The Voice has left. After intermittent scares about her fluctuating health, it was as if our breath had been snatched away too – as soon as it was disclosed that she had passed away at the age of 92 at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, where she had been rushed to be kept under observation for pneumonia and COVID-19.
Mortality is as inevitable as a setting sun. Lata Mangeshkar, variously described as the Nightingale of India, Didi, and the Queen of Melody, was that constant, a faithful companion in the stretching hours of solitude and anxiety – be it in joyous times or the ongoing pandemic, cutting across at least three generations.
To call her a legend or icon, would be just another hackneyed epithet. She was greater than that: a householder to an extended family, a warrior against the recording studios who grudged playback singers their due share in copyright, a lone combatant whenever she had been done wrong by the highest echelons of the music industry, and a single woman who scripted the rules, be it at her forever-modest home in Prabhu Kunj Apartments on Peddar Road or at the male-dominated recording studios.
Born In Indore, she was the eldest of the five children of Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, a Marathi and Konkani classical musician-plus-theatre actor and his second wife Shevanti. Called Hema at the outset, she was renamed Lata after Latika, a character in her father’s play Bhav Bandhan. On the Pandit’s death after a heart seizure, family friend and studio owner Master Vinayak initially guided the 13-year-old towards a film acting and singing career.
On moving to Bombay, she was trained in Hindustani classical music by Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhindi Bazaar gharana. Ghulam Haider mentored her but she was rejected from film song recordings, her voice being dismissed as “too thin” by a studio baron. And when Dilip Kumar remarked that her accent was too Maharashtrian, she learnt the intricate nuances of Urdu. The struggle to break through persisted till she recorded Ghulam Haider’s Dil Toda Mujhe Kahin Ka Na Chhoda for Majboor (1948) featuring Munnawar Sultana, and Khemchand Prakash’s Aayega Aanewala from the ghost film Mahal (1949), picturised on Madhubala.
Her swift ascent to superstardom and longevity in sustaining her artistry are the stuff that legends are made of. Any retelling of the Lata Mangeshkar comprehensively – my inadequacy – would be gratuitous. As a journalist, though, I had the privilege of interviewing her countless times. She would be guarded, polite and would occasionally reveal a few scant unknown factoids.
Out of sheer respect, I could never bring myself to asking her about her constantly whispered secret marriage to the late Rajsingh of Dungarpur, with whom she shared an avid interest in cricket. He would accompany her on world tours. During one at the Madison Square Gardens in New York, where I was present, I could sense theirs was an intimacy of close friends. Beyond that, conjectures would be scurrilous.
Of all the interviews, I cherish the one that had been commissioned by editor Pritish Nandy for the book Peerless Minds (Harper Collins), conducted in two sessions over the landline phone. Although 90 by then, her voice was as silken-smooth and forthright as ever. At the end of the parlez-nous I wondered, as a fanboy, if I could drop by at her apartment some day for a remembrance selfie. She replied that she would let me know. That never happened. At best, then, at her departure now I can merely recall excerpts from that last conversation.
Do you ever reflect on your achievements over seven decades? Are there gnawing thoughts – khwaishen aur bhi baaki hain? (any desires left?) Or is there a sense of contentment and satisfaction?
Lata Mangeshkar: I do not consider myself as a reflective, brooding person. I would just end up tying myself in knots. Time has gone by in a blur, the beginnings seem just like yesterday. Today there’s that instinct to do more. No singer can stop because of one’s age or the drastic shifts in taste and trends in music. Since you’ve asked me the question about whether I do reflect, I would say there’s an overriding feeling of immense gratitude.
Gratitude above all to Bhagwan, to my father, to my gurus and to the nation which showed me the way to pursue whatever I have done with diligence and shraddha (faith). Many artistes forget their debts to those who showed them the path, success alas breeds forgetfulness. Gratitude keeps an artiste grounded, enticing him or her to hang on to hope. There is no point in wallowing in the past. Only a narcissist would wallow in the past, ignoring the todays and tomorrows.
I would like to continue singing till my voice gives up on me. Singing is all that I know.
