Her Sweet And Melodious Voice Makes The Mighty And The Monstrous Bow Before Her
Ali Peter John
For more than eighty years, the little girl who had started out as an actress and who had to go through some tough times initially because of what some experts and critics (not the kind who pass judgement with very little knowledge, but only for the heck of it) who called her voice a ‘thin voice’, but once she had started, there was no stopping her and both God and man were pleased with her and were madly in love with her voice, which was, which is and which will be till the end of time.
It was not a very big thing for her when President Ram Kovind and his wife, Savita broke all protocol and called on her at her residence at ‘Prabhu Kunj’ to inquire about her health which is not at its very best as she nears ninety and will be ninety on September 28. She had sung her way to the hearts of people in high places and low, she has sung in almost every country of the world. Her voice can be heard in the sky, on the ground, on sea and in every nook and corner. Her voice is a part of billions of heart beats everywhere. She has sung about life, about the struggles man has to face in life and the joys and sorrows of life. She is not only the best jewel in the crown of India, but she makes everything and being in this world and perhaps even in the world hereafter and her voice must be certainly reaching God who must be feeling ecstatic that he had created a wonder woman like her called Lata Mangeshkar.
In the last eight decades and more, she has some of the best known and even the lesser known films made in India. She has given life to every kind of human emotion and she has sung about the nation and the people who make this nation, she has made listeners listen to her as if she was second only to God. Every great and even not so great actress has felt in the seventh heaven when she has lend her voice to them which has played a vital part in their being the earthly stars they are and are remembered as.
Lata Mangeshkar has sung in all the languages of the country with the feelings that are natural to the people who speak those languages in those parts of the country. She has moved heaven and earth and her voice has been like a light to the world, a light that can tear every darkness to shreds. Some of the greatest poets have tried to describe her and her voice and after they have praised her, they have felt, they have not been able to do full justice to her and her immortality, which she has assured herself of.
I have had a close connect with her right from my childhood in a village in Mumbai. I used to hear my father talk about someone called Lata Mangeshkar and my mother humming some songs which I heard were the songs of Lata Mangeshkar. I tender how when there was an epidemic of small pox in Bombay and people were dying in every second home and all the cemeteries, kabrastaans and all the crematoriums had quoes of the dead, waiting to be disposed of or transported to some other world. The Bombay Municipal Corporation had gone on war-front to fight the epidemic and vans with the songs of Lata Mangeshkar went around every village, lane and gully and Lata Mangeshkar singing, ‘mann dole tann dole’ used to attract children like us to the van to see what the magic behind the music and the song was all about and we were grabbed by municipal doctors and forcibly vaccinated to save us from what could be certain death.
As I grew older, I realised the power of her voice and I was so carried away that when my family used to go around Bombay on the night of Republic Day to see all the landmarks of Bombay glowing bright with lights, I used to opt out and sit at home only to listen to the songs of Lata Mangeshkar on an old gramophone record player which had to be literally forced into action to bring out the songs as if they were hidden in that gramophone. I could listen to Lata Mangeshkar till the early hours of the morning when my family came back after seeing the lights. They hardly realised how Lata Mangeshkar was the best light in my life.
I had a very strange coincidental experience when I was around thirteen. One of my aunts whose name was Cecilia was working as a domestic servant in a building called ‘Prabhu Kunj’. She was the domestic help in the house of the Karmallys who lived on the third floor and my aunt always asked me up come to meet her from the other side of the building which had an iron staircase which was specially made for servants, domestic helps and others who did menial work in the houses of the rich. I once decided to break that rule and tried to enter from the main entrance and got into a place where I couldn’t see because the woman standing next to me was the woman who I had worshipped, Lata Mangeshkar herself. I couldn’t dare to make any kind of conversation with her because she had vanished like a gypsy within a minute as she lived on the first floor of ‘Prabhu Kunj’. I tried to make my visits to my aunt more often but found very few opportunities to see that vision of Lata Mangeshkar again.
Time passed and like everything changes with time, I had travelled a long way on the journey of life. I was now seeing Lata Mangeshkar in the recording studios. Soon, I joined ‘Screen’ on the recommendation of my guru, K.A and my visits to recording studios became official and a part of my job. Seeing her singing in that box of a room was bliss for me.
Time was kind to me. I had two seniors who were quite close to her and Mohan Wagh who I later came to know was her personal and favourite photographer was the first to introduce me to her and that was the beginning of a new association with her. I was there at almost every major function where she was because of Mohan Wagh. I was there at the inauguration of the Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune which was her initiative and had seen the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the great actor from the South, Shivaji Ganesan who she called her ‘Anna'(elder brother) for the first time.
