degree!”

Ashley is still amazed at the effortless ease with which his mother juggled her corporate, personal and artistic roles. This taught him that with discipline and focus, any goal can be achieved. He says, “My mother always supported my art because musically, she herself had taken the path less taken. And at the age of 19, she taught me the value of hard-earned money and the pride of achieving something on my own merit. I started earning and my first salary was Rs. 1250. For hard work. But I took pride in it and remained grounded this way. When my mother wanted to fund my education in Australia, I refused and instead borrowed Rs. 10000 from her which I paid back in full in 10 months. I imbibed from her, the importance of being self-dependent. I learnt how to survive on my own and to thrive.”

For Ashley, one of his fondest memories is of her practising the oboe at 5 am. Says Ashley, “I remember her telling me that as an opera singer, age had weakened her diaphragm but she could learn something new from the oboe. She said, “You’ll never have enough time. You just have to make time.” He thinks that the one life-altering gift his parents gave him was the freedom to be himself. He says, “They gave me love, space, confidence, and oodles of self-belief. At the same time, they taught me the value of struggling for what I wanted. I learnt from them that more than money, what a child needs is a value system. Add that having a vision for your life is the key to success. I tell my son the same thing. I tell him, he has to earn and work for what he wants from life. Because it is only when you work hard for your success, do you truly value and enjoy it.”