I have never planned any thing in my life, I never had any ambition in life, I had only one favourite dream (even though I dream any number of dreams in one night)and the name of my dream was Molly, a dream which has remained unfulfilled, but I have no regrets because I have spent my whole life loving this dream with all my life and in spite of dying several deaths in this one life……
That evening, more than forty years ago was one more unplanned evening for me. My family had decided to go looking for all the Ganesh Idols in Bombay, but I backed out and asked my family to leave me alone,something I was normally scared of and they knew about it, but I was determined to stay back at home even when they told me that they would return only in the morning. I wondered what I would do all night, till I saw a number of unopened music cassettes presented to me by my friend Sanjeev Kohli, the eleder son of the composer Madan Mohan, who was working with Yash Chopra. I had a problem about playing the cassettes (I have had an endless phobia about anything technical and still don’t know anything technical and find myself a total misfit in the world of today where everything is technical and I am scared that even a feeling like love may soon be governed and ruled by technology more than the heart)…
I asked a neighbour to teach me how to play the cassettes and a celebration and a festival of the songs of Lata Mangeshkar started for me and lasted till my family came back and were surprised to see me listening to Lata Mangeshkar singing “naina barse rimjhim rimjhim “one of the classic songs tuned by Madan Mohan and written by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, a poet who never got the credit his poetry deserved. My family called me a mad man and it was not a compliment I had received from them and many others for the first time. They had recognized me for what I was, a mad man and a gone case.
What did they know about the heavenly hours I had spent listening to that great voice singing one great song after another, one song so very different from another, one song so very solemn, poignant and full of pathos, one song expressing the joy and ecstacy of love and another singing of the agony and pain of losing love, one song singing about the relationship between a brother and sister and another singing about the losing of trust in any kind of relationship one song singing of the glories of the country and singing “ae mere watan ke logo “which had made Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru cry in public, one song singing about a festival like holi or diwaali and another song singing of a sister a sister missing her brother to who is fighting on the border one song singing about the farmer and another song singing about the labourer and the farmer and the ultimate song sung in honour of God, like the Aarti and the bhajans sung in her voice which I believed even when I was twelve or thirteen was the voice that reached God directly…..
And while I was celebrating the Lata Mangeshkar festival, I kept wondering if
I would ever meet this “Devi “who was an essential part of the lives of millions of people all over the world. My hope to meet her or at least to see her was not willing to give up….
My mother’s sister Cecilia was working as a maid in the house of the Curmallys who lived on the third floor of Prabhu Kunj which had gained cult status every since Lata Mangeshkar had started living in it more than fifty years ago, with her sisters Asha ,Meena,Usha and her only brother Pandit Hirdaynath Mangeshkar.
In those days, buildings in South Bombay had special spiral iron stair cases from behind the main entrance or servants and their relatives to come up if they had to come up to meet their relatives working in any of the apartments. I had to follow the same rule when I had to go to meet “mausi “who gave me good food but without letting anyone know and who gave me a bundle of old and rejected clothes used by the son of the Curmallys. I was very eager to defy the rule of coming up by the back entrance…..
The next time I entered from the front entrance and got into the lift. Two security guards came running after me to stop me,when I saw a woman in white trying to enter the same lift. If I say I was about to swoon and fall, it would be a gross understatement. That woman was Lata Mangeshkar. She asked the security guard to let me go and my whole body trembled with joy when I saw the “Devi “herself standing before me in that lift and when she said,”aapko kha jana hai bete ?” I was in another world and where I was going didn’t matter to me at all. The “Devi “got out of the lift on the first floor and I some how reached the third floor where my “mausi” was working (slogging)and received a firing from her for using the lift and said that I should never come up by the lift again. That was the last time I visited my “mausi” in Prabhu Kunj. I could not take the humiliation that was being meted out to servants and their near and dear ones. Was that the first sign of my being a rebel and a communist as some priests and other holy people had started branding me as ?