There were many other events and functions where we met and talked, but one of my greatest triumphs was when she agreed to sing at my awards function. She had asked me to tell my management to donate five lakhs of rupees to her hospital. And when I asked her when she needed the cheque, she laughed and said, “maine toh gaana aapke kehne pe gaaya tha.Mujhe nahi chahiye unke paise”.I didn’t know how to feel or express how I felt.
The man I mentioned above, Mr Kumtakar was in a bad state physically and financially. I asked one of my friends if he could make some arrangements for some money to be handed over to Mr Kumtakar. She was delaying taking any decision. I spoke to Lataji and she agreed to come to the one room apartment of Mohan Wagh where she said she would like to felicitate Mr Kumtakar. I told my friend about Lataji coming to felicitate Mr Kumtakar. He immediately agreed and a small and private function was organised by me at Mohan Wagh house. My friend was thrilled to see Lataji, but his heart was not as big as I thought it would be. He brought a cheque of rupees five thousand which he wanted to give to Mr Kumtakar. He was more interested in getting photographed with Lataji and then went away. We were watching one of the cricket matches of the World Cup and her running commentary on how the game was progressing and her knowledge of cricket and some of the great players of the game from all over the world were her personal friends. Even as she was engrossed in the game, she opened her bag and took out an envelope and presented it to the ailing and ageing Mr Kumtakar. It was an amount of twenty-five thousand rupees. She said it was her small token of appreciation for all that Mr Kumtakar had done for her for more than thirty years. She said he deserved more and she would see that he got his due. The man had tears in his eyes. I later came to know that he who was a bachelor had moved into the house of his younger brother in Virar where he was running a PCO. The money Lataji presented inspired him to build a dark room in his brother’s house where he worked and got out negatives of thousands of photographs he had taken during his long career. He was never interested in making money and asked me to accompany him to some of the stars of an earlier generations and presented them with negatives of the photographs he had taken of them. They were thrilled. Unfortunately, those rounds with me Kumtakar were going to be the last meetings between him and me. Some months later, I heard that he had died. And how can I forget that gesture of the Nightingale? I casually called her one afternoon and told her that I was releasing one of my books. I was shocked when she said, “main karti hoon na vimochan aapki kitaab ki.”I said, “Lataji,lekin maine abhi hall book nahi kiya hai”. She immediately shot back and said, “mere ghar ke neeche hall haina waha karo na,mere liye bhi aasaan ho jaayega.”I was still trying to believe what was happening, when she asked, “kounse din karna hai?”I randomly said, “18 August ko and she said 18 August ki kya khaas baat hai?”I said, “us din meri maa ka janamdin hai”. She said, “bahut acha din hai acha kaam karne ke liye, aapki maa ke aatma ko bahut shanti milegi”.
What more could I ask for? She had made arrangements for the guests to sit and some good snacks for everyone. She had also got the place decorated in the most simple but elegant way. Among the guests were my friend and guide, Manoj Kumar and his wife, Shashi and the big-time lawyer, Ramjeth Malani and I didn’t know from where a huge crowd of uninvited journalists and photographers landed there and created a ruckus. She just released my book and gave a copy to me and said, “sorry,haan main jaati hoon. Mujhse yeh shor-shraba nahi sahaa jaata. Hum log baad mein phir milte hai kabhi” and she quietly walked up to the stairs leading to her house.
Things have not been the same again. The only time I saw her in all her simple glory was when Amitabh Bachchan who was the chief guest at the awards function organised by her brother, Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar and his best friend, Avinash Prabhawalkar. She was floored by the speech Amitabh made about her in Hindi and called him the, “Hindi bhasha ke shahenshah. She was supposed to present the same award to Amitabh two years later, but she couldn’t make it to the function as she was unwell, but spoke to both Amitabh and Jaya on the mobile. I knew Amitabh was hurt, but he again proved what a ‘Mahanayak’ he was. I had the responsibility of arranging another chief guest and I don’t know why I thought of Subhash Ghai again. We had to ask Lataji if Subhash Ghai could be a good replacement for her and she said, “haan haan bhai, woh bahut bade director hain aur mere ache dost bhi hai. I called Subhash Ghai and explained the situation to him, even though I knew Amitabh and Ghai were not on the best of terms after Ghai had scraped the making of “Deva” after shooting a song with Amitabh. But Subhash proved to be very gracious and came down all the way from Whistling Woods to the Shanmukhananda Hall and presented the award to Amitabh before a large and distinguish gathering.
Kitni ajeeb hai yeh duniya aur kitni ajeeb hai yeh baat. It is time to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Lataji, who is not even getting out of her room now, but has the will to attend what she believes could be the last event in her life, but she would come only and only if Amitabh Bachchan was the chief guest. I am caught between two of the greatest legends and I hope to god that everything works out well and I can do something to make the woman who has made trillions of people happy for more than eighty years!!!!
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