Then why don’t we hear more of you either in films or in niche recordings – be it the genres of the classical, devotional music, and ghazals?
Lata Mangeshkar: Is that a question to ask? Sangeet filmon mein raha hi nahin (Music has vanished from the movies). As for classical music, it continues to be the way it was.
My generation’s kind of film music has come to a full stop. Film-makers and composers actually tell me, “The market has changed. The youth wants an entirely different sort of music and entertainment.” With the advance of technology, synthesisers and digital effects have replaced expert instrumentalists and orchestral back-up support. The vocals are often so hurricane-paced that the lyrics can be barely deciphered. The human factor is secondary. Machine-made sounds and voice-tweaking have become paramount.
Instead of straining my ears to figure out what the new millennium music is all about, I have stopped listening even to the chartbusters. I don’t mean to sound supercilious at all. I have also stopped listening to my own songs and the vintage film hits of my colleagues.
I believe there is an ever-enlarging listenership for the melodies of yore, the bhule bisre geet (forgotten songs),which is not surprising. Clearly, the yesteryear songs were special, and superior if I may say so. I abstain from replaying my songs because that would be far too self-indulgent. It would be like saying, “See people, I am now thriving in the past, on the Sunset Boulevard of my mind.”
You don’t listen to music at all?
Lata Mangeshkar: No, no, to come to that stage I would have to cut off my ears. Whenever the mood grabs me, I listen to the ghazals of Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali, and the classical vocals of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Amir Khan.
I couldn’t sing in the pure classical form since I was steeped in film music. Ideally, I should have been able to sing in the popular and classical idioms simultaneously.
What stopped you?
Lata Mangeshkar: Circumstances. My father (Deenanath Mangeshkar) was a Natya sangeet musician, a Hindustani classical vocalist and a Marathi theatre actor. Following a heart ailment, he passed away in 1942 when I was 13. I used to act in his plays ever since I was four or five years old.
Left fatherless, I was the family’s eldest child who had to take the lead in making ends meet at home. Our close family friend, film producer Master Vinayak – the father of Baby Nanda who became a top heroine – helped me to get film roles. I would end up playing the sister of the hero or the heroine. Pahili Mangalagaur (1942), Subhadra (1946), and Mandir (1948) were some of the films I acted in, but my heart wasn’t into acting at all.
You were diffident about the camera gaze?
Lata Mangeshkar: Surprisingly, I was quite confident before the camera. It was just that I hated acting. I felt like a doll on being told, “Abhi tum hanso, abhi tum aansoo bahao” (“Now you laugh, now you shed tears”). In a manner of speaking, it was like switching a tube light off and on within me. Moreover, I hated applying make-up, especially lipstick. Since films were in black and white then, a heavy coat of lipstick had to be applied. Ever since I stopped acting, I have never used lipstick again.
Your first major breaks were with the film songs – Dil Mera Toda from Majboor (1948) composed by Ghulam Haider, Aayega Aanewala from Mahal (1949) by Khemchand Prakash, and as many as nine songs including Hawa Mein Udta Jaaye, Jiya Beqaraar Hai and Chhod Gaye Baalam from Barsaat (1949) by Shankar-Jaikishen.
Lata Mangeshkar: I lucked out. Those opportunities were a godsend. Ghulam Haider saab had tremendous faith in me. He made me sing for Majboor, although quite a few filmmakers had been sceptical. I had sung a couple of songs for a film called Love Is Blind, which wasn’t ever released I think. A Pathan man, a junior artiste supplier, had noticed me and began recommending me to film-makers. However, Sashadhar Mukherjee dismissed my voice as “too thin.” The music directors believed otherwise. Without those opportunities, there would have been no Lata Mangeshkar.
Around the same time, Uthaye Jaa Unke Sitam and Koi Mere Dil Mein were given to me by Naushad saab for Andaz (1949), the classic triangular love story with Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Nargis directed by Mehboob Khan.
Once the songs of Andaz and Aayega Aanewala became big hits, I began to get recognised. Before this, I was known by name only in some parts of Maharashtra, because of my non-film songs – geets and devotionals.