My rudderless boat kept tossing in the ocean of life and I one day landed in “Screen “and a new and entirely unexpected life began for me. But that one vision of the “Devi”, I had seen in that lift had not left me…..One afternoon I got her number from my boss who was close to the woman who he treated like a goddess and even took her name with reverence .I saw that no senior colleagues were around and dialled the number hoping to talk to some servant or one of her assistants. There was a voice on the other side and I said, “kya main Lata ji se baat kar sakta hoon?”the voice sad, “ha ,main Lata hi bol rahi hoon “my first reaction was to throw away the phone from my hand, but better sense prevailed and I told her, “main, Ali Peter John bol raha hoon “Screen “se and what the voice said almost killed me with joy. She said, “ha ha Ali saahab, maine apko kaafi pada hai aur aapka column toh hum sabhi padte hai. Kabhi time miley toh milo humse “.I didn’t know when I kept the phone down and what I told her and the whole evening I was unusually quiet and my boss who knew how mischievous I was asked me,”dimag kharab kya ho gaya, itna chup toh maine tumko kabhi dekha nahi “and my Parsi boss ,Mr.Kapadia was even worried for me .How could I tell them what was really wrong with me ?
One thing led to another without my planning anything. I became a very good friend of Mr.Mohan Wagh who used to once be a photographer working for “Screen “and had grown into a leading producer of Marathi plays with his own banner called
“Chandralekha “and was the personal photographer of Lata Mangeshkar and the family and who later became the father- in-law of Raj Thackeray who was married to his daughter, Sharmila who I once carried in my arms. It was when Mr.Wagh introduced me to Lata ji that was the beginning of my relationship with the “Devi “grew fonder and I was invited to every function organized by the Mangeshkars and all the events Mr.Wagh organized. It was the greatness of the “Devi “to have me at all her major events and I knew what she felt about me when she made it a point to see that I was there at the opening function of the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital in Pune built in honour of her father. I still don’t know why but I was there for three important functions associated with the hospital and given the same kind of treatment that she gave her guests like Sivaji Ganesan who she called her brother……
It was the” Screen” awards and my management was toying with the idea of having Lata ji to perform live at the function. But none of them was willing to approach her.I said I would take the responsiblity and they all laughed at my confidence. I met Lata ji the same evening and told her about the idea of my management. She said, “unko bolo mere hospital ko panch lakh rupey de aur main gaaoongi “
My management was only too glad because they had never expected Lata ji to say yes.The show happened, Lata ji sang and like always was the highlight. Soon after the awards function, my management gave me a cheque of five lakhs to be given to her. I met her, thanked her and gave her the cheque and she said, “ye kya hai ? Ye paise tumhare management ko wapas karo, shaayad unke kaam ayega.Maine toh jo bhi kiya tumhare kehne pe kiya.Mujhe nahi chahiye ye paise. Upper wale ne mujhe bahut kuch diya hai “that moment made Lata Mangeshkar a greater “Devi”for me .Who was I for her to do me such an honour ?
My boss Mr.Kumtakar had retired from “Screen “and was not keeping very well.I asked a friend called Mr.Ram Jawhrani who ran a socio -cultural- organization called Sahyog Foundation if he could help Mr.Kumtakar financially. He said he would be able to pay five thousand rupees.I asked Lata ji if she would personally present the money to Mr.Kumtakar and she willingly agreed. She asked me to arrange a small meeting in the house of Mr.Wagh and said she would be there. Mr.Kumtakar was moved when I told him about Lata ji coming to honour him. Lata ji came, draped Mr.Kumtakar with a silk shawl and presented with the cheque of five thousand rupees from Sahyog Foundation.She than took out an envelope from her hand bag and gave it to Mr.Kumtakar. There were twenty five thousand rupees in it and she said in Marathi,”Kumtakar Sahib, he ek chotti bhet aahe, tumhi aamcha saati je kelela aahe aami kadi visaarnaar naahi”.Mr.Kumtakar cried like a child because no one else in the industry who he had served selflessly for fifty years had shown him any gesture like this. He built his own dark room in a village in Virar where he worked for the next ten years and had a collection of negatives that could have made one of the best books on the history of Indian cinema, but he suddenly died and not one person from the industry even knew where he had died and never even tried to know. The only man who remembered him with a lot of affection was Dev Anand for whom Mr.Kumtakars devotion was so complete that he was even called”Dev Das”.
