Farewell Ishmeet, voice of India, say tens of thousands

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Ludhiana/Male, July 31 (IANS) Singing sensation Ishmeet Singh's body was consigned to the flames here Thursday as tens of thousands of mourners braved a stampede-like situation to bid farewell to the "Voice of India" whose journey to stardom was cut short by a mysterious death.

Even as Bollywood celebrities like Abhijeet, Mika and Shreya Ghoshal descended here to pay their last respects to the 19-year-old singer, who many predicted had the makings of a star crooner, commoners also turned up in force, virtually bringing this industrial city to a standstill.

As the singer's body made its way to the cremation grounds, security personnel and close relatives had to appeal to the crowds with folded hands to give way.

The singer, who drowned in a swimming pool in the Maldives Tuesday, had become so popular in just a few months that his funeral was televised live by some TV news channels.

Many noted that Ishmeet's face looked as composed as it used to be when he was on stage in the midst of tight situations during the "Voice of India" reality contest last year.

When singer Abhijeet embraced a shattered Gurpinder Singh, Ishmeet's father, there was hardly an eye that did not glisten with tears. The pyre was lit by Ishmeet's father amidst the Sikh religious cry "Bole so nihal Sat Sri Akal" and shouts of "Ishmeet Amar Rahe" (Long live Ishmeet).

Gajendra Singh, the man behind most of the cusscessful realities shows on Indian TV, including "Voice of India", popular Punjabi singers Hans Raj Hans and Harbhajan Mann, Ishmeet's co-contestants and several others also turned up for the cremation.

Earlier, as the body made its last journey from his home to the cremation ground here Thursday, commoners and celebrities turned up in force to bid a tearful farewell to the "Voice of India" singing contest winner organised by STAR TV.

Mystery still surrounds his death in the swimming pool of a Maldives hotel, but that he was much loved was evident from the presence of thousands of mourners, among them Bollywood singers and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Residents of this city couldn't help but remember how they had turned out with drums, crackers and sweets to celebrate Ishmeet's ascent as the winner of the "Voice of India" show in November that had millions hooked.

"I cannot believe he is no more. His face had a look of satisfaction. I felt that he would just get up and start singing in his sweet voice again. God has not been fair in giving him so much in life and then snatching that life in a second," said Rajbir Singh, a resident of Sarabha Nagar who had come to Ishmeet's modest home.

Shops in the area remained closed for the second day as a mark of respect to Ishmeet.

Earlier in the morning, as the reality show singer lay in a glass coffin at his modest residence here, people known and unknown to him came for a last glimpse of the youth who had risen from among them to become a star.

Ishmeet's family - father Gurpinder Singh, mother Amritpal Kaur and sister - were inconsolable even as scores of mourners kept pouring in. They sat beside his body even as preparations for the last rites were being made amidst religious hymns and chants of "Satnam Wahe Guru".

Doctors at the Civil Hospital here said that preliminary autopsy results showed Ishmeet had died of drowning Tuesday evening.

"The preliminary cause of Ishmeet Singh's death is drowning. His viscera has been sent to Patiala for further chemical examination. If there is any additional cause of death, it will be declared later," senior medical officer Harvinder Singh told reporters.

However, hours before he was scheduled to get a state funeral, Ishmeet's uncle Charan Kamal Singh said injury marks on the forehead and chest and the budding singer's swollen face had aroused suspicion that he may have been murdered.

"His death is not an accident alone. It could be part of a conspiracy. We want the matter investigated thoroughly. The governments of India and Maldives and the Punjab government should be involved in this investigation," Ishmeet's uncle told reporters here.

The 19-year-old singer had gone to the Maldives for a promotional event with the music company with which he had a contract. Ishmeet left Mumbai Tuesday morning for the Maldives, where he was to perform Aug 1. However, he drowned in a swimming pool.

Maldives' national newspaper Haveeru quoted officials from the Chaaya Dhonveli Beach Resort as saying that Ishmeet had drowned between 5.15 p.m. and 5.20 p.m. Tuesday in the hotel's swimming pool.

"He went into the swimming pool with a couple of his friends in the afternoon," Marlon Robert, assistant manager of the resort, said.

"None of them knew how to swim so he was using the baby (shallow) swimming pool. Since he didn't know how to swim we had advised him not to use the big pool. Somehow or other he ended up in the big pool. When he couldn't get out of it his friends apparently went looking for help," Robert added as he spoke to the newspaper in Maldives' capital Male.

The Haveeru report quoted the Maldives Police Service saying that Ishmeet's body was immediately brought to the ADK Hospital in Male after the incident. The doctor who had attended to him said that the cause of death seemed to be drowning. Police said they were conducting investigations.

On Nov 24, 2007, Ishmeet had won the "Voice of India" singing contest, pipping to the post his closest rival Harshit from Uttar Pradesh in a keen contest. He was given the winner's trophy by melody queen Lata Mangeshkar.

Supporters of the singer had voted heavily for him from Punjab during the finals of the contest. Though Harshit led the votes tally in most regions of the country, the final count went in Ishmeet's favour due to heavy voting from Punjab.

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