At the time of Mahal, playback singers weren’t acknowledged in the film’s credit titles or on the 78 rpm records. The film’s records mentioned the singer’s name as Kamini, the name of the character played by Madhubala. This wasn’t at the bidding of the film’s director Kamal Amrohi. It was the custom followed by the record producers HMV. When I had sung for the Marathi film Gajabhau (1943), I hadn’t been credited either. Immediately after Aayega Aanewaala, the moviegoing audience, radio listeners as well as film-makers started asking, “But who is the girl who did the playback?” I started getting requests from radio stations to sing for them.
Were you shy to demand acknowledgement in the film’s credit titles and on record labels?
Lata Mangeshkar: Do I seem shy to you? Without any hesitation, I requested Raj Kapoor to give due credit to all the playback singers. When we sing for the heroine and the hero, why should their characters’ names be mentioned instead of ours? The lyrics by Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra had been acknowledged as a matter of course. Raj Kapoor agreed right away and highlighted the credits for the songs lip-synced by Nargis, Nimmi and himself in Barsaat. For the first time, the credit titles and records of Barsaat featured the names of Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh Mathur prominently.
Naushad, without being asked, featured the names of the playback singers for Andaz (1949), Jadoo (1949), and Dulari (1951). I think we deserved a fair deal and it was given to us without a shred of argument.
On YouTube and WhatsApp, video clips have been posted that the song rendered by you – Ghulam Mohammed’s Inhi Logon Ne (Pakeezah, 1972) was pretty much similar to the lyrics and compositions evidenced in Himmat (1941) and Aabroo (1943). Moreover, Naushad’s Mohe Panghat (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960) also has a sound-alike from a thumri recorded earlier by Indubala.
Lata Mangeshkar: I am aware of the Himmat song which was picturised on Yaqub. Inhi Logon Ne is a folk song from Rajasthan. Ghulam Mohammed was from Rajasthan and perhaps felt that it could be given another colour for Pakeezah. While the Aabroo song is in the form of a parody, the one in Pakeezah had a social context, alluding to the sufferance borne by a courtesan. Vis-à-vis Mohe Panghat Par for Mughal-e-Azam, it was possibly adapted by Naushad from a folk song of Gujarat. My job was to sing whatever I was assigned to by Ghulam Mohammed and Naushad, no questions asked. But yes, the two songs you mention have a base in folk music.
In which gharana of classical music would you have liked to evolve specifically?
Lata Mangeshkar: The gharanas into which I was inducted by my gurus obviously. Initially, I learnt classical vocals at the feet of my father. Ever since he was a child of five, he had taken lessons from Baba Malshekar and had become a disciple of the Gwalior gharana. Since he passed away prematurely, my induction into the classical discipline was nipped in the bud as it were.
On 11 June 1945 in Bombay, I was accepted formally as a disciple, a shishya, by Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi Bazaar gharana. Ek gaanth baandhte hain (a knot is tied). As a nazrana, I could offer Rs 1,100 as a token. I was taught Hindustani classical music by him for one, at most two years. He wanted to move away from Bombay, to a calmer place in Pune. He said, “Beta, main jaa raha hoon” (“Child, I am leaving”), and left the same day. I did not know how to react: it was as if I had lost a father again. Datta Davjekar was my next guru, but again it was for a short while.
Would you agree that you were influenced by the style of Noor Jehan?
Lata Mangeshkar: I was compared with her, yes. And I will admit that I did try to copy her style after hearing her songs – Ud Ja Panchhi Ud Jaa and Tu Kaunsi Badli Mein Mere Chand Hai Aaja – composed by Ghulam Haider for Khandaan (1942).
Noor Jehan was a top heroine who rendered her own songs. She had come to Kolhapur for the shooting of Master Vinayak’s Badi Maa (1945). When I was introduced to her I must have been about 14. She sat down on a chair and asked me to sing. I sang a bandish in the Jaijaivanti raga. She seemed to like what she heard, said I should do some more riyaz and wondered if I could attempt a film song before her. I sang Jeena Hai Bekaar Tumhare from a film produced in Calcutta. She liked it wholeheartedly and would call me to sing for her often during the Badi Maa shoot. I could not meet her in Bombay later, because as you know she migrated to Lahore after the partition. Over the years, we did keep in touch over the phone. She would always sound protective and made it a point to call up whenever she liked a film song of mine.