Talking about Dev Anand, how can I forget that day when I was caught between two of the greatest legends ?Dev Sahab was making one of his last big films and wanted Lata Mangeshkar to sing one of the songs and Lata ji only asked him for the date on which he wanted her to record the song. The date and the venue was (Lataji’s favourite recording studio in Flora Fountain now stupidly known as Hutatama Chowk ).Dev Sahab was as execited as he always was and the recording which started at eleven in the morning ended at 3.pm. Little did I know what I was in for. Lata ji came to me when Dev Sahab was busy with some musicians and told me not to tell Dev Sahab that she had gone away and she left the studio. Dev Sahab then came to me and asked me, “Ali, where is Lata ?”I didn’t know what to say but looking at his desperation, I told him that she had left.
He became restless and ran down the steps and reached the road outside which was crowded and packed with traffic. Dev Sahab ran after Latajis car,till Lataji saw him running after her car and she stopped and came out of her car. There was high drama on the road because people had never seen two legends on the road like this before. Dev Sahab kept trying to put an envelope which had the some amount that he had always paid her and Lata ji refused to accept the envelope. This emotional scene continued for a few minutes till Lata ji with folded hands told Dev Sahab, “nahi Dev Sahab, nahi, main aapse bilkul paise nahi lungi. Aapne mujhe hi nahi, hum sabko bahut kuch diya hai .Main aapse paise kaise loon?”Dev Sahab kept telling her that she had worked hard and it was his duty to pay her.Lata ji finally told Dev Sahab, “achha Dev Sahab, mujhe ek rupaiya dedo, mere liye woh aashirwad hoga “.Neither Dev Sahab nor me had a one rupee coin or a currency note on us ,but Dev Sahab ran back to the studio and came back with a rupee and Lata ji kept telling me, “hum khushnaseeb hai ki humne aise maahaan logo ke sath kam kiya hai “.Lata ji left after touching Dev Sahabs feet as he kept telling her, “aise mat karo, Lata tum maahaan ho, hum log kuch bhi nahi “.A few months later, Asha Bhosale who had finished recording a song for Dev Sahab point blank refused to take any money from him, saying almost the same thing that Lataji said ,”aapne jo hum logo ko diya hai, kisi aur ko dene ka dil bhi nahi hoga aur himat bhi nahi. Dev Saahab main agar aapse abhi paise loon toh mujhe bhagwan kabhi maff nahi karega “
I was to release my book Ali(ve) only for you ,which was the true story of my first and only love story about an angel called Molly. I was looking for an appropriate person to release the book. I was talking to Lata ji on the phone one afternoon and I mentioned my book and she asked me when the book was to be released. I told her I would like to release it on August 18,which was my mother’s birthday and she said, “ha,bohot achha din hai ,karo na release “in a very light hearted tone I said, “Lata ji aap Karona mere book ka release “.And before I could end my sentence, she said “ha karungee na, mere ghar ke neeche hall hai waha karo, main aungee bhi aur sab bandobast bhi main hi karungee “.
How in heaven’s name could I say no to a devine offer ?.The function happened and what a happening it was in the life of that boy from the village who once thought Lata Mangeshkar was some alien from another world ! The only sad thing was that a huge crowd of media persons who she didn’t want descended at the venue and made so much of noise that she quickly released my book, bless me and literally ran away to her first floor apartment, but not before saying, “ye log press ke hai ya koi jungle se aaye hai humne bhi press walo ko dekha hai, lekin itna shor aur behuda harkatein karte huwaye nahi deka “. I must however mention that in the audience were Manoj Kumar, his wife Shashi and the well-known lawyer Ram Jethmalani and a well-known social worker, Ram Jawaharni.
