Lata Mangeshkar: The Immortal Voice, Immortalized

“Maine Madam Noor Jahan se siikha ‘Muhabbat’ lafz kaise ada karte hain gaane mein”

Lata Ji remarked in one of her interviews.

One wonders how uncompromisingly devoted she was to her craft, meticulously tending to the smallest of details, unassumingly willing to learn from her contemporaries; unfailingly delivering masterpiece after masterpiece.

It was Basant Panchami yesterday and people offered their prayers to Goddess Saraswati. That sacred day has just passed and people are now offering their respects to what many consider the very embodiment of Saraswati, Lata Mangeshkar.

I know not, where to start, I know not, where to stop.

To say that she had perfected the art of singing would be a profound understatement. She had attained Sidhhi, something that only the most accomplished of Rishis did, ages ago.

The innumerable words that her voice adorned, fall like withered flowers when it comes to even remotely attempting to explain what her voice was like.

The Koyal, the Bulbul, the seasons, the cosmos all fall silent in front of the melodiousness that her voice possessed.

Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Gulzar, Jaan Nisar Akhtar, and even Naushad Sahab – calling to mind the many poets who tried to touch upon her voice in their poems, in the end, I strongly felt that her voice always remained untouched.

Just think about that and ask yourself, isn’t that what ‘Purity’ is all about?

I tried long and hard to quote a couplet that could at least faintly help us acquaint with the magnificance of her voice. I failed. But I’d share a couplet of Bedil that comes closest to her genius:

Khaamoshi-e-aa.n-lab ba-hayaa daasht sawaale
Daad’em dil az-dast-o-na-guft’em jawaab-ast

The silence of those lips, possessed a question with bashfulness.
We gave away the heart from our hands, and did not say, this the answer

Lata Ji’s voice can only be singularly defined as Pure. Pure as silence.

It’s solely the silence that pervades after listening to Lata Ji’s voice that can help us fathom the true genius of the gift she was afforded with. For we give away our hearts, every time, unquestionably.

Once Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had lovingly put it out, ‘Kam-Bakht kabhi be-surii nahin hoti!!”

From Naushad Sahab, Salil Da, and Madan Mohan, to Pancham Da, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and Kalyan Ji-Anand Ji; Lata Ji was a constant all along. Even O.P. Nayyar Sahab, who never made her sing, acknowledged her greatness.

Talking about her unending list of songs, Salil Da reminisced after listening to ‘Is mod se jaate hain’, ‘Lataa ka aalaap hii sunaa tha shuruu mein, mujhe maaluum ho gaya ye gaana kuchh alag hoga!’

Salil Da made her sing some of the most memorable songs that we know of today. In ‘O Sajna Barkha Bahaar Aayi’, he asked her to sing the word ‘Sajnaa’ differently every time it came. And how she sung it, effortlessly dovetailing the wantonness of a newlywed.

She also re-rendered the emotion in Pancham Da’s first recorded song, “Ghar aaja ghir aaye badra saawariya”. The Ruupak taal seems to be in tandem with the falling rain drops. Listen to how she sings the line, ‘Tip-Tip sunat main to bhayi re sawariya’, you’ll know what I am talking about.

Kalyaanji-Anandji noted, ‘Hum to koshish karte the Lata Ji zaraa hans den kisi gaane mein!’

Madan Mohan, who cared for her like a younger sister, narrated about the cult-followed song ‘Lag Ja Gale’: ‘Is gaane ko banaane ke kuchh 18 saal baad ye kisi film mein kaam aaya, Lata ne ise aise nibhaaya jaisa maine 18 saal pehle socha tha’.

No matter whose face featured on the screen, the background would invariably gleam with Lata Ji’s voice. Invariably, we’ll never have another artist of that order.

When asked in an interview what she’d like to be in her next birth, she responded, ‘Lata Mangeshkar to nahin banna chahungi’.

The answer envelopes the burden of her genius, the challenges of her profession, and all her struggles. Perhaps only she had the genetic-makeup, the all-essential strength to be Lata Mangeshkar, and no one else, and conceivably, never again.

I end this regretful note, with what is now our reality: Lata Ji has left us, but her voice hasn’t.