Lata Mangeshkar's Love Story That Never Was: What Does It Tell About Us?

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

7 min read
Hindi Female

Lata Mangeshkar, the nightingale. Lata Mangeshkar, the Elizabeth-like Virgin Queen. Lata Mangeshkar, the Aai and the Tai.

'Love and longing' is the leitmotif for Lata Mangeshkar's oeuvre. And because she lived and worked in a country where television sets were worshipped before the broadcast of the Ramayana would start, the actors playing Ram, Sita and Lakshman or Shri Krishna in tableaus would be revered as deities, the line between the art and the artist faded ever more quickly.

And then there was the Lata—flesh, blood, and passion—that remained an enigma to us.

We moulded Lata Mangeshkar the way we wanted her to be: a soothing, ephemeral—almost divine—presence in our lives that would be tarnished by the slightest hint of sensuality in her persona. It is no wonder that Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar offered the musical-moral duality: the former singing all the cabaret and 'naughty' songs.


Lata Mangeshkar: The Unsexed Artist?

The one cabaret song that Lata agreed to sing was "Aa jaane jaan..." for Laxmikant Pyarelal in the 1969 film Inteqam. The song was picturised on Helen and oozes the unique Lataesque longing—she was the queen of the Vipralambha (separation) in shringara rasa—with no overt references to the physiology of desire. Jiya jale came much later in her career, when she had already claimed a deified position in the Indian music industry.

That's the Lata everyone admired and respected, and she, too, appeared to perpetuate this image of herself as an unsexed artist.

The fact that she stayed unmarried—as opposed to her sister Asha Bhonsle's tempestuous experiments with marriage—bolstered Lata's dichotomous image as the woman who sang about love and longing without knowing anything about the same.


Lata Mangeshkar and Raj Singh Dungarpur: Why Do We Know So Little?

There have always been, however, murmurs about her relationship with Raj Singh Dungarpur, former president of Board of Control for Cricket in India. The internet is awash, at least since the news of her passing broke, with stories about how Lata could not become the 'Princess of Dungarpur' by not marrying Raj, the youngest son of the ruler of the Dungarpur princely state in Rajasthan.

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

Raj Singh Dungarpur, Ranji player and former BCCI president. 


Lata had acknowledged Raj as one of her close friends in interviews. Neither, however, ever commented on the nature and extent of this friendship. No biographer of Lata, too, dwelt on the subject.

Nasreen Munni Kabir, author of Lata Mangeshkar…In Her Own Voice shares, "We never discussed Raj Singh Dungarpur. Of course, I had met him. I never asked him about Lata Mangeshkar either."

Did the author feel the need to self-censor or was under any pressure to take this approach?

Nasreen rejects the idea. "I was working on her life story and this aspect of her life was of little interest to me. I felt, and continue to feel, that private lives of public figures ought to remain private. We in India have a tendency to sensationalise everything."

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

Nasreen Munni Kabir's Lata Mangeshkar…In Her Own Voice

Niyogi Books

The closest she came to ask Lata about the 'rumours' was by way of the following question:

It is rumoured you have a permanent gallery reserved for you at Lord’s ‘...where she enjoys watching her favourite game.’ Is it true?

No! It’s not true. [laughs] I sit in the stands like any other cricket fan.

Another biographer of Lata Mangeshkar, Yatindra Mishra, chose to broach the subject. "I asked Lata ji about Raj Singh Dungarpur. She said that he was a close family friend. It was not appropriate to then take the conversation forward only on the basis of unconfirmed reports published here and there," he says.


Lata, Raj, Cricket, Royalty, And More... 

Mangeshkar was a big fan of cricket and knew the sport well. So well that it was irksome to her that Sharmila Tagore, wife of Tiger Pataudi didn't bother to know the details of the sport. Tagore said in her tribute to Mangeshkar, ‘‘She was a person who knew her cricket. She was fond of Tiger and once told me that being the wife of Indian captain, I should be updating myself more on the game".

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

Raj Singh Dungarpur and Tiger Pataudi

Image Courtesy: Beyond Boundary Heritage 

The singer's younger brother, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, and Raj Singh Dungarpur were good friends. Cricket brought the two men together—the entire Mangeshkar family has been deeply fond of the sport—and paved the way for a life-long relationship between a prince and a singer.

Raj Singh's niece, Rajyashree Kumari, wrote in her memoir, The Place of Clouds, that the reason that he could not get married to Lata Mangeshkar was the disapproval of his father and other family members. How could an artist become a part of the royal family?