You have sung in practically every Indian language and in every genre. You could have explored the popular Western idiom, too.
Lata Mangeshkar: I could have but the composers – particularly Madan Mohan, Anil Biswas, Salil Chaudhury, SD Burman and Jaidev – had a twist of sobriety in their songs.
I do have a soft corner for some popular Western singers and groups. Like the Beatles are on the top of my playlist – no one compares to them. I have also been fond of Nat King Cole, the tracks by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and Barbra Streisand.
Not Michael Jackson?
Lata Mangeshkar: I guess you have to be young and a dance buff to be a Michael Jackson fan. I’m neither. There are two songs of his though, They Don’t Care About Us Anymore and Black and White, which not only have catchy beats but convey a message against social prejudices.
Would you say that currently, the popularity of a song depends crucially on its video presentation and promotions on social media networks?
Lata Mangeshkar: That’s a sign of the times too. Visuals are as important as the audio now. Our major record companies have packed up. Some have survived like Saregama and Sony but their revenues accrue solely from online sales. The catch is that if anyone does want to buy music online, it can be just one song and not the entire album. Illegal downloading is rampant. The music market, as such, is going, going, gone.
Have you preserved your collection of songs by digitalising them?
Lata Mangeshkar: I have preserved all my vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs, which would be sent to us by the music companies. There isn’t an inch of space left in the house to preserve any more. My grand-nephews and grand-nieces could digitalise the collection for me maybe but I haven’t got around suggesting this to them.
Perhaps they are scared of you?
Lata Mangeshkar: What! You must be joking. If anything, it’s the other way around. See, we’re a family of four sisters and a brother. Asha, Meena, Usha, Hridaynath and I have always been closely knit. Kabhi main naraaz ho jaaon, unko daant doon toh woh sar nahin uthate (If I ever get annoyed and scold them, they don’t lift their faces). We don’t get into arguments. Anyway if I do get annoyed , I cool down in a minute.
What exactly do you get upset about?
Lata Mangeshkar: Oh about absolutely petty things, nothing consequential.
There was an effort to whip up the 'Mangeshkar monopoly' controversy during the 1970s. Was that hurtful?
Lata Mangeshkar: I don’t hurt easily. See, I have enough sanity to know that in an industry which makes the highest number of films in the world, I couldn’t possibly have insisted that all the songs should be given to me.
New playback singers would audition before the composers. And the gun would be fired from my shoulder. The composers would claim, “If we give you a song, Lata didi naaraaz ho jaayegi.” Angry? Absurd! Then a journalist (Raju Bharatan), whom I didn’t know beyond exchanging “hellos” whenever he dropped by at the recording studios, whipped up that controversy. He had heard someone was writing a book on me, he wanted to do one himself, and within 15 days came out with some sort of rant against me. I kept my cool. I always do.
But for decades, there has been incessant talk about the unspoken rivalry between Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.
Lata Mangeshkar: Dekhiye kuch log aise hote hain ki woh aag lagaane ki koshish karte rehte hain (See, some people by their very nature have try to incite controversies). They say such-and-such a song was snatched away by Lata from Asha, and vice versa.
The fact is that I used to say no to cabaret songs, which then usually went to Asha.
However, your repertoire includes that classic cabaret song, Aa Jaane Jaan, picturised on Helen in Intaqam (1969).
Lata Mangeshkar: I sang Aa Jaane Jaan... because Laxmikant-Pyarelal called on me and assured me that the lyrics by Rajendra Krishan had nothing suggestive. They asked me to check the lyrics, I liked the tune also, so I did it. But I would never be able to sing Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja (Caravan, 1971), it was just not in my style. I would have been uncomfortable and ended up doing a bad job.
Could you clear the controversy over the anthemic song Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon (1963) composed by C Ramchandra?
