Lag jaa gale ki phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho
Shaayad phir is janam mein mulaaqaat ho na ho
Alas, that final night has come and there can be no more mulaqaat with this Nightingale of India... who gave us this timeless love song in her timeless voice. Bharat Ratna awardee, a gem in the galaxy of Indian music Lata Mangeshkar truly was a gift that India will never cease cherishing. She breathed her last at ripe 92 but she lives as much in her songs as in the hearts of her fans.
Also read: Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar dies at 92
Few singers have evoked the kind of admiration bordering on reverence that she did. Few singers have been put on a pedestal in their lifetime as the near goddess-like stature she acquired. Yet whenever she spoke about her talent or her journey it was with a rare humility. For her admirers which would include all of India, however, no epithet Sakshat Saraswati, goddess of music, Nightingale of India... seemed an exaggeration and no words seemed enough to describe her immeasurable talent. The only possible regret in a life of fulfilment and achievements and honours, she wished to see a Covid free world. The irony of life she herself fell prey to the deadly virus.
Singer of thousands of songs in over 20 languages, it seems hard nay impossible to imagine that back in time someone may have found her voice ‘too thin.’ But as countless stories about her did the rounds so did this one concerning producer Sashadhar Mukherjee and how he found her voice not up to the mark. In fact, anecdotes concerning her life have become as legendary as the singer herself. How the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s eyes turned moist when she sang Aye mere watan ke logon, how her mentor Ghulam Haider’s words “in coming years producers and directors would fall at Lata's feet and beg her to sing in their movies,” proved prophetic. The stories, everyone present at the recording studio wept when she sang Madan Mohan’s Heer for Heer Ranjha or Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s adulatory comment, “Kambakht kabhi besura nahi gaati”, are as endless as her vast repertoire of songs.
If the talent in her was discovered by her father Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, she was further trained in Hindustani classical music by Ustad Aman Ali Khan of Bhindibazaar Gharana, Hers was however a natural god-gifted voice that showed no strain or sign of any effort. Smooth to the point of perfection it delighted us for decades starting from 1940s to 2019 when she released the song “Saugandh Mujhe Is Mitti Ki” as a tribute to the nation. Decade after decade her career as Bollywood’s numero uno playback singer rose to great heights of success. Her songs became an emblem of true love, longing, yearning and even chutzpah as she sang Didi tera devar diwana with a verve and effortless ease. Lending playback to actors half her age, it was as if her voice would never age. To bhajans she lent a rare spiritual yet relatable quality, cajoling listeners to hum along.
If she got a break with a song in a Marathi movie, one of her first big hits in Hindi film industry was Aayega Aanewaala, a song in the movie Mahal (1949). Shankar Jaikishan, Naushad Ali, Sardul Singh Kwatra, Amarnath, Husanlal, Madan Mohan, Laxmikant–Pyarelal and her personal favourite Khayyam, she worked with generations of music composers right up to AR Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj. If with SD Burman she gave us immortal songs like Aaj phir jeene ki tammana hai from Guide with his son RD Burman too she rendered incredibly evergreen numbers such as Tere bina jiya jaaye na, Bahon mein chale aao and Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa toh nahi. Even though it is often considered that RD made his wife Asha Bhonsle sing his best compositions, Lata sang some of Pancham’s most melodious numbers including in his swansong 1942: A Love Story.
Named Hema, the eldest daughter of Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, her siblings, Meena, Asha, Usha, and Hridaynath are all accomplished musicians. While rumours of her rivalry with equally talented sister Asha Bhosle were often rife, the sisters sang many duets such as Mann kyun behka ri behka aadhi raat ko (Utsav) and theirs has always been a close-knit family. Many of those who knew her at close quarters would remember her as woman in pristine white saree glittering in diamonds. But nothing shone brighter than her voice.
Meri awaz hi pehchaan hai....an identity that can never get lost in corridors of time or eclipsed by ever changing trends of Bollywood music. In one of her interviews she may have expressed doubts about her legacy surviving among attention deficit future generations, but her songs in which she unfailingly breathed life and soul, clearly possess a life beyond measure or mortal parameters.
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