The one Indian, political leaders and military heroes notwithstanding, fully deserving of the title of Bharat Ratna, Lata Mangeshkar built a monument of love, which will last forever
BY MEGHNAD DESAI: The writer is a Labour member of the House of Lords in the British Parliament, an economist and a Hindi film buff
Khuda nigehbaan ho tumhara, dhadakte dil ka salaam le lo
Tumhari duniya se jaa rahe hain, utho hamara salaam le lo
These immortal lines penned by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by Naushad, in the final scenes of Mughal-e-Azam, were memorably sung by Lata Mangeshkar through the persona of Anarkali (played by Madhubala) as she leaves a drugged Salim (played by Dilip Kumar). They were most apt to recall as news came of Lata’s demise. They did not confer the Bharat Ratna on Dilip Kumar for obvious reasons.
But they did confer it on Lata. Sadly, the time has come to do what she urged in that song — get up and salute her in a final farewell.
For me, she is the only one of all Indians, political leaders and military heroes notwithstanding, fully deserving of the title of Bharat Ratna. Who else has given us undiluted pleasure with songs which have filled our lives (at least my life) for 75 years as we have heard, recalled and in our own croaking voices sung them when alone or in groups, when sad or happy? Who else has provided such constant company, free of any demand, for all of our lives? Who has lived modestly, without ego or tantrums, and delivered service to her profession, her industry, to music and to India on a comparable scale?
The Hindi/Hindustani film industry (Bollywood) is probably the best-known global industry of India. Not just the diaspora, all of South and South-East Asia, a lot of Black Africa and the Caribbean enjoy its music. (I once had a Tunisian taxi driver in New York singing his version of Hindi film songs!) Raj Kapoor took Awara to the communist world and made the Russians sing “Awara hoon…” These films are meant for people within and beyond India who may not grasp Hindi/Hindustani but can still be entertained. It is film at its most innovative and most communicative.
In this industry, Lata was without doubt the central figure over seven decades. I recall her songs in the mid-1940s when I was a boy of five or six. She began singing then in her early teens as the only financial support for her family. There were the great gharana singers, Johrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Noor Jahan, Suraiya and Shamshad Begum who held sway. When a 13-year-old girl from the Marathi/Konkani Goan community (there is a Mangeshkar family temple in Goa) began to sing, few could imagine that within 10 years she would surpass them all.
In the early days, you could hear people speak of her dismissively. Her voice was too thin, too shrill. Her Urdu accent was laughable. Listen to her early hit, “Sajan Ki Galiyan Chhod Chale” (Bazaar, music by Shyam Sundar), and you hear a halting voice, each word enunciated slowly yet sweetly. The duet with Rafi “Ae Mohabbat Unse Milne Ka Bahana Ban Gaya” in the same film became a hit too. That was 1945. By 1948, in Mehboob Khan’s classic film, Andaz, you can hear “Tod Diya Dil Mera” or “Uthaye Ja Unke Sitam” with faultless Urdu diction. This was due to Naushad taking her in hand and telling her what he required of her.
From then on, Lata was the lead playback singer for the next three decades at the least. Naushad quickly dropped Shamshad Begum after Mela and with Lata made Babul, Aan, Deedar, Amar, Baiju Bawra, Ganga Jamuna, Shabab, and many other films. When Shankar-Jaikishan emerged in the late 1940s with Barsaat, Lata sang every song for Nimmi and for Nargis as well as the first song, “Hawa Mein Udta Jaaye”, for a minor actress. Barsaat was a mega hit with “Barsaat Me”, “Mujhe Kisi Se Pyar Ho Gaya”, “Bichhde Huye Pardesi” plus the duet with Mukesh, “Chhod Gaye Baalam”.
During her career, Lata sang for every music director (except famously for O.P. Nayyar who stuck to Asha Bhonsle, Geeta Dutt and Shamshad Begum). Madan Mohan composed his best songs for her including the three unforgettable ghazals in Adalat and the haunting “Lag Jaa Gale” from Woh Kaun Thee. And then C. Ramchandra composed “Dheere Se Aaja Ankhiyan Mein Nindiya”. It is a lullaby to which hundreds of us have been put to sleep.
A remarkable thing was that while Lata gave her best to every music director she worked for, she often produced a special voice for each of them and also for each heroine she was singing for. Her “Rasik Balma Hay Dil Kyon Lagaya” from Chori Chori (Shankar-Jaikishan) for Nargis is different from “Kaanto Se Kheench Ke Ye Aanchal” from Guide (S.D. Burman) for Waheeda Rehman but immensely popular. They are complex melodies.
Lata was versatile. Be it solo, duet, chorus (“Aaj Mere Man Mein Sakhi”, Aan), nightclub songs, mujra songs (Pakeezah), she sang
them to perfection. But, above all, you were struck by her simplicity, her modesty and her devotion to her family.
The nation will never forget her rendering of Pradipji’s “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo, Zara Aankh Me Bharlo Paani, Jo Shaheed Hue Hai Unki, Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani”. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was moved to tears on that occasion. Lata was singing for us all and for the nation.
It behoves us to say Lata Mangeshkar Amar Rahe. She has guaranteed her immortality herself. As she sang as Anarkali in an earlier film, Anarkali (Bina Rai/music C. Ramchandra), as the heroine was being entombed:
“Isse Mazaar Mat Kaho, Ye Mahal Hai Pyaar Ka.”
She has built a monument of love, which will last forever