She writes about the relationship in her book:

On meeting Lata, there sprang up an attraction between them and a relationship was forged that was to last almost till the day that he died in 2009. My mother and Danta aunt were of the opinion that a personable young prince such as their youngest brother should in fact make a suitable match with a Rajput princess or at least a girl from an aristocratic family, so naturally they were not too approving of his relationship with Lata. I have a recollection that at some point when we were little children, Lata Mangeshkar was invited to old Bikaner House in Bombay and I strongly suspect (but cannot confirm) that she was asked to leave their brother alone so that he might make a suitable match. Despite that, Raj Singh refused to give up his relationship with Lata and despite regular rumours and gossip that he had secretly married her; he firmly assured me that that was definitely not the case.

And then a little later:

On the day of the main lunch on 19 December, which was his birthday, he gave a little speech: somewhere hidden within the anodyne comments there was a little grenade that he lobbed at his unsuspecting sisters, when he happened to mention that when he was a young man he was denied the marriage of his choice and now in later years the younger generation were getting married out of the Rajput community and the family had changed the goal posts and accepted these marriages without protest. I think his sisters were quite taken aback by this full frontal attack but put up a brave face at least in public, but I believe many tears were shed later in private.

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

Rajyashree Kumari's memoir, The Place of Clouds

Image: Bloomsbury


Was Lata a Victim of Societal Pressures or a Rebel?

Other members of the Dungarpur clan, however, contradict this story. On condition of anonymity, a member shares, "The story of Maharwal Laxman Singhji, (Senior Dungarpur) disagreeing violently is a bit of creative imagination. It is true that they would have preferred a daughter-in-law from amongst the clan but Raj Singhji was too much of his own man to worry about such fixations beyond a point".

It is to be noted that the senior Dungarpur, too, had married a couple of times and Raj Singh was the youngest son from the second marriage.

The family member adds, "Raj Singhji was not the titular heir-apparent of Dungarpur state. Hence, this was not in that classical sense a ‘be-izzati’ case. Lata and Raj Singhji met fairly late in life, by those times' standards, and the supposed domination of the father, in any case would have ceased. Laxman Singhji Dungarpur died in 1989 and nothing really stopped the two from formalising things, if they really wanted to".

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

Lata Mangeshkar and Raj Singh Dungarpur

Image Courtesy: MidDay archives

Another family member, requesting to stay anonymous, shares, "The only societal thing to hold back the two would have been the slant of getting married ‘that late in life’. She was six-seven years elder to him, maybe that was the reason! I think, it was the convenience of living their lives contentedly without having to answer too many questions that prompted the status quo".

This family member adds, "It was a mature and adult relationship at play…that needed to avoid fuss and tantrums in that stage of life. Some elders in my family acknowledged, ‘she didn’t need his money, and he didn’t need her fame'. He was a gentleman as only he could be and she could sing as only she could, and this made a lovely arrangement of trust and happiness".

Lata is said to have gone to Dungarpur when Raj died in 2009 but his family members deny the reports. However, she is connected to the place by her involvement in the modernisation of the local government hospital there.

Who was Lata Mangeshkar wary of hurting—family, friends, fans, or her own self?

Plaque at the Dungarpur hospital. 

Image Courtesy: Dungarpur family. 


Who Was Lata Mangeshkar Wary of Hurting—Family, Friends, Fans, or Her Own Self?

Raj Singh had guardedly revealed some details about their relationship in some interviews in his autumn years but they were rarely the highlights.

Aseem Chhabra, a noted film festival curator and author, says, "I got to know about their relationship only the day Lata ji passed away. It is largely owing to the fact that I spent a large part of the 70s and 80s in the US. There was no social media then. No 24/7 dedicated paparazzi".

The fact that the general public did not care for the private life of Lata Mangeshkar tells us more about the persona that she had carefully created: hard-working, ambitious, fastidious, fiercely territorial, and all that single women are supposed to be.

That makes them more acceptable and worthy of edification. One may never be able to know what Mangeshkar felt about Dungarpur or a life in matrimony running parallel to her singing career.

Nasreen Munni Kabir quotes her as saying:

"I used to write a diary for years. I wrote some stories and songs in Hindi. Then one day I decided there was no point and I tore it all up and threw it away. I never wanted to write an autobiography because I believe you have to be totally honest when you write. And it would hurt too many people. What’s the point in hurting people? My life and my experiences are so personal to me. Why write? It’s all so personal. There’s no need to tell the world."

Who was Lata wary of hurting with her honesty?

Perhaps it was us, the people, who did not allow her the space beyond our ears.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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