Memories shine. As a young, inexperienced journalist, I was terrified when first asked to interview Lata Mangeshkar and cover her concert. This was 35 years ago in Jaipur, and since she was not holding a press conference, one tried to contact her at Govindji’s temple, to make sure her prayers were not interrupted.
The interview never happened, although he nodded his head and smiled when asked a random question. That gesture was worth a pot of gold, and writing about the concert was a silver lining. Even today, his rendition of Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna from Guide (1965) and Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai from Anarkali (1953) lags behind.
An era has ended. Several incidents come to mind, as his enormous impact on millions of fans is remembered. Every fan has their own Lata Mangeshkar stories which they can narrate to generations. It could be about watching Nutan or Nargis on the big screen, syncing their impeccable voice. This could be Amin Sayani making his song debut on Radio Ceylon. It could be love for the initial crush, Ikraar hua, secluded night in the moon again, or in a happy mood I said, it could be humming with Phoolan.
It could be listening to Mogra Phula in Marathi or Pa Ma Ga Re Sa in Bengali. It could be of a live performance, with Anil Mohile conducting the orchestra. You heard his Vande Mataram on Independence Day and Ae Malik Tere Bande Hum in school prayers. Antakshari, Wedding, Festivals, Pooja, Train travel, Sad moments, Fans knew a Lata song for every occasion.
My own admiration could have started earlier. I remember, as a child, listening to Tera Jaana (Anari, 1959), O Sajna (Parakh, 1960) and Rahe Na Rahe Hum (Mamata, 1966) on the radio without knowing who sang them. The people around me liked him, and I liked him too. Growing up, Ek heard more Lata songs in Bobby (1973) and Abhimaan (1973), besides developing other favorite singers in Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh.
Most people born in the early 1960s listened to later releases of Creeper, as well as search for older gems. Rajnigandha Phool Tumre (Rajnigandha, 1974), Tere Bina Zindagi (Aandhi, 1975) and You will come together in such decisions (Shankar Hussain, 1977), Aane Wala (Mahal, 1949), Yun Hasraton Ke Daag (Adalat, 1958) or Awiji Dastaan (Dil Apna and Preet Parai, 1960). The year never mattered. The songs will be loved by 12 year olds, middle aged people and senior citizens. While watching movies in theaters or on television, one simply admired how her voice suited every heroine.
Many of us became staunch fans of Lata, collecting her songs on cassettes, and jotting down the details of co-singers, music directors and lyricists. Long before the advent of the Internet, people used to discuss the ragas sung by him, or his non-film projects such as the 1991 ghazal album, Sajda with Jagjit Singh with Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan or RD Burman. Every detail will be appreciated and analyzed. His melody, range, diction, perfection. Today, it is a different world of instant Google knowledge, WhatsApp groups, YouTube links and personalized playlists, where one has learned things that one cannot even imagine. The frequency of earworms has not changed.
Being a staunch fan, was confused even while taking up the job of a music journalist. Whenever I was asked to speak to her, the first reaction would be panic, often a story that she was not available. All kinds of fears started pouring into my mind – who would I be to ask her something, how would she react, if I said something she didn’t like, what if I inadvertently quoted her incorrectly?
It was only after a decade, after the Jaipur concert, that I had the opportunity to interview Lataji. I would have loved to visit him at his Prabhu Kunj residence in Mumbai, but I was nervous. When told that she prefers to have telephone conversations, it came as a small relief. The article was on the biggest musical highlights in the 50 years of independence, and told some wonderful anecdotes, especially detailing the logo of Ae Mere Watan, written by poet Pradeep and composed by C Ramachandra after the 1962 Indo-China war. .
I met him in 2001 during the launch of the Saregama HMV album, Meera Sur Kabira featuring him and Roopkumar Rathod, and was composed by his brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar. The nerves gradually disappeared, as she was very relaxed and apathetic. The organizers insisted that I only ask questions about the album, nothing else. When I told her, she laughed, and said in Hindi, “He is doing his work, you are doing your work, I will do my work. Ask me anything, but it should be about the music.”
In 2004, I wanted to talk to him on the music of Veer-Zaara, where the late Madan Mohan’s unpublished music was modified by his son Sanjeev Kohli. I didn’t hear from the film team for a week when I suddenly got a call that Lataji was ready to speak in the next five minutes. I had just left the meeting, and was on my way to the bus stop. Upon getting a bench, I started interviewing him from there, shoving notes into all that traffic noise. A senior gentleman listened to me, and waited for me to finish. When I told him who it was, he couldn’t believe it, but soon he started his own Lata Mangeshkar story.
He came from a different generation, and was a teenager when Lata rose to fame with Barsaat and Mahal in 1949. Though he heard the song as soon as it was released, Lataji meant as much to him as it meant to people my age. That’s what his immortal voice means to the youth in talent shows. Clearly, Lata Mangeshkar represents purity, timelessness and eternity like no other.
did you know
The 1974 edition of The Guinness Book of Records listed Lata Mangeshkar as the most recorded artist. But this claim was opposed by his partner Mohammad Rafi. Mangeshkar’s name was listed in this book till 1991, but Rafi’s claim was also mentioned.
did you know
Early in her career, Lata Mangeshkar’s mentor Ghulam Haider introduced her to producer Sasadhar Mukherjee. The producers, who were making Shaheed (1948), categorically rejected him because his voice was “too thin”.