Lata Mangeshkar: Kavi Pradeep who wrote the lyrics of Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon at the time of the Indo-China conflict, insisted that I should render the song at the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi. A tape was given to me with the lyrics and tune, I put on headphones during the chartered flight to Delhi for film personalities and tried to learn it by heart. My friend, Nalini Mhatre, and I checked into a hotel room. I kept rehearsing the song. It was well past midnight when Dilip Kumar called on the intercom and requested me to sing Allah Tero Naam (Hum Dono, 1961) to him on the phone. I sang it for him. When I ended, he said, “Thank you, good night.”
I can’t explain why but Dilip Kumar’s gesture that night made me very emotional. I put my heart and soul in the ‘live’ rendition of Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon from the dais of the Red Fort in the presence Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mrs Indira Gandhi. Pandit Nehru told me, “Lata, meri aankon mein paani bhar aaya” (“Lata, tears welled up in my eyes”). The next day, I rushed back to Bombay and went straight to Kolhapur for my sister Meena’s wedding. End of story.
What’s your take today on the Guinness Book of World Records, which had listed you as the most-recorded artiste in history, with not less than 25,000 solo, duets and chorus-backed songs between 1948 and 1974?
Lata Mangeshkar: A reporter from Time magazine had dropped in at my house, we used to stay in Walkeshwar then. Photos were clicked and I was asked simple questions on the lines of, “How many fan letters do you get every day.” She mailed me an issue soon after the interview was published. I presume that fetched me some attention in the West.
Around 1974, I had gone to London for my first overseas concert, at the Royal Albert Hall. A gentleman called Tara Babu, who lived in London, came up to me me and said, “Do you know you have found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records? It’s a tremendous honour.” I asked him to pardon my ignorance, but what is this Guinness Book of World Records?
Next thing I know is a huge hubbub was on. It was said that I had exaggerated my number of song recordings. Now, tell me, how could I be guilty of that when I wasn’t even aware of the Guinness Book? Despite all the allegations against me, a lady from the Guinness Book dropped by at the hotel where I was staying, and invited me to their office for a felicitation function. I asked a Mr Parmar to accompany me since my ability to converse in English is khatarnak (dangerous).
I was greeted with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, applause and was asked if I had ever thought of moving to the UK. Taken aback, I had replied, “Never! I am Bharatiya, India will always be my home.” That statement was picked up by the press. Mrs Gandhi read it and very kindly sent me a letter of commendation.
As for the number of songs I have done, to be honest I have never maintained a file of which song I have done and where. The figure quoted – of over 25,000 songs – was researched by the EMI music label.
You mention Mrs Gandhi. But every prime minister must have written to you.
Lata Mangeshkar: Yes, they have. And every supportive word has meant the world to me.
Have you ever been inclined towards politics?
Lata Mangeshkar: Never! I am not even remotely interested in politics. I was a Rajya Sabha MP from 1999 onwards for six years but I did not speak a word in Parliament. I remained silent. Politics and music are as distant from each other as the earth is from the sky. Music ek nazooq dil se nikalta hai (music emanates from a tender heart). For politics, you require a different mindset altogether.
I have often been asked to participate in election campaigns, which I have refused politely. It wasn’t by personal choice that I accepted the honour of becoming a Rajya Sabha member. After ceaseless persuasion, I couldn’t keep refusing.
Shabana Azmi criticised me strongly for not attending the sessions regularly and for keeping silent. I did not respond to that. She had her perspective, I had mine. But now whenever Shabana and I meet, we are very cordial with each other. Union Minister NKP Salve would also keep telling me to say something, anything, on the subject of music if need be. Now what sense would that have made? There were so many issues being debated, on the lack of water supply and the need for reaching out to rural areas. I would just listen quietly.
Were you amused by the proceedings?
Lata Mangeshkar: I kept a straight face. Debates and discussions, views and contra-views have to be respected.
You have chosen to be on Twitter. Doesn’t this make you vulnerable to trolls?
