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Lata Didi: The 'God' I Met for an Hour, But Couldn't Take a Photo to Remember

In a light blue gown with two braids, Lata Mangeshkar touched my head to bless me, sending chills across my body.

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Lata Didi: The 'God' I Met for an Hour, But Couldn't Take a Photo to Remember
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The year was 2004 at Prabhu Kunj in Mumbai's Peddar Road — the home of the legendary Lata Mangeshkar and her family. Eighteen years ago I met the Goddess I have practically worshipped all my life, the Saraswati who was the inspiration behind my Hindustani vocals training as a kid.

I was a 12-year-old who had tagged along with my father, Rajendra Gole, a miniature paper sculptor, whose work Lata didi had shown interest in.

The meeting had apparently been called by Lata didi after my father's work was mentioned to her by the current MNS chief and then Shiv Sena leader Raj Thackeray, who was his classmate at Mumbai's Sir JJ School of Art back in the 80's.

For us, Lata didi's mere interest and her manager's phone call was such an honour, that we dropped everything and landed at her residence within the next two hours as was requested by her.
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One Hour With Lata Didi

Naturally, I was excited till the time we reached there, but as soon as we entered the house I froze. There she was, sitting on the couch, and people were hustling around didi. Staff members and family, alike, were heard saying 'didi this and didi that.'

Unlike anything I'd ever seen, she was wearing a light blue gown with her signature two braids, which were so long that one of them made a little circle on the floor as she sat.

A little later, her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar sat across from us. As we were settling in, my father asked me to touch her feet. For somebody who does not believe in the concept of touching people's feet just because they are 'elders', I willingly did so. She gently touched my head to bless me and I remember feeling a chill run through my body.

We were only done exchanging pleasantries when other family members, including Asha Bhosle and Usha Mangeshkar, entered the room. I think I almost gasped and blacked out for a fraction of a second, because we were told it's only Lata didi we were going to meet. We touched their feet as well and exchanged pleasantries.

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I sat across the couch on a chair, mostly frozen all the time, while my father explained to the Mangeshkars how he made the miniature paper sculpture of three deer gazing into a forest.

(Photo credit: Rajendra Gole)

While Asha Bhosle was a little more inquisitive and asked him several questions, Lata didi uttered a few praises, careful not to interrupt my dad's passionate speech and presentation.

Meanwhile, I observed the house — it ​was simple, suave, and a beautiful combination of brown, sandstone, and walnut cream coloured interiors. There was another seating area, across the hall where my uncle Ajay, who had helped us carry the statues, was comfortably flicking through that day’s Maharashtra Times! I was perplexed with him being absolutely unaffected by a bunch of legends sitting five meters from him.

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I don't remember a word that was spoken between the Mangeshkars and my father that day, but as we prepared to leave, Asha Bhosle politely pointed to me and asked my dad: "Ha tumcha bhau ka? (Is he your brother?)"

He politely giggled and said, "Nahi nahi, majha mulga (No no, my son!)"

"Oh acha, vaatat nahi! (Doesn't look like it)."

Once we left, after loading the statues in the car, all of us burst out laughing and were overwhelmed with happiness.

My 'dad' jokingly said: "Did you see how Asha ji asked if you were my brother? That means I still look so young!" He continues to narrate this bit of the story to our friends and family.

We then quizzed Ajay uncle (who was still seemingly unaffected) as to how he could sit there and read the newspaper. On being asked if he felt anything at all about meeting Lata Mangeshkar, he casually replied: "What else did I have to do there? Did you see how simple the house was? Me pardyanna sonyache ghungroo bandhle aste! (If I was this rich, my curtains would have gold ghungroos hanging by them!)."

Eighteen years later, Ajay uncle is no more but we still laugh at this reply whenever we remember him.

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'I Met My Goddess, But I Can't Prove It!'

My father's deal with the Mangeshkars never went through, for reasons none of us know. It's my father's 'life's biggest tragedy' as he calls it. Till date, he says that he would have given his work for free if it came to it, as long as 'The Lata Mangeshkar' possessed it.

But here comes the biggest bummer for me: "WE DID NOT TAKE A SINGLE PICTURE WITH LATA MANGESHKAR!"

Those were Kodak camera days and we did have one, but people hardly carried them around in their pockets. The excitement after the phone call was such that it didn't occur to any of us that we should take a camera along.

I called my father after the news of her passing. "I have been crying all morning. Remember the day we met her?" he asked. "Crystal clear!" I said.

"People like her aren't born frequently. She had even said that I hear a lot of praises of you and your work from Raj (Thackeray)," he said over the phone, evidently heartbroken.

I have always regretted the fact that I met Lata Mangeshkar and could not get one picture clicked! Till date, I taunt my father over forgetting to carry the camera that day.

But today, as I ponder over the fact of not having a picture, I realise that the one hour with Lata Mangeshkar is still so fresh in my memory that I don't need a picture to remember it. It reminded me of something my grandmother once said while we were discussing the concept of 'God': "Whether you believe in God or not, one day you will meet yours and won't even realise. You will tell people about it but they won't believe you, because you would have nothing to prove it."

As I woke up to the news of Lata Mangeshkar's demise, I have been responding to several messages from fellow music enthusiasts. I realise that the loss is personal to millions across the world who might not have even met her like I did, but whose lives she transformed with her voice, her songs, and her music.

It feels like a part of my soul has departed today, but if my grandmother were around, I'd have told her: "Ajji, I met my God once but I have nothing to prove it."

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