Lata Mangeshkar Birthday Special: ‘My Father Never Saw What I Achieved’ Says the Legend
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Lata Mangeshkar Birthday Special: ‘My Father Never Saw What I Achieved’ Says the Legend

As the iconic singer turns 88 on September 28, Subhash K Jha talks to her about her incredible career, achievements and regrets

Didi, best wishes for your birthday!

Sab ko bahot bahot shukriya. Aur mera pranaam.  It is  the best wishes  of my well-wishers and  fans of  my songs that has brought me so far. I never cease  to be humbled  by how kind  and generous God has been to me. Even today  my songs are hummed and  loved.  Who gets  this kind of love and affection for such an uninterrupted span of time.

NOBODY! DIDI, WHICH SONGS OF YOURS ARE THE MOST POPULAR? THE ONES THAT PEOPLE IDENTIFY WITH YOU MOST?

Kehna mushqil hai (hard to say).  When I  was still singing on stage the  songs most in demand were Ae mere watan ke logon, Aayega aanewala(Mahal), Pyar kiya to darna  kya(Mughal-e-Azam),Bindiya chamkegi(Do Raaste) and so many others. But now I see so many  of my other songs gain  a special popularity.

LIKE LAG JA GALE SE FROM WOH KAUN THI?

Yes! That song is  really popular. When Madan Bhaiyya (composer Madan Mohan) and I recorded  it we never imagined that it would  hummed and re-mixed  55-60  years later. There were other very good Ghazals in the same film , like Jo humne dastaan apni sunayi aap kyon roye. But it was Lag ja gale se  jo aage  nikal padi (which raced ahead). Who knows what  destiny has  in store?

DID YOU KNOW YOU WOULD BECOME SUCH A HUGE LEGEND IN YOUR LIFETIME?

Legend? I really don’t know  about that. When I started working, I  was very young. For a  girl  of 15-16, to go out there on her own  was…well, yes  it was difficult. But  somehow I escaped the  difficulties that  a majority of working girls  face. No one looked at me in a strange way or did anything to make me feel uncomfortable.

WHAT WAS THE ONE THING THAT YOU MISSED HAVING IN YOUR LIFE?

My adolescence. Main seedhe bachpan se  jawani mein chali gayi. (I went straight  from my childhood to youth).After  my father passed away, I became the sole bread-earner of the family. There was no time to do all the normal things that children do as  they grow up. One day I was playing dolls. The next day I  was  on a train looking for  opportunities  to sing at various recording studios.

LUCKILY YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO STRUGGLE LONG?

No. I think I was lucky. I found my voice in the entertainment business  pretty quickly. But it was a lot, A LOT of hard work. It wasn’t easy. I missed my father’s presence. He left us too soon. If I had one thing to rectify in my  life, it would be the early departure of  my father. He never saw what I achieved.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER REGRETS IN A LIFE SO SPECTACULARLY SUCCESSFUL?

(Promptly). Not being able to  do enough practice of Hindustani classical music. I missed doing that riyaaz. I learnt classical  Hindustani singing from my father. But he left too early. And I was too small to understand the value of what he was  teaching me. I’d be running away from him to play while he would be trying to get me to sit and  learn music. I was a very naughty child.

BUT YOUR CONTROL OVER CLASSICAL VOCALS IS  BEYOND EXCEPTIONAL IN SONGS LIKE MAANN MOHANA BADE JHOOTHE (SEEMA) AND MOSE CHAL KIYA JAYE (GUIDE)?

But that is filmy classical. Not the same as pure classical singing. The sheer pleasure of  being on  a live stage with a tanpura doing classical vocals for two hours…I missed out on that.

YOU’VE SUNG IN 26 LANGUAGES. WHICH WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT?

(Promptly)  Tamil and Russian. The Tamil  language was really difficult for me to handle. I would  note down all the lines in English and then master their pronunciation, as they are very particular about the accent and diction. Singing in Russian on  stage was my other big challenge. It was tough. My Russian songs are not to be  found anywhere, as they(in Russia) did not allow my renderings to be recorded. What I  sang on stage remained there only.

DID YOU KEEP TRACK OF ALL THE SONGS THAT YOU SANG IN EVERY LANGUAGE?

No! It was  impossible. So many songs in so many languages, many forgotten. I don’t even remember  many of  the Hindi songs that I sang. You send  so many songs of mine to me  on whatsapp  that I don’t recognize. Arrey, yeh maine kab gaya!  But the strangest things was , I’ve sung in Malaysian!  This  I got to  know when a  fan sent me  my songs sung  in Malaysian. There are 8-9 of them, one of them a  duet with a local Malaysian singer. I’ve no clue when I sang in Malaysian.

HOW DID YOU MASTER FOREIGN LANGUAGES?

Just writing down the lines and practising their pronunciation. Main hamesha perfection chahti tthi (I always strove for perfection).

WHICH WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SONG RECORDING EVER?

There were many. But the one that really stood out was for Naushad saab in Baiju Bawra. It was the song Dur koi gaye dhun yeh sunaye with Shamshad Begum. The set  to shoot this dance number had been put up. I had not been able to  record the song because I was  out of town. Naushad Saab rang me  up and said, ‘Aap bas aa jayiye. Hum  record karenge aur wohgana shoot karenge. At first  I didn’t understand what he  meant. What he was saying was, they were waiting to get the song on the set. I had  to fly back, record  the song and then they were to shoot the song. This was  very unusual.

MY GOD, ALMOST LIKE A LIVE RECORDING?

Yes, there was no time to rehearse, Shamshadji has  already sung her portions. Everything was done. Only I had to sing. There was no time to lose. It had to be a one-take recording. I asked Naushad Saab if he thought I could do it. Tum kar paogi, he was confident.

AND YOU DID?

Yes, I did. Faith can move mountains. If composers didn’t believe in my ability I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what  I did.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO SINGERS TODAY?

Riyaaz. Learn Indian classical singing. And continue to be a student of music all your life. There are no short cuts to success.

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