Lata Mangeshkar: I am careful. I don’t express my opinions on subjects that are beyond my comprehension. All I do is send out my wishes on birthdays, and my remembrances on death anniversaries like that of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
Do you have any enemies?
Lata Mangeshkar: Meaning?
Those who hold grudges?
Lata Mangeshkar: I am sure there must be some but no one comes out openly. Maybe they can’t justify the reason for their resentment.
Who has been your closest friend?
Lata Mangeshkar: Rachana Shah, my niece. She’s Meena’s daughter but I consider her my friend, my confidante.
In seven decades, would you say the 1950s and to an extent, the 60s were the golden period of film music?
Lata Mangeshkar: I would say it was a really quality-conscious era from the 1950s right down to the 70s.
But weren’t the films of the 70s strewn with violence? For a while, rhapsodic romances went out of the window.
Lata Mangeshkar: The wave of violence and anger in our cinema intensified only after 1975. The number of songs declined. Yet the songs which came to me had a certain measure of sense and sensibility. It’s only nowadays that there is an excessive use of English in lyrics. Hindustani zubaan (language), that blend of Urdu and Hindi, is not valued any more. Some lyricists don’t seem to be familiar with the metre and adab (manners) of lyrics, which ideally should have underpinnings of poetry.
Which songs would you pick as your most underrated ones?
Lata Mangeshkar: By underrated, I presume, you mean they weren’t as popular as they could have been. There are quite a few of them but I’d single out the song Ek Haseen Nigaah Ka composed by Hridaynath for Maya Memsaab (1993). There were two versions, one by Kumar Sanu and the other one by me. Hridaynath’s compositions are often quite intricate like the songs of Lekin (1990). Yaara Seeli Seeli became popular but it was Suniyo Jee Arj Mhariyo from the same film which was a challenge to execute.
Have you been moved to tears by any of the film songs you have rendered?
Lata Mangeshkar: Not really. I would always maintain a distance at the recordings between myself and the song’s emotional content. I would get moved but had to keep my composure. But yes, tears would well up while rendering bhajans for non-film albums. Whenever I couldn’t stop myself from crying, I would ask for a short break and return to normal.
Were there any heroines you particularly enjoyed doing the playback for?
Lata Mangeshkar: I think my voice suited Meena Kumari especially... as well as Madhubala, Nutan, and Sadhana. Nargis had a strong bass in her voice, yet on the screen she emoted so beautifully that the songs clicked majorly. In later years, Kajol has added a special magic to the songs playbacked by me.
Yash Chopra would often tell me, “Lata, your voice can suit the character of an underprivileged woman as well as that of a queen.” He was always very generous with his praise, assigning me all the songs for the female artistes in Veer-Zaara (2004).
Lore has it that Raj Kapoor was so fascinated by your voice that his Satyam Shivam Sundaram was inspired by you.
Lata Mangeshkar: Fascination isn’t the right word. All I can tell you is that he went to the extent of asking me to act in the lead role in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.
I was shocked. Me and a heroine? I said no. I learnt that the part, which Zeenat Aman played, was also offered to Hema Malini, who didn’t agree because she wasn’t comfortable about wearing the costumes to go with the character. Mind you, this is just hearsay.
According to chronicled facts, circa 1973, there was a fallout between Mohammed Rafi and you over the matter of getting royalties from the music companies.
Lata Mangeshkar: Because of that fallout as you call it, singers continue to get royalties right to this day. I initiated the conversation about royalties for playback singers. Mukesh, Talat Mehmood, and Mubarak Begum were with me on this issue. Mohammed Rafi, Mahendra Kapoor, and some other artistes weren’t. Hot words were exchanged. Rafi saab said, “I will never sing with Lata again,” and I retaliated by saying, “I won’t sing with him either.” This went on for three years till Shankar-Jaikishen organised a patch-up – Rafi saab and I came together to sing for Palkon ki Chhaon Mein (1977). We recorded so many songs together with so many composers after that. We would laugh over our difference of opinion, all was well.
Could you confirm your personal favourites as mentioned by you in interviews?
