- ‘India’s Nightingale’ has quenched the thirst of her soul. As I listen to her sing “Ayega, ayega, ayega aanewala,” the haunting composition by Khemchand Prakash from the film “Mahal,” I don’t know when another like her will be reborn.
“Naam gum jajyega, chehra yeh badal jayega.
Meri aawaaz hi pehchaan hai, gar yaad rahe.”
The song from the movie “Kinara,” penned by none other than Gulzar and set to music by R.D. Burman has become eponymous with Lata Mangeshkar. Today, all of us are listening to her song and trying to find her essence through her melodious notes. Lata Mangeshkar (born September 28, 1929), the nightingale of India merged with the Goddess Saraswati on 6th January 2021. She was 92 years, with a career that spanned almost eight decades. Lata didi (as she was fondly known) redefined Indian playback singing, pursued music as an avid student and ultimately became a part of Indian consciousness.
Lata’s paternal grandfather was the abhishekam priest at the Mangueshi Shiva temple in Goa. Her father Deenanath Mangeshkar had a company that performed Sangeet Natak (Musical Plays). Lata was the oldest of five siblings. They were brought up in a conservative Maharashtrian household. Her father selected their clothes. Her mother Shevanti Mangeshkar was a housewife and wore a nine-yard saree. The girls oiled and plaited their hair and applied kumkum.
Musical notes entered her core probably in her mother’s womb. She sang, unknown to her father, perched on a utensil stand in her mother’s kitchen. At five years of age, she corrected her father’s student, practicing an evening raga, while her father was away. Her father heard her and initiated her singing lessons the next morning with the very same raga. Lata had a very high-pitched Soprano voice. She was inspired by Noor Jehan and Kundan Lal Saigal at a young age.
Lata sang her first solo on stage with her father when she was nine, and during the performance, while her father sang, went to sleep with her head in his lap. After that music became akin to breathing for her. Her first song was recorded when she was 14 for a Marathi movie called “Kiti Hasaal,” but the song was canned from the film’s final cut.
When her father succumbed to heart disease., Lata became the sole breadwinner of her family. She took small acting roles in Master Vinayak’s films to earn money. She could not afford the luxury of pursuing classical music so playback singing was her medium of choice. One of her mentors (her Godfather), Ghulam Haider introduced Lata to Shashadhar Mukherjee the owner of Filmistan studio, for a playback song, but he dismissed Lata’s voice as “too thin.”
Haider took this to heart and launched her career. Haider gave Lata her first major break with the song “Dil Mera Toda, Mujhe Kahin Ka Na Chhora”— her first big breakthrough film hit. He is known to have said that the director’s will “fall at Lata’s feet” and “beg her” to sing. The words proved prophetic and Lata recorded more than 24,000 songs. She was showered with Dada Saheb Phalke award Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, and Bharat Ratna in 2001.
Lata acknowledged that her voice was a “God gift” but she honed her talent by hours of practice, learning Urdu to master enunciation and pronunciation of poetic lyrics written by noted poets and set to music by Madan Mohan, Naushad, R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman and A.R. Rahman. As she sang her pitch, range, versatility waxed prolific. She sold tens of millions of records.
While Lata enthralled her listeners, she prayed every time she entered the recording studio with her bare feet. She knew that it was important to abstain from eating pickles, spicy food, etc., to protect her mellifluous voice. She compensated by singing for more hours to keep her larynx open and tuned. She did not listen to her own songs because she was such a perfectionist. She learned that it was important for her to understand, feel and live her songs.
No wonder, her songs are soul-stirring. In the studio she sat from morning to evening alone, not going to the canteen for a cup of tea or snack. After recording, she saved money from her commute to buy fresh vegetables for her family. She took it in her stride, setting an example for her siblings who followed in her footsteps. Asha Bhosale and Usha Mangeshkar her sisters are amazing playback singers and her brother Hridayanath Mangeshkar is a music composer.
When I was five years old her songs “Lag Ja gale… and Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai, and Aiyega aane wall, aayega…” used to play on the radio on Binaca Geetmala. Later I practiced “Mein to kab se khadi is paar.” I sang the notes and sang some more. Listening to her notes. Pausing to focus on how and when she breathed. But we could never reach the purity in her voice.
We all sang her songs at family get-togethers, karaoke nights and wedding functions. My father wept like a baby at her patriotic song: “Aye mere watan ke logon” and my mother smiled at my dad when we sang “Kora kagaz tha yeh man mera.” My eyes welled up with joy when my daughter sang a homage to Lata: “Piya tose naina laage re, Aji rooth kar ab kahan jayiga and Luka chhupi bahut hui” set to music by A.R. Rahman for which she stood in the recording studio for eight hours.
Who can forget the fun duet with Mukesh: “Sawan ka Mahina, pawan kare sor”? Or “Dil tadap, tadap ke kah raha hai aa bhi jaa..” with Dilip Kumar and Vyjanthimala from the film “Madhumati,” set to music by Salil Choudahary. (I have heard my father hum it to my mother). My friend’s favorite was “Ajeeb Daastan hai yeh from Dil Apna aur Preet parayi.”
Millennials can never forget: “Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam, pyaar hota hai diwana sanam” from “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” Lata certainly inspired and will continue to inspire thousands of dedicated singers and Hindustani music lovers all over the globe. I remember the days when I had to make a necessary stop at the Rhythm House in Bombay to buy Lata’s gold CDs. Now we play her songs on Spotify.
The Melody Queen was a private person and never married. In her dedication to music, Lata kept all negative energies at bay. She once said in an interview that it is important to find happiness and fulfillment within yourself before getting married. While many will claim one or many of Lata didi’s songs as their favorite. Lata’s melody that reached the ears of Mother Saraswati were “Allah tero naam, ishwar tero naam.” On the other hand the song that played on the turntable of Lata’s soul was: “Ae dile nadaan, aarzoo kya hai, justaju kya hai. Hum bhatakte hain. Kyun bhatakte hain. Aisa lagta hai mauj pyasi hai apne dariya mein.” The lyrics were penned by Jan Nisar Akhtar and recorded for the movie Razia Sultan in 1983.
I hope and pray that this legendary artist has quenched the thirst of her soul. I am listening to the haunting composition by Khemchand Prakash from the film “Mahal”: “Ayega, ayega, ayega aanewala,” but don’t know when another like her will be reborn.
Lata is immortal.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published many poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.