The next time I had to be in the presence of the Nightingale was when the Mangeshkar family wanted me (?)to solve a delicate problem which was associated with Lata ji. She was being presented with an award which was instituted in the name of her brother, Pandit Hridaynath Mangeshkar. She had accepted the award wanted a person of her choice to present her with the award.Three important names were presented before her, APJ Kalam, Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan.She saw the name of Amitabh and said “Ye naam hai ,toh baaki ke naam mujhe kyun dhikhate hai ?”.She wanted Amitabh to present her with the award. And for the life of me, I still can’t believe why the Mangeshkar family had to seek my help to invite Amitabh Bachchan to the function. I spoke to Amitabh who had never said no to any of my requests and he said, “it would be my great honour to present an award to a woman who I have held in the highest esteem “. Amitabh was shooting in a far off place, but like always he was there at six thirty sharp and presented Lata ji with the award. But, the highlight of the function was the speech Amitabh made in shudh Hindi singing the praises of the woman who he compared to a”Devi”.
The packed audience I think did not even breathe naturally when Amitabh spoke and Lata ji was seen wiping her tears and nose with a white handkerchief. And many in the audience saw her gold paayls for the first time. And when it was her time to speak, she for the first time found words difficult to come to her and kept calling Amitabh “bhasha aur shabdon ke shahenshah”.
Amitabh was to receive the same award two years later and Lata ji was to present him with the award. Amitabh was so happy that he even brought Jaya to the function. But, Lata ji dropped out at the last minute and told the organizers that the doctors were not allowing her to travel. I had seen the face of Amitabh fall for the first time. He was visibly disappointed, but Lata ji called and spoke to him and Jaya. The problem however was not solved. They still wanted some one to present the award to Amitabh and kept looking at me for a solution. I knew there was something wrong between Amitabh and Subhash Ghai, but I still recommended the name of Ghai and they all agreed. I had to call Ghai from his office in Film City and he was there within thirty minutes and the function went off smoothly. But it couldn’t be the same without Lata Mangeshkar……
The “Devi “made it a point to invite me to her aartis during the ten days the Mangeshkar family observed Ganesh Utsav and every time I went, I was surprised with the warmth with which she received me and sat with me as long as I was there and I kept wondering whether the God knew that the” Devi” sitting with me was more popular than he was all over the world and was the “Devi “who had made the God more popular with the aartis and other songs she had sung about him….
I was walking along a lonely road in four bungalows when I heard a voice calling out my name and I looked back to see that it was Mahesh, the young man who was always with her. He told me Lata ji was sitting all alone in a bungalow called Swarlata names after her and and only for her. She was watching a cricket match and I was again surprised with her knowledge about world cricket and she was even commenting on how Tendulkar should have played a particular ball and how an Australian bowler should have bowled to Sachin. That meeting at Swarlata was my last personal meeting with her,but I refused to give up hope about seeing her and meeting her again….
Some days ago a young woman called Andrea Samson who had done some publicity work for Lata ji sent me a message which said, “didi passed away ?” Andrea had played in my lap as a child, but I could still strangle her and go to jail or even be hanged to death for killing her because of her asking a question about Latajis death before she could die and how can a “Ratna “ever die even if is ninety ?
Her last best and most emotional tweet (she can still tweet and is social media savvy which is something that I who am twenty years younger than her can not even think of doing)was about Rishi Kapoor in which she had posted a black and white photograph with her carrying Rishi in her arms when he was a baby and had written that his death had left her speechless .But it is what she wrote after that which made me cry for a full ten minutes .She had asked Rishi to come back just like he had come back as his reincarnation in Subhash Ghai’s “Karz”.A wish that was never going to come true for her, so what if she were the “Swarkokila “of India and the world ?
I have been listening to her singing live on some videos which my friends like P.K.Bajaj of Mayapuri keep sending me and believe me, everytime I hear her sing, I see tears of both joy and sadness from in my eyes and I feel that I still have emotions and feelings left in me after exhausting them during the last seventy years. Who in her place would bow before a large audience of common people the way she did in her heydays ? If that was not a sign of greatness tell me what is ?
No, dear God, you can never try to create another Lata Mangeshkar, because she is born only once to live forever and then for time that has till to be known…..
And, man,you are lucky that you have lived at a time when the most precious Ratna (Jewel)of the Creator walked this earth and sang straight to your heart,soul and beyond.