Lata Mangeshkar: No artiste can have a ‘favourite favourite.’ So many favourites elude me as I have to give instant answers in interviews. So, the favourites which have been listed are based on their connect with the public and those which are expected to be heard ‘live’ at concerts. If I were not to sing Aayega Aanewala, Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil (Bees Saal Baad,1962), Naina Barse Rimjhim and Lag Ja Gale (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964) and Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960), people would go home disappointed. Concerts require intense rehearsals and stamina – I loved singing ‘live’ but I never know when I’ll do a concert again. Currently, there are no immediate plans.
A trace – or should I say the hangover? – of Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi can be found in every playback singer even now.
Lata Mangeshkar: You’re saying that, I am not. And you’re right. Koshish zaroor karte hain (Attempts are made). I’ve been very fond of the songs of Kavita Krishnamoorthy, Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam, and Udit Narayan. Alka keeps in touch and was telling me the other day that she has cut down drastically on film songs – it’s just not the same. I should keep up with the latest lot of singers. I haven’t and it’s my loss. I’ve heard of Arijit Singh but haven’t heard his songs yet.
I should keep myself updated, even with films. Can you imagine, the last one I saw was Salman Khan’s Dabangg (2010)? At most, I watch the news on TV and oh yes, I’m majorly addicted to the series CID ever since it first aired over 19 years ago. The cast and crew drop by at my place during the Ganpati puja every year.
Do you keep up with your riyaz (music practice) every morning?
Lata Mangeshkar: I should but don’t. I do my riyaz now only in my dreams. Otherwise once in a rare while I join Usha and Hridaynath when they’re doing their daily riyaz. I had fallen ill a couple of years ago; I had to slow down. Now I’m fine, I’m thinking of a project – a collection of ghazals. I’m in the process of selecting them. I have sung the ghazals of Mirza Ghalib often but only one by Mir Taqi Mir – Dikhayee Diye Yunh (Bazaar, 1982) composed by Khayyam. I’d like to do sing more of Mir, and of Iqbal.
A doctor told me that you have a perfect set of 32 teeth. Amazing. How do you look after yourself?
Lata Mangeshkar: It’s hilarious that you should know that my 32 teeth are fine, thank you. I’ve been blessed. I should exercise but don’t. All I do is an hour of yoga and meditation, besides regulating my diet.
It’s quite ironical that you live in one of the noisiest neighbourhoods of the city, facing the Peddar Road flyover, which teems with traffic 24x7.
Lata Mangeshkar: When Asha and I bought adjacent apartments on the first floor of Prabhu Kunj, Peddar Road was one of the quietest neighbourhoods of Bombay. Now, it’s just the opposite. Asha has moved to a high-rise tower in Lower Parel. I bought a house there too but just couldn’t bring myself to leaving Prabhu Kunj. I cannot uproot myself, I cannot leave my memories here and start all over again.
Moreover, there’s so much stuff here in my house – porcelain, vases, artefacts – that it resembles a shop. To leave this ‘shop’ is unthinkable.
Is it your sense of humour or prudishness that you have covered up your six Filmfare Award trophies – draped a sari around them – since the design suggests a nude woman?
Lata Mangeshkar: Now that’s hilarious too. I did notice that the statuettes are nangi (nude) but it was my sister Meena who got the brilliant idea of dressing them up in saris. So, there they are looking quite modest in saris.
You have chosen to remain single. Do you ever feel lonely?
Lata Mangeshkar: Only my mother would keep badgering me to get married. Finally, she gave up on me. My family has meant much more than marriage. That said, I wouldn’t be a human being if I didn’t feel lonely at times. All of us do, whether single or married. Loneliness, being alone, can be damaging. Fortunately, I’m constantly surrounded by my loved ones.
Have you ever fallen in love?
Lata Mangeshkar: Only with my work. And I have loved my mere apne, my family. Nothing and no one else.
If you were to be given one wish, what would you ask for?
Lata Mangeshkar: I do believe in punarjanam (rebirth). Yet, when I am dead and gone, I certainly do not wish to be born again. Mujhe bhagwan dubara janam nahin de toh achha hai. One lifetime is enough.