The turn of events in my life as a writer that led to my introduction to Lata Mangeshkhar has been nothing short of magical. She was a family friend. It struck me very late that I could write about her, let alone the idea of cataloguing her musical journey in the form of a book. After I finished my book on Ustad Bismillah Khan, I felt that the one personality from the music world that every Indian would be curious to know about was Lataji.
I still remember that when Lataji turned 60, HMV had released a four-cassette album, “My Favorite”, in 1989. I was in eighth grade and madly in love with her work.
The customary present of Rs 100 I got that year on my birthday was spent on that album. The album, which Lataji herself had gifted to her fans on her birthday, had kept me mesmerised for months.
That was the first time I came to know about films such as Nau Bahar, Parakh, and Shin Shinaki Boobla Boo. The magical voice of Lataji immortalised the songs in those films.
My collection of her songs and albums continues to grow like my affection for her. The collection now boasts rare albums titled Sajda, Shraddhanjali – Part I, Lata Mangeshkar: Diamonds Forever, Lata Mangeshkar: Rare Gems, Lata Mangeshkar: Classical Songs, Meera Soor Kabira, and Gurbani, among others.
Why Film Music Needs to Be Studied, Too
While listening to Lataji, I realised that one needs mental awareness to study film songs, too, in the same way as one enjoys classical music. A casual experience won’t allow you to appreciate the charm, detail and loveliness of that music.
Thus, if Lata Mangeshkar or Md Rafi is singing, they create a whole structure on the strands of lyrics and the rhythm, and it’s important to examine how the song takes shapes with the help of several instruments. Violin, piano, trumpet, organ, clarinet may also be present to give a special effect, and it was amid this that the style of Raga and the smallest of variations used by Lataji turned a song into a mesmerising melody.
It is generally difficult to establish harmony with routine film music. But Lataji has etched in the memory of her fans thousands of film songs she sang in the company of maestros like Naushad, SD Burman, Roshan, Madan Mohan, Jaidev, Salil Chaudhary, and C. Ramchandra. Further, experimenting with lyrics is another subject that needs mention in any such discussion. These were some of the points which I pondered over before embarking on the journey to write my book, “Lata: The Sur-Gatha”.
'Lata: Sur Gatha'
It was my firm belief that away from her popular image, Lataji was a serious thinker of Indian music and that there should be a book that explores this aspect of the greatest playback singer of India and which can be used as a reference by generations to come. The book must trace the journey that shows the struggle of the analysis of the grammar of music and the language, through popular Hindi film music.
For me, Lata Mangeshkar was a legend who has turned her voice into an ever-lasting legacy of Indian cinema. Knowing her is like turning the pages of the history of Indian film music, in which many chapters were sprinkled with the beautiful smell of diversity brought in by a long list of lyricists and singers coming from various regions and language backgrounds.
Her journey began in 1947, and Lataji was already one of the greatest of her times by the time the book was being conceptualised in 2017, exploring 70 years of her musical journey. Cataloguing her journey demanded utmost responsibility and caution, and discipline. I have tried to play my role as a writer with honesty.
“Lata: Sur Gatha” is based on my interaction with her over seven years. Often, when I thought that she would not have anything to add to her anecdotes, a fresh one would prop up before the earlier one was finished.
She had endless stories about her experiences from the world of music and Indian cinema, from green room rehearsals to recordings, which could become a humongous dossier. Not many know that the rough text of my book ran into a thousand pages, which were finally edited into a 640-page book. I still think that the book was an incomplete one, and that more than 500 pages could have been easily added with the material I had gathered from Lataji.
One Can't Fathom Lataji's Hard Work
Today, when she is no more with us, many memories run through the mind. Her simplicity, humility and affection towards her colleagues make her a great artiste and an icon for us to follow. In the future, whenever there would be talk of new experiments, development, and technical aspects of music in Indian cinema, the journey of Lata Mangeshkar would be the yardstick and reference for generations to come.
My belief has deepened further that no matter how many biographers and books document her life, it would be difficult to fathom the discipline and dedicated practice, the learning of music, and the decades of hard work she put in her work that placed her at the top in the ever-changing world of music.
The perfect tribute to her would be that the young aspiring generation of singers who want to make a place for themselves in the Indian cinema take a cue from her in hard work and dedication, and chart their journey for a melodious life. For now, the void that has been created by her absence will remain unfilled.
(Translated from Hindi by Arvind Singh.)
(Yatindra Mishra is a celebrated Hindi poet, music and cinema scholar. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)